For the second year running, the folks at NPR Music held their Tiny Desk Contest this winter, with artists all over the country competing to be a featured performer on the endlessly popular Tiny Desk Concert video series. Word is the winner will be announced tomorrow morning, so just like last year, we here at The Key compiled a list of nearly every Philly area musician who entered.
Last year, NPR told us that Philadelphia artists contributed 75 videos to the 7,000 overall entries. This time, we’re counting 131 videos…almost double.
Each group reconfigured their setup for an intimate performance, staged behind a desk of some sort. The mix and variety of styles parallels the variety of musical talent pouring out of this city right now. And this isn’t even all of it. Continue reading →
XPN favorites Wilco have always been known for their largely rocking and experimental, and musically intense live shows, however, in quiet beauty the band shows another side of themselves.
Wilco recently stopped by the NPR Music for a Tiny Desk Concert to play acoustic versions of new and old songs. They opened their set with “The Joke Explained” from their most recent album, Star Wars, a rollicking country rock song featuring guitar virtuoso Nels Cline on slide. They followed up with “Misunderstood,” a melodic ballad that captures everything that is great about the band, introspective storytelling lyrics about inner-self and strange atonal mumblings that channel Jeff Tweedy’s former crippling migranes. Continue reading →
For those of you who don’t know about NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, you may want to head over to their site and root through their enormous and equally impressive archive. Their 15-minute videos feature live performances from artists of all genres held in the quaint offices of NPR at All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen’s desk.
Ranging from big names like Adele and Alt-J to up-and-coming artists such as Angel Olsen and Rubblebucket, viewers are able to watch the artists perform in the intimate setting, giving the performances a stripped-down, no B.S. vibe. While these videos are ultra fun to watch (perhaps continuously, one after another…), NPR kept things interesting this winter by kicking off a contest to feature a new artist in their series.
Based entirely off of video submissions from all over the United States, an artist will be chosen to perform a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR headquarters in Washington D.C. as well as snag a slot in the big Lagunitas Couchtrippin’ showcase in Austin, Texas. Philadelphia, brimming with the amazing musical talent that it is, seems to have jumped at this opportunity. Continue reading →
Oklahoma rock and roller JD McPherson is featured on NPR’s First Listen this week. His sophomore album, Let The Good Times Roll, set to be released February 10th, has made waves in the music scene as of late, and NPR’s Ann Powers commends McPherson on his unmatched abilities of taking classic rock concepts and re-imagining them with small twists that make for engaging music without sounding like a knock-off. Continue reading →
Los Angeles-based singer, songwriter and producer Ryan Adams is back in the music game. After a stellar set at our XPoNential music festival this summer and the release of his new self-titled album, Adams recently appeared on NPR’s World Cafe and had a wide-ranging interview with host David Dye. Continue reading →
Today we celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of forward-thinking jazz icon Sun Ra. It’s likely you’ve heard his name, but if you don’t know much actually about him or his music, the folks at NPR Music put together a great profile today. Sun Ra was an experimental jazz composer who believed he came from the planet Saturn. He was so convinced he did not come from Earth, he actually owned a Saturn passport that didn’t contain a birth dates. Ra was eccentric in all ways, dressing in a style NPR’s Joel Rose described as “elaborate costumes that were part ancient Egypt, part science fiction.”
He began his jazz career in Chicago where he worked for Fletcher Henderson. It was in Chicago that he started leading a band known as the Arkestra. Some band members had a hard time understanding Ra’s complicated style of music. Tenor saxophonist, John Gilmore, recalled that he finally got it one night when they were playing one of their songs “Saturn.”
“‘My gosh, it’s unbelievable that anybody could write meaner intervals than Monk or Mingus. But he does.'”
After Chicago, Ra moved the Arkestra to New York. He began to take his act to extreme levels through improvisation and new techniques such as using synthesizers. Some people did not know how to interpret this new-age form of jazz.
In 1969 the band moved from New York to Philadelphia, where they were immediately embraced by the local jazz community and the music scene at large. On Christmas Day in 1976, Sun Ra appeared live on WXPN to read poetry with music playing underneath on the program Blue Genesis. A quote from John Szwed’s book Space is the Place: The Life and Times of Sun Ra:
The choice of poems and their sequencing offers what Sun Ra thought was most important in his writing. Here are key words like “cosmos,” “truth,” “bad,” “myth,” and “the impossible,”; attention to phonetic equivalence; the universality of the music and its metaphysical status; allusions to black fraternal orders and secret societies; biblical passages and their interpretation; and even a few autobiographical glimpses. The poems were read softly, with little expressions, the music punctuating the words, with the heavy echo and delay in the studio sometimes reducing the words to pure sound without meaning.
Ra died in 1993 after suffering a number of strokes. But since their arrival to the city of Brotherly Love, the Arkestra has continued to make music together, locally as well as all over the world. They appeared on stage at the XPoNential Music Festival during Yo La Tengo’s set in 2010, and are currently on tour and will play the Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona on May 29th. Today, the Sun Ra Arkestra will play a show in Zurich, Switzerland in honor of Sun Ra’s centennial.
Read or listen to the full story about Sun Ra here, via NPR. Below, download Sun Ra’s 1976 appearance on WXPN.