April 29, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
Circumstances could have been completely different. Charles Brown was a chemist. He attended college, earned a degree in chemistry, taught high school science, and landed a civil service job in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. That would have been a career track for most. Brown had other ideas. He bristled at the racism he encountered each day. He volunteered to serve in the second world war, but was deemed unfit due to asthma. So Charles Brown packed his bags and headed to California.
Thank goodness. Can you imagine a holiday season without "Merry Christmas Baby?" Or a world without "Drifting Blues?" And who played the piano behind a fellow Texan, Ivory Joe Hunter, on "Blues at Sunrise?" How about "Trouble Blues," or "Black Night?" Mind you, most of those songs were hits before Elvis Presley had ever set foot in Sun Studios.
How about one of my all-time favorite records, Sam Cooke's Night Beat? If you simply listen to the way Cooke sings on that record, you might reach the same conclusion I did - would that record exist were it not for Charles Brown?
Brown celebrated New Year's Eve with WBGO, part of the Toast of the Nation coast-to-coast live music party. He welcomed 1994 from the Sheraton Hotel in Tacoma, Washington. His cool, bluesy ballad style was especially poignant on a song popularized by Lucky Millinder.
© 2008 WBGO
April 28, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
In 1985, Dorthaan Kirk presented Jazz-a-Thon, a marathon of live music that doubled as a fundraiser for WBGO. It attracted some of the jazz world's biggest talent.
Pianist Michel Petrucciani was both the smallest and largest that jazz had to offer that year. He was three feet tall and little more than fifty pounds, due to osteogenesis imperfecta, the rare "Glass Bones" disease. Yet he had one of the greatest commands of the piano - one that was classically virtuosic, effusively romantic, and heavily improvised. By this time, Michel had recently toured with Charles Lloyd, whom Petrucciani had nudged from retirement at California's Big Sur. Michel was now on the east coast, with his own band. Specifically, he was the Ritz in New York, with bassist Ron McClure and drummer Eliot Zigmund. Petrucciani had just signed with the recently revived Blue Note Records. In December of 1985, he recorded his extraordinary debut for the label, Pianism, followed by one of my favorites, Power of Three, a live concert from Montreux with Wayne Shorter and Jim Hall. Michel Petrucciani played until his death in 1999, age 36.
Listen to "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," from the WBGO Jazz-a-Thon.
You can also read Steve Cerra's blog post about Michel Petrucciani here.
© 2008 WBGO
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