• Toots Thielemans Hangs Up His Harp

    March 18, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    NEA Jazz Master Toots Thielemans, who turns 92 in April, has decided it's time to retire. After seven decades, the harmonica player and composer of "Bluesette" - who is also a master whistler -  has decided to hang up his harp, at least on the concert stage,  his website says.

    Toots has been a soulful and constant companion to jazz lovers lover over the years, with an unquenchable reserve of musical talent and enthusiasm. He has been frequently featured on WBGO and NPR, as in March, 2011, when we recorded him for JazzSet at the Kennedy Center.

    Listen to Toots' JazzSet here

    After that, he was scheduled to perform at New York's Blue Note, but canceled some of those shows, citing fatigue.

    A year later in May of 2012, Toots was back: he made an multi-city tour of his home country, Belgium, to celebrate his 90th birthday.

    WBGO's Becca Pulliam was lucky enough to visit Dinant and Brussels to take part in Belgium's celebration of their national treasure.  In the bookstore at the museum of musical instruments, she saw this stack of commemorative books.

    Stack of Toots books

    Back in the US, she wrote this appreciation of The Harmonica-Playing Baron of Belgium and the Toots90 concert in Brussels for NPR's A Blog Supreme:

    ". . . four of Toots' first five tunes were recorded by Miles Davis in a short span: 'On Green Dolphin Street' (1958), 'All Blues' (early 1959), 'I Loves You, Porgy' and 'Summertime' (both 1958, for Porgy and Bess). 'Days of Wine and Roses' was the other number. . . .  [T]hough he's streamlined his playing, 30 years later he still sounds tuneful, optimistic, willing to soar.

    "When [pianist Kenny]Werner and [guitarist Oscar] Castro-Neves came to the stage — excitement! embraces! — they brought shades of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Hollywood as they played 'How High the Moon' (a samba, thanks to Castro-Neves), 'All the Way' (Werner on synthesizer, interpolating 'My Way'), and the theme to Midnight Cowboy, an eight-note melody that circles and haunts. Indeed, Thielemans played it on the soundtrack [to the movie]."

    Toots was back in New York later that year to perform at Jazz At Lincoln Center, with his Brazilian friends Oscar Castro-Neves, Eliane Elias and Dori Caymmi, as well as Herbie Hancock, Kenny Werner, and Marc Johnson.

    The center of attention, the heart of the matter - was this wonderfully resilient, determined, and most musical nonagenarian, Toots Thielemans.

    According to his manager, Toots now - on the cusp of his 92nd birthday - "wants to enjoy the rest he deserves."

    Deserved, indeed, and thank you, Toots!

  • Happy Birthday, Matt Wilson... Coming To WBGO In 2014!

    September 27, 2013. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    NEWS FLASH: Coming this winter, PLAYDATE WITH MATT WILSON brings you the drummer's choice of music from WBGO's amazing secret stash.


    In the 1980s, WBGO produced "Big Apple Jazz" live from Sweet Basil, the Jazz Forum and Fat Tuesday's, and uplinked it via the NPR satellite (new technology at the time).

    Next, the "American Jazz Radio Festival" -- hosted by Al Pryor and later, Michael Bourne -- presented bands on stages across the country for TWO hours every week. Yes, two hours.

    Then in 1992, we launched "JazzSet with Branford Marsalis." Branford handed the host mic to Dee Dee Bridgewater in 2001.

    And there is more. We ran marathons. Early on, WBGO became known for live Jazzathon fundraisers and our all-night, coast-to-coast New Year's Eve specials.

    Now the music from 1980-2000, and the great musicians who happily played it for WBGO, will be the source for PLAYDATE WITH MATT WILSON, an eight-week series curated and hosted by Matt (a/k/a M@) with producer Alex Ariff.

    Besides the PLAYDATE radio shows, there will be extra Bright Moments of music on the WBGO blog. Coming in February. Stay connected for more information.

    Funding for PLAYDATE WITH MATT WILSON is coming from the National Endowment for the Arts: Art Works!

  • Dee Dee Bridgewater Stars in Lady Day - Benefit for WBGO

    August 1, 2013. Posted by Brandy Wood.

    WBGO Benefit Event Brings Exclusive Broadway Experience as
    Dee Dee Bridgewater Stars in Lady Day
    Jessye Norman, Honorary Chair and Hostess

    Dee Dee Bridgewater, photo by Carol Rosegg
    Dee Dee Bridgewater as Billie Holiday, photo by Carol Rosegg

    Tuesday, September 24, 2013, 7pm
    Times Square’s Little Shubert Theatre
    (422 West 42nd Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues)

    All proceeds from the September 24 preview performance ONLY benefit
    WBGO and The Actors Fund.

    Tony and Grammy Award® winner Dee Dee Bridgewater brings the essence and spirit of the late, great Billie Holiday to the stage this fall. Told through onstage triumphs and backstage personal trials, Lady Day tells the inspired and heart-wrenching story of Billie's attempt at a final comeback performance. Premium seats to this exclusive event will include a pre-show cocktail reception and post-show talk back.


    Seating: $88 Ticket Includes post-show talk back
    BUY TICKETS: Visit Broadway Offers
    and use the code WBGO

    Premium Seating: $250 Ticket Includes premium seating (in first 8 rows of theater), pre-show cocktail reception (5:30pm) and post-show talk back
    BUY TICKETS: Visit
    The Actors Fund Store
    or EMAIL: tickets@actorsfund.org
    When emailing or leaving voice mail, please include name, address, phone, number of tickets, and we will confirm your order.

    *Telecharge service and handling fees will apply to purchases of the $88 tickets unless purchased at the Little Shurbert Theatre Box Office in person.

    CALL: 212.221.7300 ext. 133.  Ticket line hours: Monday – Friday, 10 am - 4:30 pm.

    You can pay by Visa, MasterCard, American Express, check and money order payments. All sales are final. Please remember that these tickets are solely for the benefit of WBGO and The Actors Fund and tickets cannot be exchanged, refunded or re-sold.

    Jessye Norman (photo by Carol Friedman)

    Just announced (8/28/13) JESSYE NORMAN will be Honorary Chair and Hostess of the evening!

    David Ayers
    David Ayers
    Jim Cammack
    James Cammack

    Ms. Bridgewater will be joined by David Ayers (Wicked and SILENCE!) in the role of "Robert," Billie Holiday's Manager and newcomer Rafael Poueriet in the role of the "Assistant Stage manager."

    James Cammack, veteran bass player for legendary jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal, tenor saxophonist Ken Hitchcock, who has played for legendary drummers Elvin Jones and Buddy Rich, Jerome Jennings (performer & drummer for Benny Golson and Sonny Rollins) and Bill Jolly (three-time Emmy Award winning pianist/composer/arranger) complete the acting ensemble  in the roles of onstage musicians.

    Written and directed by Stephen Stahl, the musical will make its New York debut having been produced at the Theatre de Boulogne-Billancourt and Theatre du Gymnase Marie Bell in Paris as well as The Donmar Warehouse and The Piccadilly Theatre in London, where it received critical praise and garnered an Olivier “Best Actress in a Musical” Award nomination for Ms. Bridgewater. Produced by Misty Road Productions the show’s creative team also includes Mr. Jolly, who will also serve as musical director.

  • Cecile McLorin Salvant, Helen Sung from the Mary Lou Williams Festival at the Kennedy Center

    June 24, 2013. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    McLorin Salvant at the Kennedy Center, photo by Margot Schulman
    McLorin Salvant at the Kennedy Center, photo by Margot Schulman

    For her voice, dramatic ability and grace, 2013 was the year of Cécile McLorin Salvant at the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, May 16-18 in Washington, DC.

    Cécile sang music from WomanChild, just out from Mack Avenue, and added a couple of pieces by women including this one by Blanche Calloway -- "Growlin' Dan." The pianist is Aaron Diehl.

    But he handles my affairs like a real good man .. talkin' about Growlin' Dan .. and Cécile doesn't just sing it, she puts her own spin on it.

    WBGO listeners, note this opportunity:

    Cécile’s New York CD release party for WomanChild is Tuesday, June 25, and it's part of The WBGO Jazz Series at 54 Below. WBGO members can receive a discount here. You must see her!

    You may have heard underwriting spots from Mack Avenue for WomanChild on JazzSet. Thanks to the label for the support!

    Until Cécile's performance, it seemed as though this year's "Mary Lou" (as a friend calls the festival) was shaping up as the Year of the Bandleader. Helen Sung, Regina Carter and Nicole Mitchell's bands were especially strong.

    Helen Sung and Seamus Blake, photo by Margot Schulman
    Helen Sung and Seamus Blake, photo by Margot Schulman

    Helen Sung's arrangement puts the Tango by the Spanish composer Albeniz over a steady bass figure à la "Poinciana" (Ahmad Jamal) and "Sister Cheryl" (Tony Williams).

    This band smiles all around. The saxophonist is Seamus Blake, with Brandon Lee on trumpet, Ben Wolfe on bass, and Donald Edwards on drums. Here's "Shall We Tango."

    In an earlier version of this post, the audio was an excerpt of "Shall We Tango," but blog reader Dan Blake requested the complete performance, featuring Seamus Blake.

    I hope to be back with another post from the Mary Lou, soon!

  • J.P. Jofre, Bandoneon! Coming to JazzSet

    April 11, 2013. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    Hear J.P. Jofre with Strings on JazzSet .. Sunday, April 14, at 6pm and Wednesday, April 17, at 6:30pm.

    Juan Pablo Jofre lives in New York, but he's from San Juan, Argentina. A lover of heavy metal - Metallica even - he traded his drums for a bandoneón. In his home country, he studied with two protégés of Astor Piazzolla (1921-92), the creator of the New Tango. Piazzolla himself had lived in New York, and he loved to play with jazz musicians as well.

    The bandoneón is a remarkably empathetic instrument. When the player trembles, so does the sound he is producing on the bandoneón. To play it requires a dancer's sense of balance. Toward the end of the video above, J.P. pulls far left and right, then signs off with a smile. His brief at-home recital/demo is exclusively for JazzSet.

    Below, Jofre is onstage with I Solisti di Perugia, the string orchestra, in the fabulous Morlacchi Theater at the Umbria Jazz Festival. The music: tango! We have highlights from the concert on JazzSet.

    13 04 11 Jofre 2012 3_Morlacchi