Felix Contreras

Fifty years ago, Johnny Cash performed at Folsom State Prison in Folsom, Calif. The January 1968 concert and live album it produced, At Folsom Prison, helped revitalize Cash's career, inspiring him to testify for prison reform and cementing his reputation as a voice for the downtrodden.

I am not ashamed to admit it: I was overcome with emotion a few moments after entering Areito Estudio Ciento Uno (Areito Studio 101) inside the EGREM recording complex in the center of Havana, Cuba.

What are the holidays without Charlie Brown?

Nowadays, the quietly elegant and celebratory recordings by pianist Vince Guaraldi have become as much a part of the holidays as the sound of unwrapping presents. And every year we are treated to at least one interpretation of that classic Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack by one of the pianists on NPR's A Jazz Piano Christmas. This year is no exception.

"Despacito" continued its magical run of success by earning four statuettes tonight at the 18th annual Latin Grammy Awards held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

Activist, hero, rebel, icon; those are just of the few of the adjectives often used in front of Dolores Huerta's name. They are well-deserved — for her part as a co-founder of a '60s labor movement, standing up for the rights of farm workers in this country, Dolores Huerta was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in May of 2012.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


It's impossible to overstate the importance of both Bébo Valdés and Chico O'Farrill to 20th century Afro-Cuban music and jazz.

Their rich and multi layered influence is evident in iconic compositions, big band arrangements written 60 years ago that still sound cutting edge, and piano playing that echo Cuban classical music and jazz pianist Bill Evans.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


Omar Sosa seemingly can do no wrong.

Each year on Jazz Piano Christmas, we celebrate with one of the most beloved holiday traditions, music. This year, we add another sacred tradition common to every community: family. The stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington Dec. 10 was overflowing with love as father-daughter and husband-wife duos let fly with love for each other and the holiday canon.

Rudy Van Gelder, an audio recording engineer who captured the sounds of many of jazz's landmark albums, died Thursday morning in his sleep. He was at his home studio in New Jersey, according to Maureen Sickler, his assistant engineer. He was 91.

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RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

Well, it's summertime, Fourth of July weekend. Let's take a music break. I asked my buddy Felix Contreras, host of NPR Music's Alt.Latino podcast to recommend some tunes. Felix, what'd you bring me?

Ralph J. Gleason is my hero.

It's impossible to put an exact date on it, but I think I started reading his column in Rolling Stone in the summer of 1973. I was 14 years old and already immersed in music. Reading him, I discovered you could write about music and get paid for it — and then I discovered his writing was just as immersive as the music we both loved.

Although they share the same last name, it's hard to imagine a less likely pairing than Luz Elena Mendoza and Sergio Mendoza.

While both have roots in Mexico, Luz Elena makes her home in the Pacific Northwest and has fronted a band called Y La Bamba. That group sets Luz Elena's deep, evocative voice against backing vocals so rich, I once described Y La Bamba's other singing members as bearded choirboys. There were direct Mexican influences in the music, but not many.

Latino migration in the U.S. has placed people of Afro-Caribbean heritage all over the country. Bio Ritmo's heritage leads directly back to that migration — and to the sound of Fania Records, which fueled Latin dance music's transition from the big-band mambos of the 1950s to the cutting-edge sounds of 1970s New York.

Bio Ritmo moves salsa music even further through stellar musicianship: crisp horn charts; a powerful rhythm section of timbales, congas and bongos; and a piano/bass combo that reminds me of the best groove masters in salsa and Latin jazz.

Singer Jimmy Scott died of natural causes Thursday morning at his home in Las Vegas at age 88, according to his booking agent, Jean-Pierre Leduc.

Scott suffered from Kallmann's syndrome, a lifelong affliction that prevented his body from maturing through puberty. The condition slowed his growth, leaving his stature at 4 feet 11 inches until his late 30s. It also affected his vocal cords, giving him a high voice that was often misidentified as a woman's.

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