WBGO Blog
  • Bourne's Mohonk: Jazz on the Mountain 2013, Day One

    January 28, 2013. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    This is the first of four posts about this year's Jazz on the Mountain festival.

    "Look at them!" Matt Wilson pointed to portraits of the Smileys, all around the parlor of Mohonk Mountain House.

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    Albert and Alfred Smiley

    "They're swaying!" And so was the audience, standing and swaying...blissfully.

    That's because this year's jazzfest was the best ever.

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    Photo by Marilyn Catasus

    Mohonk, built by the Smiley family in the 1860's, offers thematic weekends throughout the year: a chocolate festival, a Scottish festival (complete with haggis), a rock fest, a classical fest, and then some. Mohonk is best known for the mystery weekend, when someone is murdered and the folks who come have to investigate whodunit.

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    Photo by Jeff Riman

    I don't know when the "Jazz on the Mountain" weekend first happened at Mohonk, an enormous castle along a lake atop the mountain above New Paltz, NY. I first came on the Martin Luther King weekend of 2000. I was expected to answer the musical question "Where is jazz going in the new millenium?" I said that I did not know where jazz was going, but I knew that wherever jazz goes is cool.

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    Photo by Beth Lasoff

    I also observed that nobody comes to a jazz festival to hear a lecture. I encouraged Mohonk to have more music played, and across the last fourteen years I've been hearing some of the best jazz I've ever heard. Every year during the JOTM weekend, I hear music that reminds me why I first fell in love with jazz.

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    Photo by Marilyn Catasus

    I'm the "artistic director," this year also called a "curator," but I think of myself more as "the jazz guy" of Mohonk. I unashamedly self-indulgently book artists that I like, especially artists who get "Mohonk-y" -- a new word coined this year to characterize musicians who get into what's become the spirit of the festival: come for the weekend, bring your loved ones, eat too much (especially at the dessert tables), enjoy being away from the noises of everyday life (no TV's in the rooms), and make music.

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    Photo by Marilyn Catasus

    Over the last several years, one characteristic of the jazzfest that I've especially enjoyed is that the musicians frequently join in each other's shows and play jazz as it's supposed to happen, in the moment. I booked last year two of the jazzfest's mainstays, drummer Matt Wilson and bassist Martin Wind, as my "house band." They played last year three very different (and all thrilling) impromptu trios: with Ken Peplowski, Anat Cohen, and John Scofield.

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    Photo by Marilyn Catasus

    Fred Hersch, my favorite pianist, was game to join the "house band," and they opened this year's JOTM with wonderful Anat Cohen, playing Monk, a rollicking "I Mean You." They featured each other as composers and in the spotlight.

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    Photo by Marilyn Catasus

    Highlights for me were plentiful, especially Anat's clarinet and Fred playing prettily a Brazilian choro, "Doce de Coco," and Matt's drums climactically kicking the call-and-response of "Duck and Cover" into an avalanche, as if running from the rocks rolling downhill after Buster Keaton. They encored with a slow and sexy "Doxy."

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    Photo by Jeff Riman

    And that was just for starters!

    --Michael Bourne

    Up next: Saturday highlights with Amy Cervini, Joe Locke, John Scofield and more

  • Guitarist John Pizzarelli with Michael Bourne

    January 22, 2013. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Guitarist John Pizzarelli talks with WBGO's Michael Bourne about his new memoir, World on a String, and participation in a concert to benefit the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts on January 28. The concert will honor Justin DiCioccio, who helped create LaGuardia's jazz performance program more than thirty years ago. Enjoy!

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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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