Nate Chinen

José James, the eclectic, groove-minded jazz singer, has made no secret of his fondness for Bill Withers. There's a medley that James has been singing in concert for years, linking Withers' despondent anthem "Ain't No Sunshine" with an upturning grace note, "Grandma's Hands."

The blues have traveled far and wide over the last century — exerting a vast cultural influence worldwide, yielding myriad offshoots, and generating fortunes for some of the biggest musical acts of our time. But it's also still the product of local conditions, and bound by hardscrabble local concerns.

On this episode of Jazz Night in America, we'll go to Clarksdale, Miss., to get a temperature reading at ground level, where struggling musicians are finally beginning to reap the benefits of a recent wave of blues tourism.

Esperanza Spalding — the multiple Grammy-winning bassist, singer-songwriter, bandleader and composer — maintains a fierce commitment to the unfolding moment. Spontaneity is her watchword and her discipline, the condition to which she aspires.

Almost exactly 30 years ago, guitarist John Scofield recorded an album he evocatively titled Loud Jazz. Not quite a decade later, he made one called Quiet. Both albums were statements of intent, widely embraced and justly acclaimed. And despite the obvious differences between the two, both were genuine expressions of Scofield's musical personality, which has always been more flexible than those extreme dynamic markings would seem to suggest.

For a long stretch of his early performing career, vibraphonist Gary Burton was always the youngest man on the bandstand. A child prodigy from Indiana, and then an onrushing force on the scene, he apprenticed with the great Nashville guitarist Hank Garland before going on tour with pianist George Shearing, followed by tenor saxophonist Stan Getz.

Whatever else you might say about the themes of La La Land — that it's a film about the ins and outs of young romance, or the pros and cons of creative ambition, or the movie musical as a renewable art form, or the culture of Hollywood, or the state of jazz (more on that in a sec) — you'd have to acknowledge the line it draws between illusion and disillusion.

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