April 14, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
When I listen to swing music these days, I love it with a sense of loss, a disconnect. Nearly all of the swing legends are gone. This music has the feeling of a time that no longer exists, not that it ever did for me. I had to find it. Twenty-six years ago, however, swing still had some traction in our culture.
I would like to put myself back in that time. I'd be the coolest eight year old in the world, digging the scene at Sweet Basil. Trombonist Al Grey and saxophonist Buddy Tate are playing "Undecided." I can't believe I'm hearing this.
Chances are, however, I was anticipating the release of Michael Jackson's Thriller, which came out in records stores the week after this recording was made.
As I listen to this performance from the WBGO Archives, I am reminded of the vitality of the swing era, and that the music still had resonance in 1982. Count Basie was still alive. So were a number of his associates. Tate was one of them. Grey another. Tate was the tenor player that had the unenviable task of replacing Herschel Evans in Basie's band. Al Grey joined Basie much later, but he had previous stints with Benny Carter and Lionel Hampton. These were swing men through and through.
So much seems different now. By the end of 1982, Time Magazine declared the computer as Man of the Year, the first-ever distinction for an object. These real men are gone, except for their music. Here I am in 2008, writing a blog entry on my laptop, trying to get closer to an analog era. How do I feel about it? Decidedly Undecided. All I know is that it's easy to get lost in ones and zeros, better to be found alive, and even greater to be swung....Tempus fugit, baby.
PS That amazing photo courtesy of Rein. Check out her photostream.
© 2008 WBGO
April 10, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
April is Jazz Appreciation Month. One of the many cool things about the Smithsonian's monthlong celebration has been online. The creators of the LEGENDS OF JAZZ PBS series put together a one-hour web special, hosted by 2007 NEA Jazz Master Ramsey Lewis, that features conversations with and music by NEA jazz royalty - pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi, trombonist Curtis Fuller, singer Jimmy Scott, Basie-veteran Frank Wess, and saxophonist Phil Woods. Nancy Wilson, herself an NEA Jazz Master, talks with Ramsey Lewis about his own half-century career. Find it here.
© 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
March 12, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
I am a city dweller, plagued by the New Yorker bias. That is, I very rarely go to New Jersey for anything other than to work at WBGO. However, I am not so entrenched that I won't shake my preconceptions for the right set of circumstances. So last night, I ventured to SOPAC for a performance from the SF Jazz Collective, a pride of eight musicians of the highest caliber.
Each year, the collective features original commissions, as well as arrangements of a noted modern jazz composer. This season, the band turns their all-seeing eye on composer and saxophonist (and Newark native) Wayne Shorter.
The end of time was the beginning of the set. Saxophonist Miguel Zenon's arrangement of Shorter's "Armegeddon" set us on the trailhead.
Here's what followed:
This That and the Other - a Joe Lovano original
The Angel's Share - penned by Matt Penman, a New Zealand import
Diana - from Shorter's Native Dancer, arranged by Renee Rosnes
Go - Stefon Harris arranged this Shorter composition with some backbeat boom bap. Great way to end the first half.
The second set pushed ahead into the abstract, modern aesthetic that makes the collective such a great band to hear. Drummer Eric Harland's "The Year 2008" set the tone, a composition built around a recorded vocal chant, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and a reading of the Declaration of Independence. Rosnes' "Aurora Borealis" followed. Trumpeter Dave Douglas contributed "Secrets of the Code," an original work that used snippets of Wayne Shorter's music as source code embedded as a thread throughout the composition. Great stuff. The newest member of the collective, trombonist Robin Eubanks, ended the evening with his arrangement of Shorter's "Black Nile."
Only two complaints. The piano monitor levels in the house made the trombone articulation inaudible. That's just the music nerd in me. The other issue is this: I could not hear all of the band's repertoire in a single night. The SF Jazz Collective had more music in the kitty, but I'll have to see them again to hear the rest. Will do.
© 2008 WBGO
March 10, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
Very sad news to report. Bassist Dennis Irwin has succumbed to his battle with cancer. Many in the jazz community gathered this evening at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Allen Room for a benefit concert to help with his medical bills.
Saxophonist Joe Lovano stated, “There are certain people in life that make you feel at home no matter where you are. For me, Dennis Irwin is one of those people, one of my closest brothers in the music, a great teacher and scholar of all the beautiful blessings life has to offer.” We'll have more information as it becomes available.
© 2008 WBGO