Nate Chinen

One way or another, you've heard Grover Washington Jr.'s saxophone. Perhaps on "Mister Magic" or another of his instrumental hits, like "Winelight." Or on "Just the Two of Us," the smash hit featuring Bill Withers.

José James, the eclectic, groove-minded jazz singer, has made no secret of his fondness for Bill Withers. There's a medley that James has been singing in concert for years, linking Withers' despondent anthem "Ain't No Sunshine" with an upturning grace note, "Grandma's Hands."

Louis Hayes spent his youth creating the pulse of hard-bop, as a top-shelf drummer with artists like Cannonball Adderley and Horace Silver. He turned 80 this year, marking the occasion with his own Blue Note Records debut as a leader, Serenade for Horace.

Miguel Zenón was 12 when he first experienced the devastation of a major hurricane in his homeland, Puerto Rico. That was Hugo, which hit as a Category 3 in 1989, and drove nearly 30,000 residents from their homes.

The blues have traveled far and wide over the last century — exerting a vast cultural influence worldwide, yielding myriad offshoots, and generating fortunes for some of the biggest musical acts of our time. But it's also still the product of local conditions, and bound by hardscrabble local concerns.

On this episode of Jazz Night in America, we'll go to Clarksdale, Miss., to get a temperature reading at ground level, where struggling musicians are finally beginning to reap the benefits of a recent wave of blues tourism.

Norah Jones didn't have much time to scale up her operation. She was a singer-songwriter of immense talent but intimate affect, accustomed to playing Lower East Side dives and folk cafés, when her debut album, Come Away With Me, became a sleeper smash in 2002. Then came the deluge: major television appearances, enormous stages, armloads of Grammy awards.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


What kind of man is Gregory Porter? As it happens, he's already told us himself. "I'm a real good man," he sang in "Real Good Hands," one of a handful of sturdily built original songs from his 2012 album, Be Good. He was extending a suitor's reassurance there, addressing a future father-in-law. But we were invited to listen in and draw our own conclusions.

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