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American Routes
Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m.

American Routes is a two-hour weekly excursion into American music, spanning eras and genres—roots rock and soul, blues and country, jazz, gospel and beyond.

Latest Episodes
  • In the absence of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, originally rescheduled for this month, we pay tribute to its founder, the late George Wein, by revisiting his creative work with the influential Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals. George Wein passed away on September 13, 2021. George Wein grew up during the Depression in a Jewish neighborhood near Boston. He heard religious cantorial music, pop songs, and eventually jazz. After World War II, Wein was playing gigs on piano before finding his niche as a club owner, concert organizer, and jazz impresario. He started the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954, followed by the Folk Festival in 1959. George Wein sat with us at his home on New York’s Upper East Side to talk about his early experiences with music.
  • This is American Routes, our program with words and music as a metaphor or extension of life in the circus, where not everyone is a man on the flying trapeze. We’re going to swing out with Dolly Jacobs, who was named a National Heritage Fellow in 2015. A Ringling Brothers aerialist, Dolly was born into a circus family. At fourteen, she learned what it would take to distinguish herself and the risks involved.
  • Los Cenzontles means “the mockingbirds” in the indigenous Nahuatl language. The band mixes traditional Mexican music with contemporary sounds including American rock and soul. They’ve collaborated with Linda Ronstadt, Taj Mahal, David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, and Jackson Browne, but their main collaborators are children. Los Cenzontles is also a community-based arts academy that teaches music, dance, arts and crafts to its young students. We sat down with Los Cenzontles’ founder and guitarist Eugene Rodriguez and with singers Lucina Rodriguez, and Fabiola Trujillo.
  • Cedric Watson grew up near Houston. His family’s Louisiana roots inspired him to move to Lafayette to learn Creole French. Cedric is a fine accordionist and fiddler, singer and song maker, a freethinking philosopher of life and music. He and the band will play La-La, zydeco, blues and soul. Allons avec Cedric Watson et Bijou Creole.
  • Singer Allison Russell is a native of Montreal with what she calls “Grenadian Canadian” roots of Afro-Caribbean and Scottish ancestry. You may know her recent recordings with Our Native Daughters and the Birds of Chicago. Or back when with Po’ Girl. Now, in a first solo recording, Outside Child, Russell addresses family abuse in her youth, her ways of coping, followed by escape to the road: Vancouver, San Francisco, Chicago. Those early life experiences led Allison years later to make new, compelling songs, expressing freedom from trauma, to love and hope for better times. She lives now with fellow musician JT Nero and their young daughter in Nashville, but Allison Russell began the journey’s narrative in her beloved Montreal.
  • Aurora Nealand was recently praised as one of the top ten soprano saxophonists in America by Downbeat Magazine. She grew up in an eccentric family on the California coast and then Colorado, listening to Stravinsky, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Joan Baez and the Pixies. Her mom was a gardener who played classical piano, her dad an archivist who went to rock band practice between jobs. She received musical training at Oberlin College and Jacques Lecoq School of Physical Theatre in Paris, all before embarking on a bike trip across the US to chronicle the dreams of rural America. In 2004 Aurora ended up in New Orleans, where she learned to play traditional jazz in the streets. Now she leads her band, the Royal Roses, and sometimes has the persona of Rory Danger. Aurora attributes the interest in a broad range of styles to her travels and nontraditional upbringing.
  • This is American Routes live for Labor Day weekend with some favorite performances from our series of concerts created with the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. To kick it off, we asked the Pine Leaf Boys to make a big journey across the Atchafalaya swamp from Lafayette and their South Louisiana Cajun prairie homeland down the Mississippi River to New Orleans to play on a live stream as the pandemic closed the dancehalls of French Louisiana. It’s “Pine Leaf Boy Two-Step” on American Routes.
  • This is American Routes with a live session of serious guitar slingers. Our revered guitar agitators of today are onstage in performance and conversation, recorded live at the National Folk Festival in Salisbury, MD 2019. The players include Mississippi blues guitarist Eddie Cotton, Dieselbilly electric guitarist Bill Kirchen, Nashville Dobro übermensch Jerry Douglas, and house painter and guitar picker Steve Lewis. Bill Kirchen plays a style of guitar music he calls “Dieselbilly,” inspired by the sound and soundtrack image of 18-wheelers and truckers tastes on the road. He’s also known from his time as a Lost Planet Airman with Commander Cody. I asked Bill how he got into country music.
  • This week on American Routes Shortcuts, we bask in the summer heat and listen to our favorite versions of the George Gershwin classic, “Summertime,” from the 1934 opera Porgy and Bess.
  • This summer, more than ever, the challenge is to be and stay cool. So we’re all about songs and sounds as ways to chill out. We asked musicians, critics and producers just what it means to be cool. Chicago pianist Ramsey Lewis had a huge hit with a song about cool people, “The ‘In’ Crowd," back in 1965. He's also known for adapting tunes like "A Hard Day's Night” and "Dancing in the Street" into hip jazz instrumentals. Now also a radio host, Ramsey Lewis told us he made his own brand of jazz by blending the blues he heard on the Chicago streets with gospel music from home.