Tom Moon

Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.

He is the author of the New York Times bestseller 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die (Workman Publishing), and a contributor to other books including The Final Four of Everything.

A saxophonist whose professional credits include stints on cruise ships and several tours with the Maynard Ferguson orchestra, Moon served as music critic at the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1988 until 2004. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, GQ, Blender, Spin, Vibe, Harp and other publications, and has won several awards, including two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Music Journalism awards. He has contributed to NPR's All Things Considered since 1996.

Kassa Overall thinks about sound the way hip-hop producers do: Anything can be transformed into a beat. With a background in jazz — he's played with Christian McBride, Ravi Coltrane and the late pianist Geri Allen — the songs on his new album, I Think I'm Good, also have moments that sound electric and improvisational.

That liquid, crystalline tone; those airborne, searching melodies. They've been part of the jazz conversation for decades — ever since Pat Metheny's debut appeared back in 1976, when he was just 22-years-old. He's 65 now, an established star and the only recording artist in history to win a Grammy award in 10 different categories. On his latest album, From This Place, Metheny is pushing forward, still seeking breathtakingly new vistas.

Sooner or later, every child prodigy hits a fork in the road: Keep doing the crowd-pleasing, trained-seal tricks that brought fame? Or set out to develop a more individual sound?

From the moment 11-year-old Indonesian pianist Joey Alexander gained international attention in 2015, it was clear that he wasn't your average young phenom. He had seemingly limitless technique and a deep understanding of tunes written decades before he was born. Already a fixture in the jazz world with five albums under his belt at only the age of 16, Alexander is clearly charting his own path.

An anthology devoted to early Nat King Cole recordings was recently released, and it offers a new window into his artistic development. The collection is called Hittin' the Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943), and this massive 7-CD, 10-LP package is clearly aimed at obsessives. It's a deep dive that traces Nat King Cole's evolution — from smooth, unflappable piano player into a singing star with an endearingly smooth style all his own.

Updated at 10:42 a.m. ET

There are lots of firsts and superlatives in the career of Ginger Baker, the drummer and bandleader who died Sunday morning at age 80. His death was announced by his family on social media; they had said on Sept. 25 that he was "critically ill," without giving details.

The wild-eyed son of a South London bricklayer, Baker was the engine room of rock's first and still most revered power trio, Cream. He played a similarly key role in shaping the more finessed work of one of rock's first supergroups, Blind Faith.

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The frontwoman of Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard, has just released her first solo album.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRITTANY HOWARD SONG, "HISTORY REPEATS")

There's been no shortage of great music by soft-spoken women playing acoustic guitar in 2019. But if you pay attention to one song in that vein this year, let it be "The Fading" from Joan Shelley's breathtaking latest album, Like The River Loves the Sea. It's an elegy tuned to the present moment hitting ominous notes of environmental dread, glaciers disappearing, things breaking down. You can tell that Shelley is rattled, but gracefully sidesteps despair on the refrain.

The official history of rock and roll in the late 1960s is usually written festival-to-festival, Fillmore lineup to Fillmore lineup. Here are the reputation-making gigs, here are the moments when youngsters became rising stars.

In his vast catalog of music, Radiohead's Thom Yorke has trembled like a broken man on his knees. He has screamed in tormented six-part harmony; he has manic-whispered diaries worth of existential fear. Still, he just can't shake the techno-dread. Most recently, that dread has manifested in Yorke's third solo project, ANIMA, released on June 27.

From a casual distance, the music of João Gilberto sounds like it might belong to that ancient realm known as "easy listening."

This past May, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary, attracting an estimated 475,000 people to its annual celebration of Louisiana music and culture. To mark this milestone, Smithsonian Folkways has released its Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival box set that includes rare live recordings and photographs of the momentous gathering.

Heather Woods Broderick needed a change. After more than seven years of living on the road, backing up artists like Sharon Van Etten, Broderick moved from Brooklyn to a spot on the Oregon coast, near where she'd spent summers as a child. Broderick's latest album, Invitation, out now, is a musical portrait of that upheaval.

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When can a song be considered "finished"? When, if ever, can a song written by Bob Dylan be considered finished? And what to make of tracks that were greenlit for release and then discarded – after the auteur decided they somehow didn't quite capture the totality of what he was trying to express?

More than two years after Prince's death, his fans got their first album-length glimpse into the famed vault. Piano & a Microphone 1983 features nine songs Prince recorded solo on cassette in his home studio, spilling fascinating secrets about his approach to songwriting.

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.

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KADHJA BONET: (Singing) Oh, every morning brings a chance to renew, chance to renew. Oh...

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When Johann Sebastian Bach compiled the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier in 1722, he wrote that the 24 preludes and fugues were "for the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning, and especially for the pastime of those already skilled in this study."

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(SOUNDBITE OF THE BAD PLUS' "LAYIN' A STRIP FOR THE HIGHER-SELF STATE LINE")

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Recording is a little bit like fishing. Sometimes you make elaborate preparations, get the best gear and set up in advantageous surroundings ... only to wind up with zilch.

Sometimes you grab whatever is close at hand and just get busy. The hours go by like minutes, and the next thing you know, the bucket is full.

Since its premiere in 1918, Gustav Holst's symphonic cycle The Planets has effectively defined the informal genre of "music about space." But more recently, four prominent artists from different musical realms collaborated on a cosmic exploration of their own. It culminated in Planetarium, which was released earlier this month.

In 1959, the peak of his playing years, Thelonious Monk did something he'd never done before: record music for a film. Released in the U.S. as Dangerous Liaisons, the French film Les Liaisons Dangereuses featured nearly 30 minutes of Monk's music, none of which ever made it to a record. But the master tapes resurfaced last year, and were first released as a vinyl exclusive on Record Store Day this April.

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After a six-year hiatus, Canadian singer Feist is back. She's out with her fifth album. It's called "Pleasure," but that's a bit of a misdirection. Reviewer Tom Moon says the album explores the quest for inner-strength in the painful aftermath of romance.

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.


Bob Dylan is evidently not finished with his (grand, now exhaustive) inquiry into the Great American Songbook.

Stephen Bruner is a bass player, singer and songwriter who's as well known for his own music as for his collaborations. But when he released his latest solo single as Thundercat few weeks ago, those who know his work with Kendrick Lamar were scratching their heads. Here was a fiery visionary collaborating with two icons of easygoing '70s pop: Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald.

Over the years, music fans have slowly filled in details about a hard-working, mostly anonymous collective of Detroit studio musicians known as The Funk Brothers, who were the backing band for many of Motown's hit songs. Less documented is what these musicians did when they were not in the studio.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.


Before he began the tour that's documented on the 36-disc set The 1966 Live Recordings, Bob Dylan was on record as being ambivalent about the road.

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