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Suraya Mohamed

Suraya Mohamed is a three-time Peabody Award-winning producer, sound designer and editor. She currently serves as the project manager for Jazz Night In America and is a contributing producer on the Alt.Latino podcast. She also produces NPR's holiday specials package, including Tinsel Tales, Hanukkah Lights, Toast Of The Nation, Pink Martini's Joy To The World: A Holiday Spectacular and most recently Hamilton: A Story Of US. You'll also find her work on the Tiny Desk series as either a producer or engineer.

A graduate of the Peabody Conservatory of Music's with degrees in Viola Performance and Recording Arts and Sciences, Mohamed specializes in music and technology. Her Tonmeister (German: "sound master") classification is punctuated by her experience working as both an engineer and a producer in many genres.

With a wide range of musical interests and experience, Mohamed played bass in a high school go-go band, has worked as a substitute violist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and currently performs with a Washington, D.C., indie-rock band.

Sometimes, things don't go smoothly at the Tiny Desk. After traveling all night, the soulful R&B artist Jordan Rakei and his band pulled up to NPR in their tour bus at the crack of dawn, only to find the Fender Rhodes we'd rented for him didn't have the right action. But after quickly ordering a replacement (that arrived moments before the Tiny Desk performance started), Rakei and his band locked-in and played a phenomenal set.



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Leslie Odom Jr. walked through the door with unassuming confidence and a big smile that brightened the room. Later, during his Tiny Desk performance, he recalled advice he'd received from a friend: "You have to get used to it — you are part of a cultural phenomenon in New York City," Odom said, before quipping, "I feel so blessed to be a part of Law & Order: SVU for three magnificent seasons."

Most people who don't know jazz can probably recognize the name of one of the genre's best singers: Ella Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is one of the eight women at the center of this season of NPR Music's Turning the Tables, and she's arguably one of the most important vocalists not just in jazz but in the entire history of American music. With an exceptional vocal style, supreme technical capabilities and a spirited energy, she was "The First Lady of Song."

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I first saw Tasha Cobbs Leonard sing live in my church's 4,000-seat sanctuary. Her voice easily powered-over the PA system and I was amazed by how well I could hear its beautiful resonance and clarity. Since my producer hat is always on, I couldn't wait to invite her to perform here at the desk. Months later, sitting just a few feet away, I was captivated by the un-amplified brilliance that filled the room.

Scottish singer, songwriter and essayist Karine Polwart seldom comes stateside. She prefers to limit air travel in order to minimize her carbon footprint. She took exception, however, to fly from Edinburgh to New York City to participate in the Carnegie Hall Migrations festival, a celebration of the history of the movement of people all around the world. Polwart and her brother, guitarist Steven Polwart and multi-instrumentalist, Inge Thomson, then escaped New York for a day to play the Tiny Desk here in Washington, D.C.

He should have been exhausted, but instead played the Tiny Desk with incredible stamina, holding a single trumpet note that lasted longer than most people can hold their breath. In the days just before this performance, Nicholas Payton played at the Joy of Jazz Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, then Santiago, Chile and, finally, New York City. A member of his team drove them the four hours from NYC so he could nap in the car and be ready to play.

Standing behind the Tiny Desk with only pianist Sullivan Fortner by her side, jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant remarked that she hadn't been this nervous in a while. But it was hard to tell: She embraced the discomfort with ease, taking command of the space with a calm demeanor and spiritual presence that felt both humble and persuasive.

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.

Right before the start of the second leg of his 2018 North America Tour, Dublin-hailing Dermot Kennedy stopped by NPR to play his very own Tiny Desk Concert. And before he left to back out on tour, he shared his personal bank of familiar music he likes to turn to when he's on the road.

Interview Highlights

On naming the playlist

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