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 17, 2008. Posted by Becca Pulliam.
Fred Hersch has been a friend of WBGO for at least twenty years. He was in Jane Ira Bloom's group when we recorded her at Citicorp Center for a series called Jazz at the Market (host was the Rev. John Garcia Gensel of St. Peter's Church). I remember that Fred and Jane had brought a piano tuner, but the Center didn't want their tuner to touch the piano. I was disappointed, and learning on the job. Fred was .. well, if not incensed, he was at least insulted.
Fred was part of a concert at Town Hall with MC Steve Allen (the TV personality, dating all the way back to the first Tonight Show). As Steve Allen was telling stories and getting into it, he turned to Fred and asked for "a little something underneath this;" on demand, Fred played the perfect "patter" music.
But Fred wasn't born for that role. From his earliest time in New York, he belonged in top groups. He was a sideman for leaders a generation or more his senior, such as Joe Henderson - from Ohio, like Fred.
At the Iowa City Jazz Festival in the 1990s, I remember Fred getting onstage and talking about funding cuts coming to the National Endowment for the Arts. He wanted me to do that with him, and I didn't. His political passion took me by surprise.
Fred studied with Sophia Rosoff (as did Barry Harris, a revered teacher in New York, who shows pianists how to produce sound through the keys by relaxing. Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus was one of Fred's many many students.
The 1986 group must have been one of his first. Dick Oatts was on sax, Randy Brecker on trumpet, although they stepped aside for the ballad "Con Alma."
© 2008 WBGO
April 9, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
The group Steps Ahead came together in 1979, but their debut album did not arrive until 1983. By that time, Steps had created a potent form of fusion. WBGO recorded an early version of the band in the summer of 1982, during the now-defunct Kool Jazz Festival. Vibraphonist Mike Maineri (photographed above) was the leader, and the lineup included some heavy hitters - drummer Peter Erskine, bassist Eddie Gomez, pianist Don Grolnick, and saxophonist Michael Brecker. Brecker was already a star, even though he had not yet recorded a solo effort (and would not for nearly five more years...strange but true...). Steps Ahead became a group that people in and out of jazz noticed, and a lot of young talent got an early lift from being in the band
(pianist Eliane Elias comes to mind).
Check out Steps Ahead playing "Islands," from the WBGO Archives.
© 2008 WBGO