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Jazz Musicians Discover New Possibilities Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Everyone can relate to the stillness and solitude that prevailed at times this year. For jazz musicians, those moments presented new possibilities. Here to tell us about it is Nate Chinen from member station WBGO and Jazz Night in America.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRED HERSCH'S "CONSOLATION (A FOLK SONG)")

NATE CHINEN, BYLINE: Jazz musicians rely on the bond they form with an audience in a room. When it was upended, they had to find ways to adapt. Many of them turned their living spaces into home studios, creating new music with whatever was close at hand. Among them was Fred Hersch, who sat down at the piano to create "Songs From Home."

(SOUNDBITE OF FRED HERSCH'S "CONSOLATION (A FOLK SONG)")

CHINEN: Hersch's album, which we're hearing now, grew out of an initial impulse to stream a daily mini-concert on social media, his way of keeping that connection with an audience. Another early example of this was a weekly livestream from harpist Brandee Younger and bassist Dezron Douglas from their apartment in Harlem.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEZRON DOUGLAS: Quarantine, lockdown - how's everyone doing? I mean, if you haven't lost your mind yet, God is good, you know. If you have lost your mind, that's cool, too.

CHINEN: Douglas and Younger turned those sessions into an album. They call it "Force Majeure" after the common clause in contracts that usually only gets invoked after a catastrophic event. But the spirit in their album doesn't suggest despair. It's full of sustaining life and connection.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEZRON DOUGLAS AND BRANDEE YOUNGER'S "GOSPEL TRANE")

CHINEN: Other artists used the lockdown to unlock creative pathways, finally getting to that project they'd always wanted to explore. We've seen terrific work along these lines from saxophonist Tim Berne and his regular collaborator, guitarist and producer David Torn. Each made a solo album this spring. The one created by Torn is a deep lesson in immersive texture, using little more than his guitar, an amplifier and some basic pedal effects.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHINEN: For saxophonist Chris Potter, the musical equivalent of a new sourdough starter was something even more laborious. He started the jazz world with an album called "There Is A Tide" on which he plays all the instruments - not just saxophones and clarinets, but also bass, keyboards, guitars and drums.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS POTTER'S "BENEATH THE WAVES")

CHINEN: That's a deeply impressive feat, but of course, also still solitary. More and more, artists have also discovered ways to connect across the ether, collaborating from their respective bubbles. Trumpeter Dave Douglas made a digital album this way called "Overcome" with singer-songwriters Fay Victor and Camila Meza and a few other partners. They created the music in pieces, passing files back and forth. But the sound of their communion makes it seem as if they're all in a room together. That's precisely the image they're seeking to evoke and the hope that they're holding on to in the meantime.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN WE ARE TOGETHER AGAIN")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) When we are together again, we'll make music like never before. So sweet...

CHINEN: For NPR News, I'm Nate Chinen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN WE ARE TOGETHER AGAIN")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) ...I will surely relive how I have missed... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.