We take a deep dive into the vaults of Blue Note Records, the independent label that helped put artists like Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey and Jimmy Smith on the map. Flagbearer of trad jazz, bebop and the cool school, Blue Note is still at it after 79 years and has expanded its wheelhouse to include vocalists like Norah Jones, Ryan Adams and Van Morrison. We talk with producer extraordinaire and Blue Note president Don Was about the label’s past and new directions. And we confab with record maven Michael Cuscuna about digging through Blue Note’s back catalog and giving life to unreleased and out-of-print masterpieces. Plus, we hear from Aaron Neville, Jason Moran and Lonnie Smith about their part in the legendary label’s history. It’s a parade of jazz, old and new, borrowed and blue… and then some!
This week on American Routes, we hear from great songwriters and performers- and those who emulate them. Original songs can take on new form and meaning when interpreted by different voices, and we’ll hear some of those renditions and transformations this week. We’ll hear the rocking Southern sound of the Drive-By Truckers covering Bob Dylan, and Ray Charles doing Hank Williams. Our guest William Bell, from Memphis, will tell us all about his music being played by the Byrds, and bluesman Albert King. And we’ll go live on stage in Northampton Massachusetts with folk-blues guitarist Chris Smither for songs and stories.
In this special program, we visit Angola, the notorious plantation-turned-penitentiary, to hear stories and songs from within the prison’s walls. We talk with saxophonist Charles Neville about serving time at the “Farm” during the Jim Crow era, playing with fellow inmates in the Nic Nacs, and the role of music in integrating prison life. We hear previously unreleased Harry Oster field recordings of Mardi Gras Indian chants and bebop jazz from Angola in the late-50s. And we go on-site for interviews and performances with contemporary Angola musicians. Plus, we explore the popular tradition of prison music from singing inmates like Leadbelly and Merle Haggard to live performances from Johnny Cash at San Quentin and B.B. King at Cook County Jail.
American Routes reflects on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. in words and music. Join us as we speak with those who knew Dr. King, from the late music scholar Albert Murray and late historian Julian Bond to singers Mavis Staples, Harry Belafonte and Mable John. Also, Mississippi riverboat captain Doc Hawley shares a unique memory of Memphis. Plus songs of freedom, deliverance and hope to commemorate this holiday weekend.
In this second edition of “How Many Roads?” Bob Dylan’s Back Pages, we’ll rejoin the great American wordsmith by listening to his work from the last 25 years. We won’t forget the historic and ancient roots of his modern sounds, from the Old Testament to the Civil Rights movement. We’ll hear from collaborators and friends, Mavis Staples and Joan Baez, and from Kris Kristofferson who overheard Dylan’s recording sessions while working as a custodian in Nashville. We’ll go to our archives for the late producer Jerry Wexler on Dylan’s spiritual transformation and hear songs that address outlaws and lovers, memories and mortality.