When I first started listening to jazz music, the Internet had just been introduced to the masses. We were still experimenting with wonky dial-up connections, and MP3 was a new thing. Back in the day, you could only find information about jazz music through books and magazines. If you wanted to get your hands on an album, you had to visit a physical record store.
Today, with a simple online search, you can access countless albums at your fingertips, and handpick what you feel like listening to in just a matter of seconds. The expression “so many songs, so little time” has never felt more real. Of course, this massive library of information can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. Here are five YouTube channels to accompany you on your exciting journey into the world of jazz.
1. JAZZ NIGHT IN AMERICA
Hosted by bassist Christian McBride, Jazz Night in America is a cross-platform collaboration between National Public Radio (NPR), New Jersey-based public radio station WBGO, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. This YouTube channel is frequently updated with various types of content, ranging from live performances to exclusive interview to in-depth documentaries about jazz.
Jazz Night in America doesn’t shy away from what’s trending, either – when La La Land was released, they shared a fun, educational yet detailed “fact check” and shared what true jazz musicians really thought of the movie. This gave newcomers to the genre a better idea of what was real and what was not.
With hip-hop becoming more and more mainstream, pianist and producer Robert Glasper gives an interesting analysis about the unexpected but inextricable relationship between jazz and hip-hop. “Naturally, if you’re a hip-hop producer that wants a lot of melodic stuff happening, you’re probably gonna go to jazz first,” he says in the video below.
On Jazz Night in America’s channel, you’ll find full-length concerts and performances, often recorded in collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center. One of my personal favourites is “Quiet And Loud Jazz” by guitar master John Scofield – what a treat for the senses as he explores the balance between both his acclaimed albums, Loud Jazz and Quiet, in this one-hour special.
2. NPR MUSIC: TINY DESK CONCERT
Non-profit media organisation National Public Radio (more popularly known as NPR) was founded in the 1970s, and to this day, continues to produce high-quality content, from talk shows to news channels to music programming.
NPR is most popularly known for its Tiny Desk Concerts, which involve live performances conducted in a unique setting – imagine a group of musicians tucked into a corner of the office, surrounded by shelves laden with books and files. In a small, crowded space, Tiny Desk Concerts take on a home video-esque feeling (with much better quality, of course), which adds to the allure of unconventional experiences in equally unexpected spaces. Last year, during the pandemic, Tiny Desk Concerts were presented differently, where musicians performed from the safety of their own homes, but nothing beats the real deal.
Although Tiny Desk Concerts involve performances of any genre, jazz remains a major player. Apart from upcoming musicians and avant-garde performers, jazz greats like Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Ravi Coltrane and Terence Blanchard have also left their musical imprint in NPR’s office. I’m particularly fond of these performances by Edmar Castaneda, Donny McCaslin, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and Mary Halvorson, which are perfect for late afternoon listening.
3. WBGO: THE CHECKOUT LIVE
WBGO plays an important role in championing the beauty of jazz: this independent, community-based public radio station based in Newark, New Jersey, is one of the most well-known platforms among jazz musicians in America. The Checkout Live is a spinoff from WBGO’s The Checkout, a radio show/podcast hosted by Simon Rentner. Featuring performances at the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston and the NYC Winter Jazzfest, The Checkout Live shows jazz musicians in their element, beautifully-presented without any unnecessary distractions.
Several performances at Berklee were recorded during observation lessons with the college’s students, where Rentner is also known to conduct mini interviews with the musicians, allowing them to share their expertise with like-minded youth. Guitarist Lage Lund gave a superb performance during his session, which sounds even more mesmerising than on his album, if I dare say so myself.
Some of The Checkout Live’s concerts bring together Berklee students with well-known jazz artists, resulting in a musical exchange that is a dream come true for these aspiring musicians. Through Berklee’s Global Jazz Institute, students get the golden opportunity to share the stage with established musicians, as evident from this stellar performance by Grammy Award-winning composer Luciana Souza.
4. UM CAFÉ LÁ EM CASA
Founded and hosted by Brazilian jazz guitarist Nelson Faria, Um Café Lá Em Casa translates to “coffee at home”, capturing the channel’s laidback, cosy vibe. Two cups of coffee, two chairs and a simple backdrop – Faria’s duets with this guests give you a glimpse into the Brazilian jazz scene in the least intimidating way possible. Undoubtedly, the music is what shines best here.
Though presented in Portuguese, there’s no need to worry about the language barrier: the extensive playlist ensures plenty of wonderful music to listen to. The star-studded guestlist is also a great reason to keep coming back; Mike Stern, Romero Lubambo, Camille Bertault, Toninho Horta, Hermeto Pascoal and Celia Vaz have appeared on Um Café Lá Em Casa. With a stream of frequent updates every few days, fans of Brazilian music will love the sheer variety this channel provides.
5. RICK BEATO/ADAM NEELY/BRIAN KROCK
Coming in at #5 are three YouTube channels produced by individual musicians: musician/producer Rick Beato, bassist/composer Adam Neely, and multi-instrumentalist/composer Brian Krock. Unlike the ones mentioned above, which are primarily team-based or operated by companies, these personal channels tend to go more in-depth about particular topics that the host is passionate about. While not completely based around the topic of jazz, a major part of their content revolves around the genre, and are wonderful for when you have extra time on your hands to absorb lots of new details and interesting knowledge.
With a Master’s degree in jazz studies, Rick Beato has been in the music industry since the 1980s. He began his YouTube career in 2015, and as of today has 2.57 million subscribers. Thanks to his experience in music, Beato’s content focuses a lot on music theory, guitar tutorials and exclusive interviews. Renowned jazz artists like Pat Metheny, Gary Burton and Ron Carter have also made appearances on his channel.
Adam Neely, on the other hand, explores educational content about music, often combining theoretical knowledge with recent trends, like jazz and J-pop, or the different levels of jazz harmony. Academically trained in jazz composition, Neely is a bassist and is also a member in several ensembles: electronic music duo Sungazer and jazz band Aberdeen.
Last, we have alto saxophonist/guitarist/pianist Brian Krock, whose YouTube channel covers a mix of technical stuff, from analysing the scores of popular songs to find out why they work, to putting together covers that feature himself playing a plethora of musical instruments. Before his career as a professional musician, Krock studied jazz in high school and went on to obtain a Master’s degree in Composition from the Manhattan School of Music.
Cover Credit: Marek Szturc / Unsplash
Writer | Gin Lin
An avid jazz enthusiast, Gin hopes to share the beauty of jazz with people around the world.
Translation | Michelle Tan