Music News

Vermont musician Jamie Masefield has been improvising on the jazz mandolin for decades. He's recorded six albums, including one with Blue Note Records, and brings everything from folk and funk to the literature of Leo Tolstoy to the stage. But some years back, his eclectic creativity brought him to an unexpected second career.

When I meet Masefield at work, he's chipping away at some pinkish stone with a small hammer. "In the industry we call it 'rainbow stone,'" he offers. "It's very nice to work with."

To many, the life and career of Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister personified heavy metal. Now his fans want his name on one of the four new "superheavy" elements on the periodic chart. An online petition has attracted more than 100,000 signatures in just a few days.

Chicago composer Olivia Block is happy enough writing for violins, but she really loves sounds that don't often count as music. That can include the urban ambience she hears walking around her hometown — the creaks and grunts of an elevated train, the whirr of machinery — or, in some cases, sounds most of the world was never meant to hear

Not all that long ago, conventional wisdom held that the music industry was fracturing so much, and so quickly, that there wouldn't be many monster hits anymore.

But perhaps you've heard of a singer named Adele.

Her album 25 -- which was only released on Nov. 20 — ruled the 2015 charts by far, according to Nielsen Music, which released its detailed year-end report on Wednesday.

Composer Olivia Block In Her Own Words

Jan 7, 2016
Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Composer Olivia Block is happy enough writing for violins.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez was one of the most recognized figures in 20th century classical music. His outspoken advocacy for the music of his time earned him fans — and detractors. He died Tuesday at his home in Baden-Baden, Germany. He was 90 years old.

Just as the chaos of World War II was coming to an end, Pierre Boulez was emerging into his life as an artist.

Pierre Boulez, the French composer and conductor whose career spanned from the avant-garde post-World War II era to the computer age, has died, according to the French culture ministry. He was 90. Boulez famously challenged his peers and his audience to rethink their ideas of sound and harmony.

Paul Bley, a jazz pianist whose thoughtful but intuitive commitment to advanced improvisation became widely influential, died of natural causes Sunday. He was 83.

Bley was surrounded by family at his winter residence in Stuart, Fla., according to his daughter Vanessa Bley.

Daytrotter At 10: A Midwestern Rite Of Passage

Jan 3, 2016

It started out as a place where musicians could take a break from the tedium of the road to record a few songs and post them online for fans.

Famous names can be hard to live up to. Those who carry them are born with expectations, as well as advantages, and the sons and daughters of famous people have to make their mistakes and learn their lessons under a lot of watchful eyes.

When we spoke with Natalie Cole in June of 2013 (you can listen to the entire interview below), she had just recorded an album of Spanish language music, as her father had, in the 1950s.

Singer Natalie Cole Dead At 65

Jan 1, 2016

Natalie Cole, the Grammy award-winning singer and daughter of legendary crooner Nat King Cole, has died. She was 65.

According to a statement from her family, Cole passed away last night at a Los Angeles Hospital "due to complications from ongoing medical issues."

The Year In Pop Music

Jan 1, 2016
Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's talk about pop music, where the biggest story of 2015 was this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELLO")

ADELE: (Singing) Hello, it's me.

INSKEEP: Adele's "25" may have outsold everything, but it was not the only story. Here is NPR Music's Ann Powers and Jacob Ganz.

At the end of It's A Wonderful Life, George Bailey realizes he wants to live. And everyone from the mythical town of Bedford Falls comes barreling into his living room to tell him how much they love him and sing "Auld Lang Syne." But television ratings for It's A Wonderful Life have been declining for 20 years. Still, you must know "Auld Lang Syne" from other movies — or at least from New Year's Eve?

Even if you don't know the words, you know it. Or... do you? Is the iconic holiday staple slipping away?

There's a place in Mexico City that's filled with thousands of musical instruments from all over Latin America — some of them more than 100 years old. It's not a museum or music school. It's an apartment. Actually, the collection's grown so much, it now fills two apartments. It's the result of a lifelong passion for the instruments and their history, as well as a determination to share them.

Podcasts would sound pretty bland without music. When done well, the medium's music cues are evocative and tone-setting. In rare cases, they can become iconic (think of the plinking chords that let you know you're listening to Serial). But for the most part, the music is meant to be invisible: You wouldn't sit down to listen to it or put it on in your car, and you're unlikely to ever know who composed it. So where does podcast music come from?

Spotify, the groundbreaking streaming music service, is facing a class-action lawsuit alleging that it violates the copyrights of thousands of independent musicians.

If the songwriters prevail it could cost Spotify tens of millions of dollars in unpaid royalties. And according to experts in the music industry, this may be only the beginning, because other streaming services reportedly commit the same violations.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Political violence has engulfed the African nation of Burundi. The U.N. Security Council has passed a resolution to try and prevent potential genocide, while refugees have been pouring into neighboring Rwanda. Among them is a group of musicians who fled their homes without any instruments.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Fans of music that is fast and loud - really loud - have lost someone important.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ACE OF SPADES")

All year long, DJ Earworm files away little pieces of the year's biggest songs. Since 2007, he's taken those pieces and stitched them together to compose an annual mashup he calls "United State Of Pop."

What artist did you fall in love with in 2015? NPR's Audie Cornish invited three members of NPR Music's staff to tell her about one artist each discovered this year.

Jazz guitarist John Scofield has had a pretty remarkable career. Without even finishing music school, he found himself on the Carnegie Hall stage playing with jazz legends Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan. Then it was on to Miles Davis, his own successful jazz-funk fusion groups, and even greater exposure playing with jam bands.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Adele's smash hit "Hello" broke all kinds of records when it was released in November.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELLO")

ADELE: (Singing) Hello, it's me.

Most nights, you can walk into a blues club and find a harmonica player blowing their heart out onstage. The wailing, honking sound associated with Western movies and juke joints is what many harp players have emulated for decades. But in the rarefied world of the harmonica, the earth has lately shifted on its axis — primarily because of one man.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It is time now for a musical equation. Start with the singer best known for this hit from the late 1980s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT I AM")

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