WBGO Blog
  • Interview & Feature with 2009 NEA Jazz Master Rudy Van Gelder

    November 15, 2008. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Add new comment | Filed under: Jazz Alive

    Randy Van Gelder

    There's a bit of mystery that engulfs Rudy Van Gelder, the 2009 NEA Jazz Master and engineer extraordinaire.  As a young teenager, he soldered radio parts together to construct his first recording equipment.  He rarely grants interviews and if he does they're rarely done live, in person. Gelder says he strives for a kind of exactitude, to avoid any imprecision with his answers. He's a stickler for detail, not only for his pristine mixes, but also in his historical accounts (too many to count).  All the legends seemed to have worked with him, and each surely have their own story.  Here's one told by Cyrus Chestnut when he first met Gelder.  When I requested an interview with him,  I submitted questions beforehand.  His pre-recorded  responses - in perfect sonic sonority, I might add - can be heard here.  But, before you listen, you might want to read my questions below. - Simon Rentner

    Also enjoy this Rudy Van Gelder feature by clicking here.

    Questions for Van Gelder
    1) I've read that you've engineered anywhere from "2,000 sessions" to "tens of thousands" of jazz sessions in your career. For the record, have you ever tried to estimate how many albums you've worked on? Does this work ever get tiresome?

    2) You were remarkably endowed with "good ears." How have you taken care of your hearing over the years? Do you have any special methods or practices to keep them healthy?

    3) In the beginning, you brought musicians like Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley into your first studio -- the living room of your parent's house. Can you recall one or two amusing stories where your family/personal life collided with some of jazz's larger-than-life personalities? Please set it up for us.

    4) You have remarked needed to invent and build your own "mixer" and recording rigs when you started. Has any of that gear ever been on display at a museum somewhere? What was your most difficult challenge when constructing your own equipment? Did you ever hit a wall?

    5) What was your immediate reaction when you learned about becoming an NEA Jazz Master? Do you equate it to receiving a Pulitzer?

    6) When you were compiling selections for the Blue Note album "The Perfect Takes," what tune or tunes didn't make the CD that you wish you could've squeeze on? When you have thought of the selection, can you explain it in detail? Why is this take special? Why are you proud of it?

    7) You have been cited as often "deflecting any credit" for the work you've done over the years. And the "praise should go to the musicians, and to the producers who hire and direct them." If this is the case, why do you keep your recording and production techniques so hidden from public view? Do you ever intend to share your recording secrets?

  • JazzSet: Swiss Movement Revisited at the Kennedy Center

    November 14, 2008. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    Javon Jackson
    On November 10 at the KC Jazz Club, JazzSet recorded the "Swiss Movement Revisited" show, featuring Javon Jackson on tenor and special guest Les McCann, singing at the keyboard. The title comes from the 1969 Les McCann Trio live-at-Montreux LP with Eddie Harris on sax. Swiss Movement captured a primal-screamin moment at the end of the 60s, with the sly & infectious anthem that asks the question, "Tryin' to make it Real, Compared to What?"

    Mark Schramm was our onsite producer for "Swiss Movement Revisited," and Mark reports.

    "Javon has put together a crack band to play this music. They've been together for a year now and it shows. The arrangements are tight but the band plays loose and with tremendous energy. After "Where Is the Love?" (think Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway), Javon brings on Les, who uses a motorized cart to get around. In Les's first blues - earthy, soulful, funny, intense - every note has meaning. There's a quality of directness of expression with Les that is very moving in person.

    "They played Eddie Harris' 'Cold Duck Time' (click to listen to the tune with a guitar solo by David Gilmore) from Swiss Movement, then an uptempo Javon original, then quieted down for an "Amazing Grace" duet with Les and Javon. Javon backed him perfectly. There was a lady sitting next to me at the back of the room and she had tears coming down her face at the end of that song. She wasn't the only one.

    "An excellent 'Freedom Jazz Dance' followed (yet another great Eddie Harris tune), and then came the set closer, 'Compared to What.' This is Les's signature tune, and he sings that song (an anti-war anthem, let's not forget) with all the passion of the original. The driving rhythm got people up out of their seats, dancing in the back of the room. I don't think I've ever seen that at the Jazz Club!

    "Between sets and after the show, Javon signed CDs out front of the club. His new one, Once Upon a Melody (Palmetto), is excellent by the way. Almost every person who bought one asked, 'Do you have a CD with you and Les?' And the answer was no. I can't tell you how many people came up and THANKED us for being there recording the concert."

    **

    "Swiss Movement Revisited" airs on JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater the first Sunday in February, launching 26 weeks of JazzSet in Surround Sound, thanks to underwriting from Neural Audio. Let us fire up all six of your speakers!

    Becca Pulliam

  • Interview & Feature with 2009 NEA Jazz Master Toots Thielemans

    November 13, 2008. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Add new comment | Filed under: Jazz Alive

    Toots Thielemans

    Toots Thielemans turned 86 years young last April (He certainly does not behave as if he's 86).   His choice instrument -- the chromatic harmonica -- is not only unconventional, but also unusual that his artistry and musical contribution is too often overlooked in the jazz community (I know I've neglected to pay attention). Not any more.  On October 17th, The National Endowment for the Arts crowned him the highest honor: Jazz Master.  In this interview with WBGO's Rhonda Hamilton -- conducted on November 26th, 1991 -- Thielemans speaks of his early American influences while growing up in Belgium, and his role in jazz as a premier guitarist and whistler.  Also hear a music feature with Toots, which WBGO produced for the live broadcast of the 2009 Jazz Master Award Ceremony.  The complete ceremony broadcast will be available on-demand in April 2009. - Simon Rentner

    Click here for the NEA Jazz Master Feature on Toots Thielemans.

    Click here for the full interview of Toots Thielemans with Rhonda Hamilton.