WBGO Blog
  • WBGO Says Farewell To Jazz Pioneer Carline Ray

    July 23, 2013. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Add new comment | Filed under: Jazz Alive, RIP

    We say goodbye to Carline Ray, who passed away July 18th. Over seven decades as a professional, the singer and bassist was a trailblazer and tireless advocate for jazz - and especially for the women who play it.

    On her eighty-eighth birthday earlier this year, Carline released her debut album, Vocal Sides. The album was produced by her daughter, Catherine "Cat" Russell, an acclaimed vocalist in her own right. To celebrate the occasion, Cat performed a special week of shows at Jazz at Lincoln Center in Carline's honor.

    Just before these shows, Cat Russell stopped by WBGO to chat with Gary Walker to talk about Carline's legacy and life in music, and we'd like to share this heartfelt conversation again with you now.

    Thank you Carline, we will miss you!

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    Carline studied classical piano and composition at Juilliard, like her father, a member of James Reese Europe's Society Orchestra, starting at age sixteen. She soon found herself immersed in New York's jazz scene, and one night at The Nest - an after-hours club on 52nd Street - she was asked to sing. A pianist named Art Tatum shyly asked if he could accompany her.

    "Did I play alright for you?" he asked afterwards.

    Carline played in small groups with classmate Edna Smith, on both guitar and piano. Both were invited to join The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, an all-women band, after graduation. After the Sweethearts disbanded, she sang and toured with the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra.

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    Back in New York in the 1950s, she sang backup for pop stars like Bobby Darin and Patti Page, and earned her master's at the Manhattan School of Music. She married pianist and bandleader Luis Russell in 1956, and daughter Catherine "Cat" Russell soon followed.

    Carline played and sang for many years with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, as they performed works by Duke Ellington and Mary Lou Williams. She was a longtime supporter of the nonprofit International Women in Jazz, and later for Musicians Union New York Local 802's Justice for Jazz Artists campaign.

  • WBGO Says Farewell to Pianist Mulgrew Miller

    May 29, 2013. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Pianist Mulgrew Miller, a lion of jazz and dear friend of WBGO, passed away early this morning from the effects of a stroke last Wednesday.

    The longtime director of jazz studies at William Paterson University, we were fortunate to have 'Grew as a guest in our studios many times over the years - every April for eight years, he brought the student groups he led at William Paterson into our studios for live broadcasts during Jazz Appreciation Month.

    On April 13 of this year, he brought his "Hawk Flies" septet and chatted with WBGO's Michael Bourne.

    Farewell, 'Grew, from all of us who loved you and your music. Warm wishes to his wife Tanya, daughter  Leilani and son Darnell, from your WBGO family.

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  • Bourne's Favorite George Gruntz Recordings

    January 15, 2013. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    I traveled with George Gruntz in the fall of 2000. He performed his project "Turkish Night" first with the WDR Big Band in Cologne, then with the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band (GG-CJB) in Lausanne, Bern, and Zug, Switzerland.

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    George loved to spotlight "The Lucifers" -- what he called the GG-CJB trombone section. Here's a piece I especially enjoyed, composed by trombonist Dave Bargeron and arranged by GG, "Valencia," featuring some of his favorite soloists. Chris Hunter, alto sax, was the band's concertmaster and played even fragments of music in the rehearsals with astonishing intensity.

    Larry Schneider, tenor saxist, was the band's loose cannon and in the concerts sometimes his solos twisted the band into suspensefully unexpected directions. Soloing also were Sasha Sipiagin, trumpet, Danny Gotlieb, drums, and the climax of every performance was an often fierce battle of the bones between Dave Bargeron and Luis Bonilla.

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    Here's a highlight from "Turkish Night" performed at the Stadtgarten in Cologne with the WDR Big Band in 2000. Soloing were pianist Frank Chastenier, tenor saxist Rolf Romer, alto saxist Heiner Wilberny, and drummer Adam Nussbaum.

    During rehearsals, as the first tunes were being played, the band kept breaking down trying to swing together in the difficult (for Western chops) traditional rhythms. After one of the breakdowns, Adam Nussbaum looked at me and, laughing, said "This ain't 'Satin Doll!'" They all eventually swung wildly.

    Habib was the singer, discovered by Turkish master musician Burhan Ocal in Izmir, where he'd sing when his fellow tobacco workers gathered at a teashop. He was traveling for the first time away from his town and his country. He was a large fellow, wearing an ill-fitting woolen suit. He was sweetly shy singing an ancient love song. He shook the building.

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    GG first performed his "Chicago Cantata" in Chicago with local gospel singers, the great tenor saxist Von Freeman, blues pianist Sunnyland Slim, and The Sons of Blues. Sterling Plump wrote the lyrics, sung by Billy Branch, blues harmonica, and Carl Weathersby, blues guitar. "All Day, All Night" was recorded by the WDR Big Band, with Billy, Carl, and John Marshall soloing on trumpet.

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    George also toured China, and one reason he was able to tour China was that, though most of the band were Americans, was that George himself was Swiss.

    During the tour, a German TV unit made a documentary. One of the reporters asked some school children if they liked jazz. They all nodded enthusiastically. "Who's your favorite jazz artist?" asked the reporter. "Michael Jackson!" shouted one of the kids. George was amazed that most of his audience was totally unaware of jazz, all the more amazed by the tumultuous cheering for the music.

    Here's how one of the concerts opened, with a piece called "Literary Lizard," composed by Ray Anderson and arranged by GG, with solos from tenor saxist Sal Georgianni, trumpeter John D'Earth, trumpeter Lew Soloff, and bassist Mike Richmond, introduced (in Chinese and in English) by Li Quiang. I came up with the album's title, Beyond Another Wall. I was in Berlin for the Jazzfest when the Wall was falling, and George Gruntz was breaking down another Great Wall.

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