WBGO Blog
  • WBGO's Michael Bourne on Litchfield Jazz 2012

    August 23, 2012. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Rainy when it started. Sunny when it ended. Thirteen concerts over the weekend, August 10-12. Come rain or shine, the Litchfield Jazz Festival is always musically enjoyable, smartly programmed by Vita Muir, efficiently organized by Lindsey Turner, superbly stage-managed by Abram Sirignano, and seriously dedicated to jazz education.

    Young musicians came to the Litchfield Jazz Camp over the month before the jazzfest. Don Braden was the jazz dean, teaching with a jazz who's who, including this year's festival artist-in-residence, baritone saxist Gary Smulyan. Some of the camp's best and brightest played opening night at a gala party for the festival sponsors. After several years playing in a hockey rink of the school in Kent, Connecticut, the jazzfest returned this year to an enormous tent in a field in Goshen, Connecticut.

    Don Braden (left) with WBGO's Cephas Bowles and Ambrose Akinmusire

    The Four Freshmen sang the group's beautifully harmonized songbook for starters. I became a Freshmen fan as a kid in Saint Louis. I was a freshman myself in high school, and I grumbled when my folks took me to a Hawks basketball game. I assumed that the group playing a concert on the basketball court after the game, a group called The Four Freshmen, must be a rock and roll band. I never listened to rock back then. I was a freak for operas and musicals -- several years before I ever heard any of the Singers Unlimited.

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    I was delighted that instead, amazingly and amusingly, the Freshmen sang a variety of pop songs with the vocal arrangements anchored to the high voice of bassist and trombonist Bob Flanigan -- who was also funny. I eventually bought most of the Capitol records they recorded in the 50's and 60's, albums with titles like "Voices in Love," "Four Freshmen and Five Trumpets" or "Five Trombones" or "Five Guitars" and a live double-LP with the Stan Kenton big band.

    Through the years since the group first came together at Butler University in the latter 40's, there have been Twenty-Four Freshmen, and the four singing now have been singing in the group 12-20 years. What's deeply delightful for a Freshmen fan is that they sing the vocal arrangements -- full-throated, with subtle and surprising twists of a phrase or the meter of a song -- perfectly, and yet they're not doing an imitation or impression of the group. They embody the classic sound of the group, and the songs come alive. "Graduation Day." "Day By Day." "It's a Blue World." "Route 66." I miss the trombone and the whimsical presence of Bob Flanigan, but I can hear him in the heart of the sound. The Four Freshmen were, for me, laughing and singing along, worth the trip to Connecticut.

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    Plenty of highlights happened thereafter, including on opening night Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks revisiting 20's and 30's swing classics of Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson. Vince Giordano told stories about the music and anchored the band's bottom on an aluminum string bass, bass saxophone, or a tuba.

    Saturday's marathon kicked off with the Helen Sung Trio. Avery Sharpe presented his Sojourner Truth Project, music inspired by the African-American woman who pioneered the anti-slavery movement in the 19th Century, including a powerful blues composed to one of her own poems, sung by Jeri Brown.

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    I first heard the quintet of trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire live this summer at the Montreal festival, and again in Goshen I felt a rush of originality like I remember when I first heard Woody Shaw. Gary Smulyan gathered an octet, plus tenor saxist Eric Alexander, to "salute" the arrangements of George Coleman, climaxed by a full-tilt rocking (with a Matt Wilson back-beat) "Isn't She Lovely." Benny Green played flabbergastingly as always, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band blew the roof -- does a tent have a roof? -- off.

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    Sunday opened with, for me, the highlight of all the festival's highlights, the quartet of Gregoire Maret. His sound on the harmonica is the most original since Toots, and he pulls the audience into the sound as he breathes. Sometimes a lovely breeze. Sometimes a roiling riptide. He's energized all the more by the percussive dancing of Clarence Penn at the drums.

    Mark Giuliana is another drummer to be reckoned with, whipping up the quartet of ever-edgy tenor saxist Donny McCaslin. Hubert Laws played his golden flute magisterially, especially "My Ship" and one of his orchestral Afro-Classics: Tchaikovsky's love theme of "Romeo and Juliet."

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    Miguel Zenon played his "Alma Adentro" sounding of the Puerto Rican songbook. And for a finale, the "Kansas City Swing" of singer Kevin Mahogany and guitarist Dave Stryker again blew the roof off. Or blew the tent down? Anyway, this year's 17th annual Litchfield Jazz Festival ended with a great groove.

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    -- Michael Bourne

  • JazzReach's Hans Schuman featured on Afternoon Jazz

    August 20, 2012. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Add new comment | Filed under: Jazz Alive


    Hans Schuman, the founder of Jazz Reach, joined Michael Bourne on Afternoon Jazz today to talk about their benefit concerts beginning tomorrow at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York.  In this interview, Schuman says this year's concert pays homage to the late saxophonist Michael Brecker, featuring his former bandmembers Ravi Coltrane, Joey Calderazzo, Jeff "Tain" Watts, and more.

  • Farewell to Annie Kuebler, Master Jazz Archivist

    August 16, 2012. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    Tim Wilkins contributed to this post.

    WBGO's dear friend Annie Kuebler died on Monday, August 13, in Atlantic City. Annie had been an Archivist at the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University, Newark, from 2000 until February of this year, when she resigned because of declining health. Before she came to the IJS, Annie worked with the Duke Ellington collection at the Smithsonian Institution.

    Annie had countless friends, and was “one of the best jazz archivists out there,” says Tad Hershorn, a colleague at the IJS. Annie was an excellent project manager, she read music, trained students and volunteers and – as we all sensed or knew – became very important to the day-to-day atmosphere at the Institute. “Brassy, funny, irreverent,” is how Tad describes her. Other words immediately spring to mind: generous, thoughtful and kind.

    To read Annie's story as written for the Institute of Jazz Studies by Hershorn, click here.

    Farewell, Annie, we will miss you! If you have memories of Annie you would like to share, please add them to our comments section, and we will be adding to this online tribute in coming days, so come back and visit us again.

    Annie Kuebler (right) with Lila Duckett on November 9, 2007, photo by Ed Berger

    Annie's position at Rutgers-Newark was first funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant. She was so good that when the grant ran out, the Institute kept finding ways to keep her.

    Annie with visitors at the IJS
    Annie with visitors at the IJS

    Annie’s major project at the IJS was the Mary Lou Williams archive. Those of us who have seen it appreciate the scale. Williams saved everything for decades -- dresses and purses, albums, scores, countless penciled lists and  notes to herself,  even a hand-written letter to her from me in 1980.

    Cocktail napkins and notes from the Mary Lou Williams collection
    Cocktail napkins and notes from the Mary Lou Williams collection

    With Mary Lou's collection, as well as the James P. Johnson archive, Annie always turned "countless" into "catalogued" and knew the value, location, the story of each item. She did this with the help of devoted students and interns.

    People loved working with her. Her young colleague Joe Peterson says he is taking some "comfort in the fact that if Annie had any questions about Duke or Mary, she now has the answers from the source[s].”

    How she went from being a single mother of four and a part-time bartender to all of the above, I don’t know. She encountered a near fatal fire along the way, and it scarred her for life but did not seem to scar her spirit. She was upbeat and animated, smart.

    She is survived by her mother in Baltimore, four children (three sons and a daughter) and her Institute of Jazz Studies family, plus many admirers and friends.

    A Mass will be given to honor her memory at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, 200 Ware Avenue, Towson, Maryland at 10 a.m. Tuesday, August 28, with another to be held at St. Bartholomew of the Apostle Church, 2032 Westfield Avenue, Scotch Plains, New Jersey at 11 a.m. on Saturday, September 15.