Ella Fitzgerald. Ray Charles. Buddy Rich. Sarah Vaughan. Betty Carter. B.B. King. Dave Brubeck. McCoy Tyner. Dizzy Gillespie. Wynton Marsalis. These towering giants of jazz have counted Spoleto amongst their list of performances, taking center stage at our venues like the Cistern Yard and the Charleston Gaillard Center. Savvy audience members know to look to Spoleto for the cutting edge of jazz—programming reflects a who’s-who of the genre. Since 2016, venerable jazz scholar, journalist and critic Larry Blumenfeld (Wall Street Journal, among others) has served as the Jazz Curator for Spoleto Festival USA, helping to curate the 2023 Wells Fargo Jazz series and presenting Grammy winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, NEA Jazz Masters, and MacArthur Geniuses year after year.
In lead up to this season, we asked Larry to share his essential listening playlist—what’s been playing through his earbuds recently and several of his all-time favorites. Here, he takes us on that musical journey.
Track 1: Reflections – Thelonious Monk
“We start with Thelonious Monk alone at the piano. Monk’s unusual touch at the piano, and the way he elevated imbalance and dissonance (as surely as Bach did balance and consonance), is where my love of music begins and ends.”
Track 2: In for a penny, in for a pound (opening) – Henry Threadgill, Zooid
“We move to alto saxophonist/flutist and composer Henry Threadgill, leading his unusual ensemble Zooid (which includes guitar, cello, tuba, and drums), playing music for which he was awarded a Pulitzer, and that can be heard at the Sottile Theater on June 6.”
Track 3: Spring – Quentin Baxter Quintet
“This is one of four movements in Quentin Baxter’s original suite he’ll present as part of his Cistern Yard concert (May 27). In this music you can hear how the Gullah roots, Southern church, and modern jazz intersect. And if you want to hear where those handclaps lead in the next movement—and trust me, you do—come to the show.”
Track 4: Shadow – Immanuel Wilkins
“This alto saxophonist, whose 2023 Jazz at the Playhouse residency spans four nights, is a rising star on jazz’s landscape, in part because his forward-leaning music has one foot in a deep pool of spirituality.”
Track 5: Ode to Mary – Moor Mother, Orion Sun, Jason Moran
“Poet and spoken-word artist Camae Ayewa, better known as Moor Mother, creates dense and complex audio pieces drawn from Black musical history. Here, with pianist Jason Moran—who performed at Spoleto in 2016 and 2021—she mines the legacy of pianist Mary Lou Williams, who was a mentor to, among others, Thelonious Monk. At the end of the piece, you can hear Mary Lou, from an archival interview.”
Track 6: Two Hearts (Lawns) – Terri Lyne Carrington, Ravi Coltrane, Samara Joy
“I’m certain that drummer Terri Lyne Carrington will bring her Grammy winning New Standards project, devoted to the music of female jazz composers, to Spoleto in the future. On this track, the group performs ‘Two Hearts (Lawns),’ composed by pianist Carla Bley (who played the Cistern Yard in 2019), with new lyrics by Carrington, as sung by Samara Joy. Carrington performs this year at the Cistern Yard with Kris Davis on June 2.”
Track 7: West End Blues – Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five
“Recorded in 1928, this piece, especially at its start, still boasts the most exciting 12 seconds in jazz.”
Track 8: Corn Crake – Kris Davis, Val Jeanty, Terri Lyne Carrington
“From pianist Kris Davis’s Diatom Ribbons, this piece showcases her deep bond with Terri Lyne Carrington, and is punctuated by all manner of samples from electronics wizard Val Jeanty.” See them at the Cistern Yard on June 2.
Track 9: Song for Sathima – Abdullah Ibrahim
“Among jazz’s greatest living pianists, Abdullah Ibrahim performs at the Cistern Yard on June 8. He plays only sparingly at the start and end of this version of his ‘Song for Sathima.’ Still, his band Ekaya, projects what Ibrahim—a hero in his native South Africa, whose close associates included Duke Ellington and Nelson Mandela—has always expressed through his music: peace, love and compassion.”