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Alex Ariff

About 50 years ago, pianist Stanley Cowell and trumpeter Charles Tolliver embarked on a bold venture together. In the face of a tough business climate, at a time of constriction in the record industry, they started their own label, Strata-East Records, breaking in its catalog with the self-titled debut by their own working band, Music Inc.

Mel Brown's family moved to Portland, Ore. from Arkansas in the early 1940s. He was born in 1944 — the last of six siblings and the only native Oregonian. By high school, Brown's skill for drumming was plain, and by the time he was 19 he had already secured a gig playing with soul-jazz breakout Billy Larkin and Delegates.

It wasn't your typical crowd in the Rose Theater one afternoon last fall, for a sold-out concert by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. For one thing, every grown-up in the audience seemed to be accompanied by an excited child or two.

Wynton Marsalis has always been deeply engaged in the subject of American race relations. The issue was a crucial part of his education as a young musician in New Orleans, and it has been a core preoccupation of his own work going as far back as Black Codes (From the Underground), a trailblazing album from 1985.

Here are a few indisputable truths about Andy Bey. First things first: as he approaches 80, Bey occupies the first rank of living jazz singers. He has led a circuitous career — starting out as a prodigy, slipping into obscurity, experiencing a late renaissance.

If you're even a casually observant jazz fan, you might think you know a thing or two about Joe Lovano. A tenor saxophonist with dozens of albums to his name, most of them made during a roughly 25-year tenure on Blue Note Records, Lovano is one of the most instantly identifiable musicians on the jazz landscape and on the New York scene.