Patrick Jarenwattananon

If you've ever gone to the NYC Winter Jazzfest — specifically, the marathon of overlapping sets in roughly adjacent venues that sometimes lasts more than eight hours per night — you know that you're bombarded with choices. Stay in one theater where it's warm, or graze for three songs and move on? Stand in that slow-moving line, or find a new plan? See one of your favorite musicians, or take a risk on something you've never heard of before? Experimental, deep in-the-pocket, or somewhere in between?

As a pianist and bandleader, Marian McPartland was a decorated jazz artist, recording and performing for well over half a century. At the same time, she was one of the music's great champions, as host of NPR's Piano Jazz for 33 years.

In the dead of January in the Northeast, New York City's Winter Jazzfest manages a minor miracle. Over the course of two marathon nights, it brings crowds in the thousands out to jam-packed theaters and clubs to see dozens of varied and sundry bands.

Every year, NPR Music invites a handful of the world's top keyboard players to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. We ask them to play some of their favorite holiday music for the audience — solo — and the recording becomes the public radio special A Jazz Piano Christmas.

Ellis Marsalis is a father figure of modern jazz — in quite a few ways. As a pianist, he was among the first generation of musicians to bring bebop to New Orleans, and even worked with Ornette Coleman before the saxophonist recorded his landmarks of free jazz. As an educator, many great musicians came through Marsalis' tutelage, whether in New Orleans' arts high school or at various university programs. And of course, he is also the actual father of several exceptional musicians named Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis.

Jon Batiste is from New Orleans, where a street parade might assemble around the corner on any given day. Evidently, he likes a good walkabout: He's liable to lead his band at a guerrilla concert in the New York City subway, or out of a venue, or — as he did at the Newport Jazz Festival — off stage and into the audience.

When Miles Davis returned to performing in the early 1980s, he asked his former bandmate and master composer, Wayne Shorter, to write something for him. What came out was a large ensemble work too unwieldy for Davis, and Shorter put it back on his shelf. "I asked him for a tune, and he gives me a [expletive deleted] symphony," Davis reportedly said at the time.

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