WBGO Blog
  • This Week In JazzSet History: Kirkland, Keezer and Caine

    March 6, 2012. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    JazzSet20LogoThis is the third installment of an archeological dig, as Alexander Gelles Ariff of the Jazz History Department at Rutgers University Newark trowels through twenty seasons of JazzSet.

    This week in JazzSet history, we take a retrospective look at three remarkably individual modern pianists. Uri Caine has reworked and improvised material by Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, Schumann and Mozart. For this week, Gustav Mahler is Uri Caine’s chosen muse.  We’ll also revisit a certain 21-year-old Geoff Keezer in a 1992 solo piano performance. That same year, Keezer performed Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue" with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra!

    But first let's listen back to one of the final professional live recordings of the late Kenny Kirkland (1955-98). JazzSet broadcast the dangerously bold Branford Marsalis Quartet from the Greenwich Village Jazz Festival, in a performance from August 24, 1998 -- Branford on saxophones, Kenny on piano, Eric Revis on bass, and Jeff 'Tain' Watts on drums. It was a beautiful late afternoon in Washington Square Park. Duuke Markos was recording, and Branford's son Reese hosted the JazzSet that was made from this concert, the following February.

    The Program from the 1998 Greenwich Village Jazz Festival

    Ben Ratliff from The New York Times reveled the band's spontaneity. He reported that their performance of “Citizen Tain” got “as funky as jazz gets these days, without changing genres altogether…” There is no doubt that Kenny Kirkland (aka Doc Tone) was swingin' as hard as jazz gets, any day.

    Let’s check in with Geoff Keezer honoring Thelonious Monk with his improvisation on “Blue Monk” from the 1992 Newark Jazz Festival the Newark Museum, only a few blocks from WBGO studios, as heard in February 1993 on JazzSet.

    Last week, I shared Joe Henderson quoting “Scheherazade” over the chord changes to his own tune “Recordame.” Pianist Uri Caine takes quoting classical music to a whole new level with his Mahler project. He premiered it at at the 1998 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal and JazzSet was on the scene. Caine was joined by David Binney, alto sax; Ralph Alessi, trumpet; Mark David Feldman, violin; Michael Formanek, bass;  James Black, drums, and DJ Olive on turntables!

    The Program for the 1998 International Montreal Jazz Festival
    The Program for the 1998 Montreal International Jazz Festival

    First, here’s Mahler’s version. Listen to the theme from Symphony No. 1, Movement 3. Mahler takes an old children’s folk song and twists it into sinister harmonies. Different instruments in the orchestra trade the melody. This excerpt comes from the New York Philharmonic directed by Leonard Bernstein.

    Uri Caine twists the music into his own musical exchange. Caine preaches bluesy runs atop an abrasive gypsy groove. Binney and Feldman provide jagged counterpoint, giving an old melody a new eerie tinge.

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    Alexander 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.

  • This Week in JazzSet History: Henderson, Byron and Blanchard

    February 28, 2012. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    jazzsetoriginallogThis is the second installment of an archeological dig, as Alexander Gelles Ariff of the Jazz History Department at Rutgers University Newark trowels through twenty seasons of JazzSet, with new posts weekly.

    Great improvisers often find ways to sneak “quotes” of popular songs into their solos. My ears always perk up, and I usually give an audible chuckle if I hear one. It can be as obvious as a player quoting “The Flintstones” melody or as subtle as quoting an excerpt of classical music. This week, we listen for the quote in Joe Henderson’s solo from a 1992 performance in Minnesota. I also found two “spotlight” musical moments in JazzSet history: a clarinet intro feature by Don Byron and an incredible cadenza by Terence Blanchard on the great American standard, “Skylark.”

    Joe Henderson (aka Joe Hen) appeared Dakota Bar & Grill in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1992 with Henderson on tenor, Larry Willis on piano, Larry Grenadier on bass and Al Foster on drums. This was a very special show for Branford Marsalis to host. Branford says that Henderson mentored him on the horn, passing a flame rooted in harmony, committed to creativity on the bandstand. 1992 was also a big year of Joe Henderson: he was a triple-crown winner in Down Beat’s critics poll, winning Tenor Sax player of the Year, Jazz Album of the Year, Jazz Musician of the Year. The band opened their set with "Serenity." Grenadier and Henderson have the melody in unison then Henderson takes off!

    1992 Down Beat Critics Poll
    1992 Down Beat Critics Poll

    Henderson’s quartet played mostly originals but it was “Recordame” that specifically caught my ear. I knew that I had heard a quote of some sort but could not put my finger on it! I consulted my colleagues at Rutgers who pointed me in the right direction. Towards the end of his solo, he quotes “Scheherazade” by the 19th century Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov. Here is a sample of the melody Joe Henderson quotes, as played by The London Symphony conducted by Igor Markevitch.

    Here is the Joe Henderson’s solo. Listen carefully, its right at the top!

    Another way a musician can captivate an audience is by taking a spotlight. At the beginning of a piece, a horn player may take the framework of a tune and rework it freely before the rest of the band comes in. Don Byron takes the tune “I Cover the Waterfront” and reworks it on clarinet gorgeously before his band mates enter. The clip is from a live performance at The J & R Music Festival in 2005 with Byron’s trio featuring Jason Moran, piano, and Billy Hart, drums.

    We conclude this week’s look back in JazzSet history with a musical conclusion of sorts, the cadenza. Cadenzas were popularized as a way for musician to play unaccompanied, showing off a little bit before the conclusion of the piece. One astounding cadenza as played by John Coltrane occurs at the conclusion "I Want To Talk About You" (Live at Birdland, 1963.) But for now, let’s check out a 2001 performance from the SF Jazz Festival, from its Freddie Hubbard-Woody Shaw tribute program entitled “Double Take.” Terence Blanchard curls, smacks and swoons his phrases to close out a gorgeous rendition of “Skylark” by Hoagy Carmichael.

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    Alexander 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. He will be performing this Saturday, March 3 (2pm) at The Metropolitan Pavilion in part of the 2nd annual NYC Vegetarian Food Festival.

  • This Week in JazzSet History: Bobby McFerrin in France

    February 20, 2012. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    jazzset.org header with hatBeginning the first week of January, 1992, NPR and WBGO introduced JazzSet with Branford Marsalis with our first performance by Branford's former teacher, New Orleans clarinetist Alvin Batiste and the Jazztranauts, onstage in Ohio. After hosting for a decade, Branford handed the mic to  Dee Dee Bridgewater.

    This is the first installment of an archeological dig, as Alexander Gelles Ariff of the Jazz History Department at Rutgers University Newark trowels through twenty seasons of JazzSet .

    My name is Alex Ariff. I’ve been drilling down through the archives, to bring you This Week in JazzSet History. Each Monday, we’ll listen to JazzSet moments from my favorite handpicked performances over the past two decades.

    This week, we listen back to performances by the ultra-human Bobby McFerrin and humanist rap from Béla Fleck & The Flecktones at their Blue Note debut in 1991. First let’s visit the south of France where Bobby McFerrin took the stage in August 2001 with his quartet: Gil Goldstein (piano, accordion), Richard Bona (bass), Omar Hakim (drums) and McFerrin on vocals of course.

    If there is one word that can describe Bobby McFerrin’s vocal ability, I would say control. With every manipulation of the beat and timbre shift in his voice, he has complete command of the music. This musical moment from “Caribogo” includes McFerrin “trading” with his band.  They provide breaks (stops in the music) allowing McFerrin to fill in space freely with improvisations. Listen closely as the breaks intensify.

    McFerrin plays around with the groove, inserting various challenging cross rhythms (beats that fall against the steady groove) keeping everyone, band mates and audience, on their toes! He is completely in control. The next two  examples, “Sweetie Funk” and “I Want You,” also showcase his vocal authority.

    Bobby McFerrin
    Bobby McFerrin

    In “Sweetie Funk”, McFerrin’s shows off his wide range and undeniable groove within the rhythm section. With Bobby McFerrin, less is more, and soulful feeling comes first! Look no further than his incredible rendition of Lennon/McCartney classic “I Want You (She’s So Heavy”).

    Béla Fleck & The Flecktones debuted at The Blue Note in 1991 with their original line-up Victor Wooten (bass), Lamar Wooten (synth-axe drumitar), Howard Levy (harmonica, piano) and Fleck (banjo). In this selection, “Sex In A Pan”, Victor Wooten provides his commentary on society in a jazz-rap, perhaps the first rap ever to appear in The Blue Note in NYC. The tune’s title is unrelated. It’s the name of a dessert the band ate in North Carolina: chocolate pudding, cool whip on top and graham cracker crust.

    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.