2020: Joshua Redman, Pat Metheny, Lakecia Benjamin And The Year’s Best-Read Stories

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In 2020, DownBeat sought to cover the breadth of jazz, while also working to represent what was going on in the country at large—socially, politically and economically.

We published hundreds of stories and album reviews during the past 12 months, and the pieces here—whether drawn from the print edition or web-only features—have been viewed by readers more than any others. Perhaps it’s the musicians who were profiled here—or what they spoke about. Maybe it was their impeccable musicianship that drew readers in or the sterling prose that described their playing. Maybe it’s because readers like movies and lists.

A lot of music and information gets parsed here, so don’t rush through anything. Let the work—in addition to informing and perhaps inspiring—distract you from the next few months of difficulty we’re all set to face. But make sure to savor each turn of phrase or thoughtful metaphor, and maybe go track down a new record.

For a few of our best-read stories from 2019, take a look here. And for print and digital subscription options, head over here. DB

Binge These Jazzworld Movies While You’re Stuck At Home

You’re at home. We’re at home. Let’s take a break from coronavirus anxiety and watch a movie … or three.

Great Jobs For Musicians

What are some career options for artists who have a degree in music and/or extensive musical training?

Five Essential Keith Jarrett Albums To Mark His 75th Birthday

Transcendent music is timeless. That’s the thought that comes to mind as fans around the globe marked Jarrett’s 75th birthday.

The Sound And Myth Of Charlie Parker At 100

To say that Parker was one of the greatest jazz musicians who ever lived is a bit like saying the Mona Lisa is a well-known painting.

Pat Metheny’s Cinematic Vision

A conversation with the guitarist is similar to one of his shows: Some parts seem carefully constructed, while others are loose, improvisational flights. But the thematic undercurrent is one of sturdy, satisfying logic.

John McLaughlin Heads Out On The Road Again

In an interview published in DownBeat’s November 2017 issue, guitar legend McLaughlin lamented the fact that a progressive arthritic condition in his right hand was forcing him into semi-retirement.

Billie Holiday Documentary Chronicles Two Lives

How does one craft a Holiday biography with a surprise ending?

In Newport, A Quiet August And The Virus’ Financial Fallout

Fort Adams State Park—traditionally home to the Newport Jazz Festival—was uncharacteristically quiet the first week of August this year.

These 25 Performers Could Shape Jazz For Decades

An enthusiastic, optimistic look at the future.

Redman, Blade, Mehldau, McBride Defy Notions Of The Genre

Twenty-six years ago, a new quartet led by a rising star in the jazz world demonstrated how the music could be inclusive, expressive and joyful, an emphatic rebuttal of the perception that the genre was too esoteric and incapable of relating to other forms of popular music.

Five Black Jazzworld Figures Recount How Racism Impacted Their Careers

Though jazz is a genre shared and revered by people of all backgrounds, there’s no equivocating: The music is the sonic embodiment of the Black experience in America.

The Shifting Technique Of Kurt Rosenwinkel

The guitarist described a change in his approach as “steps towards the way that I really hear the guitar in my mind,” reflecting his frustration with certain aspects of guitar playing, and his determination to overcome them.

Eddie Kendricks’ People Was No Accident

By 1972, Kendricks, the Temptations singer who led the ensemble through classics like “Just My Imagination,” was ready for a new sound.

Joey DeFrancesco Expands His Skill Set

Multi-instrumentalist and jazz organ icon DeFrancesco has rarely has spent an extended period of time at home during his 33 years as a professional musician.

For Asian–American Jazz Artists, Pandemic Uncovers Deep Wounds

The artists interviewed for this story each expressed a genuine fear of leaving their homes, due as much to the reported uptick in anti-Asian sentiment as their civic duty to flatten the curve.

Societal Reckoning Over Racism Encompasses The Jazz Community

For a time, it seemed as though the coronavirus pandemic was going to completely dominate the news in 2020. And it did, until the Black Lives Matter movement ignited protests around the world following George Floyd’s May 25 killing in Minneapolis by city police.

Facing An Uncertain Future, Jazz Artists Get Creative

Artists in numerous countries were asking questions and facing dilemmas as airline travel became increasingly prohibitive and jazz clubs and large venues began closing.

Blindfold Test: Walter Smith III

After almost a full year as chair of Berklee College of Music’s Woodwind Department, 39-year-old tenor saxophonist Smith sat for his first Blindfold Test.

Lakecia Benjamin Pursues a Spiritual Quest

Pursuance is Benjamin’s most ambitious project so far, not only for its eye-popping lineup, but for the magnitude of its subject matter

The Vintage Vibe Of Robert Cray

When it comes to Cray’s long, storied career, time and musical fashion have been slippery slopes of the saga.

The Chance Music Of New Orleans’ Kidd Jordan

Master improvisers can turn on a dime. So, when keyboardist Darrell Lavigne called Jordan in early March to set up a recording session while he was in New Orleans, the elder saxophonist sprang into action.

Antonio Sánchez, Thana Alexa Grow Their Partnership

Now married, theses artists of Mexican and Croatian lineages share a home studio in Queens, where they frequently collaborate on their music.

Pandemic Spurs Marc Ribot, Music Workers Alliance To Demand Economic Fairness

With music-streaming services paying a relative pittance to independent acts and niche artists like himself, Ribot depends on the money he gets from live performances—at clubs, theaters and festivals—to pay his bills.

How Ethan Iverson Fosters Creativity During The Pandemic

Whether folks have come to his music through recent leader dates, his previous work with The Bad Plus or his writing on the Do The Math blog or in The New Yorker, Iverson started posting quick-hit interpretations of TV themes to Twitter during the pandemic.

How Aaron Parks Creates New Worlds On His Second Little Big Album

Pianist Parks writes compositions that bring together jazz, rock and electronica, while his Little Big quartet makes complex meters sound straightforward.

Terence Blanchard Addresses The Past Through Work With Spike Lee And Preps For Brighter Future

At some point, jazz historians are going to need to survey the work that trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard has done with filmmaker Spike Lee.

Pandemic-Era Insights From Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Brandee Younger And More

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Musicians around the globe had gigs, recording dates, mixing sessions—stuff to do. But now, performers are stuck at home.

‘How Does It Feel To Be Free?’

For generations, jazz has expounded ideas of freedom and power, explicitly and implicitly.



  • Coltrane_Jim_Marshall_Hi-Res.jpg

    John Coltrane’s Blue World takes its name from a contrafact of Harold Arlen’s “Out Of This World.”

  • 2669_Carla_Bley_Trio_PF1.jpg

    Carla Bley (left), Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard recorded Life Goes On for the ECM label.

  • web_01_Resize_Billie_085_BIL7389_HR_C__-_MARINA_COLORISED_GettyImages-74275784.jpg

    James Erskine’s documentary Billie includes vintage photos that have been digitally colorized by artist Marina Amaral.

  • PatMetheny_KATZ1483c_2019_creditJimmyDenaKatz.jpg

    Guitarist Pat Metheny topped two DownBeat Readers Poll categories this year: Guitar and Jazz Album, for his disc From This Place (Nonesuch).

  • VeronicaSwift_credit_GiancarloBelfiore%3AUmbriaJazz.jpg

    Veronica Swift has both a historical connection to the music and a desire to expand its artistic purview.


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