WBGO Blog
  • This Week in JazzSet History: Burton, Cook and Elvin Jones!

    March 27, 2012. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    It’s the end of March and we’re rounding the sixth  installment of an archeological dig, as Alexander Gelles Ariff of the Jazz History Department at Rutgers University Newark trowels through twenty seasons of JazzSet.

    JazzSetAnniversaryNoTag_200x200_FinalThis week in JazzSet history, we’re heading to Boston for three subtle but saucy performances thanks to the great station WGBH, a major contributor to and carrier of JazzSet since 1992. Steve Schwartz of WGBH was the producer for all three of the recordings cited below.

    First we’ll hear Gary Burton and Makoto Ozone duo as they tackle a traditional tune made famous by John Coltrane’s quartet, “Afro Blue.” Next, keeping with the Coltrane theme, we’ll turn to Elvin Jones. Instead of checking out his ferocious poly-rhythmic textures we know and love, I thought I would shed light on his brushwork on “Sophisticated Lady.” Finally, we’ll close out with one of the final performances tenor-titan Junior Cook gave before his untimely passing at the age of 57 in February of 1992.

    Gary Burton was the first vibraphonist to improvise using not two but four mallets. His virtuosity has transcended decades of jazz making him a living legend and inspiration to anyone holding the mallets. Boston is an important place for both Burton and pianist Makoto Ozone (oh-ZOH-nay). Burton’s bio on the Berklee website reads: “Much of Burton's story is intertwined with that of Berklee, where he arrived as a student in 1960, returned as an instructor in 1971, became dean of curriculum in 1985, and served as executive vice president from 1996 until his retirement in 2004.” Makoto Ozone attended Berklee in 1980 under the tutelage of Gary Burton, with whom he began playing in 1983. On June 7, 2001, the two reunited to perform at the Regattabar at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, MA. Here they are performing Mongo Santamaría's “Afro Blue.” If you dig this, check out this great video of the two in Montreaux.

    Elvin Jones’s late career involved a rotating line-up small group with the uniform name -- Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. This installment featured Jones, drums; Javon Jackson, tenor; Willie Pickens, piano; Andy McKee, bass, and a 19-year-old Nicholas Payton on trumpet. For this clip, we’ll hear the rhythm section on the Duke Ellington/Irving Mills classic “Sophisticated Lady” from an August 23, 1992, gig at the DeCordova Museum. I love Willie Pickens’s touch on the piano. He phases in and out of moments that are Monk-esque then Ellingtonian. Jones’s brushwork punctuates this sample. He’s 64 years old at the time, but sounds as fresh as any 1960s Impulse session! The original broadcast of this clip was April 3, 1993.

    One of Junior Cook’s last performances (and professional live recordings) was with the Michael Weiss quartet. Weiss grew up listening to Cook and told JazzSet that the the first record he bought was Horace Silver’s Blowin’ the Blues Away with Junior Cook on tenor. I love Cook’s laid back phrasing on the tune “Gnid” by Tadd Dameron featuring Weiss on piano, Tony Scheer on bass, and Andy Watson on drums. This clip is from a gig at Scullers on Boston on October 24, 1991, about three months before Cook passed away.

  • This Week in JazzSet History: David Murray Big Band and Josh Redman

    March 21, 2012. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    JazzSet20LogoIt’s now the eleventh week of the twentieth anniversary year of JazzSet, and the fifth installment of an archeological dig, as Alexander Gelles Ariff of the Jazz History Department at Rutgers University Newark trowels through the JazzSet archive, one week at a time.

    This week in JazzSet history, we take a closer examination at two moments in the career of saxophonist Joshua Redman. He is one of my personal favorite horn players of recent decades and will be appearing with pianist Brad Meladau as a duo on April 27 in Morristown, NJ. From his long-running work with Christian McBride to his new explorations with James Farm, Redman is always working hard at shaping his playing into different musical environments. This week, we follow Redman from acoustic to electric.

    But first, let’s check out this rare recording that I dug up featuring the David Murray Big Band performing “Warm Valley,” a lesser-known but captivating Ellington tune. The band features David Murray, tenor sax and bass clarinet; James Newton, flute; James Spaulding, alto sax; John Purcell, saxello and clarinet; Ricky Ford, tenor sax; Hamiet Bluiett, bari sax; Hugh Ragin, Ravi Best and Rasul Siddick on trumpets; Craig Harris, Gary Valente and Joe Bowie on trombones; Hilton Ruiz, piano; Jaribu Shahid, bass; Klod Kaivue, percussion; Andrew Cyrille, drums; and Carmen Bradford on vocals.

    This recording is from their performance at the 1999 Marciac Jazz Festival in Southwest France (courtesy of Radio France). A few weeks ago, we posted a clip of Bobby McFerrin at the the 2001 festival. The David Murray Big Band was performing obscure works by Strayhorn and Ellington in celebration for what would have been Ellington’s 100th birthday year! They performed “Praise God,” “Love You Madly,” but it was “Warm Valley” that blew me away. Listen to how Spaulding and Branford vibe off each other on the words “wonderfully” and “marvelously.”

    On November 19, 1994, JazzSet's Duke Markos recorded a double bill at the Troy Savings Bank Musical Hall in Troy, NY, presenting the Joshua Redman Quartet plus the Roy Hargrove Quintet. The quartet was Redman, tenor and soprano sax; Jonny King, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Brian Blade, drums. Redman’s band played first that evening but invited Hargrove on stage for Josh's final tune “SJK,” a blues in D-flat. Listen closely. After Redman introduces Hargrove, the rhythm section begins to play the Freddie Hubbard tune “Thermok,” as broadcast on JazzSet in early April 1995.

    Here is a clip of Joshua Redman on tenor playing the melody to his own tune entitled “Alone in the Morning.” He first begins by closing out the melody with long drawn out lyricism. His solo begins afterward and he plays with one motive, switching it up and crafting it against the harmony. This is a tactic of improvisation Sonny Rollins uses many times in his early years. It makes sense that the first record Redman ever bought, when he was nine years old, was the Rollins recording Saxophone Colossus. Listen closely for the “St. Thomas” quote at the end of the clip!

    James Farm is Matt Penman, Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks, Eric Harland .. coming to JazzSet the week of April 12, 2012
    James Farm is Matt Penman, Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks, Eric Harland .. coming to JazzSet the week of April 12, 2012 .. Photo by Jimmy Katz

    By 1994, three years after winning the Thelonious Monk competition, Redman had three albums as a leader to his name. Six releases later, he phased into a new period of musical exploration with his Elastic Band featuring Sam Yahel, keyboards and bass keyboards, and Brian Blade on drums. In this band, Redman was able to fuse electronic effects with his love of funk and swing. This groove, I like to call “swunk.” This is from "Greasy G," from the trio’s second release, Momentum. Listen to how Redman manipulates the sound of his horn, compiling octaves with pedals to make one horn sound like a baritone sax and tenor sax at once!

    I’ll close this week out with one of my favorite tunes by Ornette Coleman. I first heard  the tune “Lonely Woman” as played by the Elastic Band. That's how I was exposed to Ornette Coleman. Thanks, Josh. At the stroke of midnight, live on NPR from Yoshi's in Oakland, Redman’s group brought in 2005 by taking the audience on a journey leaning more towards drum-and-bass than free-jazz. It must have been a blast. And it was rebroadcast on JazzSet in February, 2007.

    IMG_5711-1Alexander Gelles Ariff has a B.A. in Jazz Studies from Florida State University and is now completing his Master's in Jazz History and Research at Rutgers-Newark. He is the recipient of the Morroe Berger - Benny Carter Jazz Research Fund Award from the Institute of Jazz Studies. Alex is writing his Master's thesis on the selected recorded collaboration between jazz figures and American poets -- Kenneth Patchen, Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth, and Langston Hughes.

  • This Week in JazzSet History: (Four of Many) Women in JazzSet History

    March 12, 2012. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    JazzSet20LogoIt's the tenth week of the twentieth anniversary year of JazzSet, and the fourth installment of an archeological dig, as Alexander Gelles Ariff of the Jazz History Department at Rutgers University Newark trowels through a score of seasons of JazzSet.

    This week in JazzSet history, we honor Women’s History Month by tipping the cap to a few (of the many) women who have graced JazzSet’s airwaves. Toshiko Akiyoshi conducts while her husband and sideman Lew Tabackin wails. We'll also check out two traditionally classical instruments that are now regulars in the jazz world: flute and violin. Holly Hofmann is on flute, breathing new fire and soul into the groovy “Tom Thumb” by Wayne Shorter, and Regina Carter pays a special tribute to Stéphane Grappelli.

    Toshiko from WBGO's Jazzmatazz Magazine
    Toshiko from WBGO's Jazzmatazz Magazine for Children

    First, let’s honor one of the modern greats of vocal jazz, Dianne Reeves. This is an excerpt of her improvisation at the end of “A Child Is Born” by Thad Jones. Reeves has an ability to enunciate lyrics casually and convey her own story within timeless music. In this case, her story is freedom. Listen to how she riffs off the first melody and uses counterpoint within her massive range to build the excitement. The band is Peter Martin, piano; Reuben Rogers, bass; and Greg Hutchinson, drums, and they’re performing at the 49th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival in 2006.

    The Kennedy Center in Washington honors jazz women each year for the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival. On May 23, 1998, they honored violinist Regina Carter and flautist Holly Hofmann. Regina Carter has been featured numerous times on JazzSet, but back in ’98 she was riding on the wake of her second release as a leader. Present day: Carter is sitting on a MacArthur Genius Fellowship and seven albums as a leader and this week, she will be on JazzSet from the 2011 Newport Jazz Festival with her group Reverse Thread. Hear how she plays “Lady Be Good” in honor of her mentor, the great Grappelli. Her quintet at this festival featured Rodney Jones, guitar; Werner Gierig,  piano; Darryl Hall, bass, and Alvester Garnett, drums.

    Photo courtesy of Zack Karabashliev
    Photo courtesy of Zack Karabashliev

    And now, a big tip of the hat to Ms. Holly Hofmann. Phil Woods called her, along with Hubert Laws, “the best jazz flute player today.” Here she is performing “Tom Thumb” by Wayne Shorter at the same Women in Jazz Festival with her Four Women Only group: Cecilia Coleman, piano; Nicki Parrott, bass; Sylvia Cuenca, drums; Hofmann, flute.

    Toshiko Akiyoshi has also been honored at past Women in Jazz Festivals. Akiyoshi was born 19 years after May Lou Williams, so it might be easy to say that they don’t have much in common. However, like Mary Lou, Akiyoshi is part of a small circle of successful female jazz musicians of her generation who led a band, composed, arranged and played piano.

    toshiko

    Pianist Oscar Peterson discovered her and later insisted that producer Norman Granz record her beautiful piano playing … jumpstarting her career. She married tenor saxophonist Lew Tabackin  in 1969. The couple formed a big band that would go on to perform from 1973-2004. The band often featured Tabackin’s  tenor sax and flute features. In his excerpt, we hear his husky tone reminiscent of swing-era tenors Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. The relationship between soloist and arranger, both musical and romantic, bleeds onto the page. Listen as Akiyoshi paints delicate textures underneath the bold sound of Lew Tabackin’s  horn on the tune "Broken Dreams."

    IMG_5711-1Alexander Gelles Ariff has a B.A. in Jazz Studies from Florida State University. He is the recipient of the Morroe Berger - Benny Carter Jazz Research Fund Award from the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in Newark. Alex is writing his Master's thesis on the connection between jazz and five American poets -- Kenneth Patchen, Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth, and Langston Hughes.