WBGO Blog
  • Patrick Cornelius Octet Live From Berklee: Watch Now

    December 10, 2013. Posted by Chris Dennison.

    Alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius is that rare thing: a true jazz composer. His works are more than jumping-off points for improvisers, as we heard on Dec. 11, when he premiered a new suite from the Berklee College of Music's Café 939 in Boston.

    Click on the links below to hear or watch our live broadcast of this event.

    “On a lot of great music that I’ve loved over the years in the jazz lexicon, the tune itself is kind of an afterthought,” says Cornelius. “I wanted to take the opposite approach, and write songs that I end up walking around whistling.”

    The musicians Cornelius assembled for this premiere are, like himself, Berklee alums. They include Jason Palmer on trumpet, John Ellis on tenor sax, trombonist Nick Vayenas, guitarist Miles Okazaki, pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Peter Slavov, and drummer Kendrick Scott. Many of this tightly-knit group of musical forward thinkers have appeared on Cornelius’s albums, and vice versa.

    The suite is inspired by When We Were Very Young, the 1924 debut in a book of poetry by A.A. Milne of a friendly bear named Winnie The Pooh.

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    The original Pooh toys, on display at the New York Public Library

    Winnie has gone on to great fame, and is beloved to children around the world. These include Cornelius’s own toddlers, James and Isabella,who he says inspired him to write the work, a commission for Chamber Music America and the Doris Duke Foundation.

    Fatherhood has also inspired him to explore new directions in his music, he says, which in the past hewed towards the hard-driving and intricate hard bop lines of one of his sax heroes, altoist Cannonball Adderley.

    “Being a father has definitely mellowed a lot of the more aggressive tendencies in my personality… and it’s heightened the more sentimental aspects,” says Cornelius. “It absolutely has influenced the way I hear music and what kind of music I want to write.”

    This sea change can be heard on tracks such as “Bella’s Dreaming” a beautiful ballad with a lullaby feel from his third album, 2011’s Maybe Steps. The album is dedicated to Isabella, who was a newborn at the time.

    Cornelius’s most recent album, 2013’s Infinite Blue with pianist Frank Kimbrough and drummer Jeff Ballard, features eight original, expertly composed, catchy tunes. While these include introspective tracks such as “In The Quiet Moments” and “Waiting,” it also includes fiery, up-tempo burners like “Puzzler.”

    “When it’s time to swing hard, that’s when Cannonball comes out,” he says.

    Enjoy our broadcast of While We’re Still Young, in which Cornelius takes his love of melody and extends it into the realm of long-form composition, for the love of Pooh.

  • Live At The Village Vanguard: Brian Blade Fellowship Band

    December 9, 2013. Posted by Matt Leskovic.

    Brian Blade says he’s “just the drummer” in the Fellowship Band. But this modest man of rhythm has plenty of reasons to boast: we heard why on Dec. 10 when the group he has nurtured for twenty-five years came to New York’s Village Vanguard. Listen now to our live broadcast of this event.

    fellowship vv edits_14
    Photo by John Rogers for WBGO/NPR

    Blade was raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, and attended Loyola University in New Orleans, where he formed a trio with Jon Cowherd on piano and Chris Thomas on bass. When he made his way to New York, Jon and Chris came, too.

    In the Big Apple, Blade made waves in a wunderkind quartet with Joshua Redman on tenor saxophone, Brad Mehldau on piano and bassist Christian McBride. He found time to play on Bob Dylan’s folk masterpiece Time Out of Mind, and in the Oscar-winning film Sling Blade. He can also be heard on sessions with Joni Mitchell, Norah Jones, and Emmylou Harris, and has played with master saxophonist Wayne Shorter since 2000.

    But it is in The Fellowship Band, with Cowherd and Thomas at its core, where we hear Blade's generous spirit at its best. On the bandstand, the group sounds like a family; no one player dominates the mix. Saxophonists Myron Walden and Melvin Butler have been with the Fellowship since its birth, and they have found a kindred spirit in guitarist Steve Cardenas, who joins them at the Vanguard and on the group’s fourth album, Landmarks, which will be released by Blue Note in April.

    Grand in scope and breadth of emotion, the Fellowship’s sound seamlessly combines elements of modal jazz, country and folk, soul and rock. Compositions such as “Return of the Prodigal Son,” a suite from 2008’s Season of Changes, invite listeners to navigate a landscape that is pastoral, then haunting and brooding, and ultimately transcendent and inspiring.

    Yet for all this sonic ambition, the Fellowship never loses its earthiness and soul. Songs like “Rubylou’s Lullaby” and “Stoner Hill” showcase the group’s strong melodic sense and ability to be as succinct as they are adventurous.

    Walden and Butler’s interwoven saxophone lines are a delight, as are the pristine piano and guitar unisons, but it’s the subtleties in Blade’s drumming that steal the show. Sensitive and dynamic, Blade’s embellishments compliment but never overshadow his bandmates, and his flair for the dramatic - toms rumbling into volcanic cymbal explosions - are always tasteful.

    Blade may never want to call himself the leader of the band, but he has certainly earned his place on the Vanguard’s marquee, as a master of rhythm and a shepherd of men. Enjoy!

  • Listen Now: Randy Weston & Billy Harper Live at WBGO

    November 15, 2013. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Listen now to pianist Randy Weston and tenor saxophonist Billy Harper perform live at WBGO and talk with WBGO's Rhonda Hamilton about their new Sunnyside CD, The Roots Of The Blues. The duo perform at New York's Iridium on November 26th and 27th. Enjoy!