April 25, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
I remember when Lizz Wright visited WBGO in 2003. It was the last hour of Gary Walker's Morning Jazz program, and the end of another May membership drive (by the way, contribute here). WBGO was one of the first stops on a press junket to promote her debut release, Salt. The hype machine was gaining momentum, and word was spreading fast. Lizz Wright had the goods - a voice that belied an ancient soul, from a quiet, almost reluctant star in the making. At the end of the interview, Lizz sang "Amazing Grace" with such conviction, you would have thought she was standing in the red clay of Hahira, Georgia and reaching for heaven.
"Open Your Eyes You Can Fly" is a song about freedom. When Flora Purim originally sang it in 1976, the meaning was literal. She had recently spent a year and a half in prison for drug possession. [That should be enough to make you investigate the source. And when you get there, you'll find some fascinating music from Flora's husband, the percussionist Airto, as well as Hermeto Pascoal. Alphonso Johnson's bass lines alone are a reason to hear the original recording.]
Lizz Wright's freedom is decidedly different from that of Flora. While the original had the classic seventies funk-meets-Brazil sound of Return to Forever, Wright's update suggested that forever was a place that she had never left.
© 2008 WBGO
April 24, 2008. Posted by Simon Rentner.
I dislike using qualitative language to describe music. Words fall short, especially when conjuring up the right descriptors for a performance I experienced last night at Carnegie Hall with Chick Corea, Bobby McFerrin, and Jack DeJohnette. That doesn't mean that I couldn't write a novel about what I witnessed. The existence of a concert like this explains why I find myself helplessly committed to a life in music. It was performance art of the highest order. Excluding the encore, they performed one continuous improvisation that included Bobby singing fluently in many made-up languages, Jack losing himself in a voluminous drum solo, and Chick playing a hand drum like a robot. There were drumsticks flying in every direction, some of which landed in Bobby's hair, a game of four-handed piano playing, where Chick and Bobby swapped places on the piano bench, and a captive audience clicking their tongues in unison. Bobby then led us in "making tones," as Chick described it backstage, where the audience and musicians sang sustained notes -- in six-part harmony -- creating intricate cascading patterns in falsetto throughout Carnegie's cavernous hall. Miraculously, we some how pulled it off. During this part of the concert, which Chick proclaimed his "favorite moment," my colleague Doug Yoel, saw patterns floating in the air. I was hallucinating too. - Simon
© 2008 WBGO
April 23, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
Meet Paul Barbarin, one of the most important people in the history of New Orleans music, and the "how" we call jazz.
The Barbarin family constitutes one of the original lines of Creole musicians who were present at the creation of a new music. Paul's father, Isidore, played the alto horn in The Onward Brass Band, one of the early traditional brass bands in the city.
Before I moved to New York, I used to work at WWOZ in New Orleans. I started as a volunteer, operating the board for a woman named Betty Rankin. Every Saturday morning, while most people my age had hangovers from Friday night, I was in a tiny peach-colored building in Louis Armstrong Park, playing LPs, cassettes, and the occasional CD for a lady who wanted no business with those details. She spent her ninety minutes as "Big Mama," the host of "The Moldy Fig Jam." I was 22, and this was the most amazing radio I had ever heard in my life. She told stories about every jazz musician in the city who had ever picked up an instrument with the purpose of playing traditional New Orleans jazz.
As it happened, Big Mama was an associate curator of the Hogan Jazz Archive. She handled the extensive oral history of New Orleans' music, and she knew both the collection as well as the musicians' whose lives she had helped to document. On any given Saturday, she talked about Paul Barbarin as if he were in the studio with us. It was the beginning of my post-college, real world education. On one such occasion, it was the first time I had ever heard his song, "Bourbon Street Parade." She told her audience about the street parades, how Barbarin kept that tradition alive. In the 1960s, he revived the Onward Brass Band, the name of the group that his father played a part. In fact, Paul Barbarin died in a parade, leading the band. [While I'm no fan of death, that's a great way to shuffle off this mortal coil.]
Years later, on the cusp of 2002, I was the field producer for NPR's Toast of the Nation. We're at the Village Vanguard, with Michael White and The Original Liberty Jazz Band. Hear them play "Bourbon Street Parade" from that evening.
When I hear this song, I remember how I got this far into jazz. Because I live with music.
PS Watch the video of Paul Barbarin's funeral. The musicians are playing "Just a Closer Walk With Thee."
Watching that is knowing why New Orleans matters. Onward.
© 2008 WBGO