WBGO Blog
  • Celebrate Herbie Fest with WBGO

    July 22, 2016. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Herbie 669x358 copy
    photo: Douglas Kirkland

    Welcome to the Herbie Hancock Festival, here at WBGO.  All this week, we are celebrating the music and influence of an American icon.  On Thursday, August 11th at Prospect Park Bandshell, the pianist debuts a new project featuring Lionel Loueke (guitar), Terrace Martin (alto sax), Trevor Lawrence Jr. (drums), and James Genus (bass). This formation will be the foundation of new Herbie Hancock recording, featuring special guests phenom Jacob Collier, tabla master Zakir Hussain, pianist Robert Glasper, and more.  As we ramp up for this historic concert, we asked some of today’s hottest artists plus our own DJs – Terrace Martin, Lionel Loueke, BADBADNOTGOOD, Ron Carter, Flying Lotus, Gary Walker, Michael Bourne, and more -- to share their favorite Herbie Hancock music and stories.

    Bassist Ron Carter, as he recently discussed with WBGO's Gary Walker, famously recorded with Miles Davis’s second quintet featuring Herbie Hancock.  For the upcoming concert in Brooklyn, Carter plans to be “second in line” and says the piano master never sounded better.

    You may know Terrace Martin's not-so-modest musical achievements by way of hip hop artist Kendrick Lamar. But one might argue his true devotion is jazz.  He sports a Jackie McLean tattoo on his arm.  Hear his favorite Herbie Hancock tune. Listen to the full Terrace Martin interview on The Checkout here.

    I interviewed Lionel Loueke at the 2016 Montreal International Jazz Festival, mostly about his new recording Gaia (that segment will soon be archived online at checkoutjazz.org).  During the fun conversation, topics that range from genesis of his unique singing style to his secret love-affair with rock music, he shares his all-time favorite Herbie Hancock composition.

    Gary Walker is the only host on WBGO who got the chance to interview Herbie Hancock. That was soon after Dexter Gordon passed away.  As we search for that reel-to-reel tape here at Newark Public Radio, Gary recounts a story from that interview about Herbie Hancock's first recording Takin’ Off from Blue Note Records.

    Listen for more as Herbie Fest continues.

  • Walking Pafuri in South Africa's Kruger National Park

    April 13, 2016. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    You may remember WBGO’s Rhonda Hamilton’s reports from South Africa at last year’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival, including her account of witnessing some of the country’s natural wonders of elephants, rhinos, and lions.

    Kruger National Park in South Africa
    Kruger National Park in South Africa

    This year, we experienced South Africa’s safari a bit differently - we swapped the diesel-fueled 4X4 Land Cruisers packed with camera-happy tourists for a much smaller group with binoculars in-hand and hiking boots on-foot.

    Pafuri Walking Trail
    Pafuri Walking Trail

    Plus, most importantly, this year we were accompanied by two of the more knowledgeable guides in the entire region, also equipped with rifles and elephant-killing (god forbid) caliber bullets.

    Pafuri Walking Trail Guides Sarah Nurse and Rhodes Bezuidenhout
    Sarah Nurse and Rhodes Bezuidenhout

    Sarah Nurse and Rhodes Bezuidenhout are our guides for our 4-day Pafuri “walking trail,” provided by Return Africa at Kruger National Park. This area was introduced to us last year by bassist Carlo Mombelli. He described it as “South Africa’s Notre Dame,” his country’s most important tourist attraction.

    Makuleke Concession
    Makuleke Concession

    Kruger is the rarest of National Parks just in terms of its sheer size. As one of the largest protected areas on the planet, it covers 7,523 square miles, about the size of Israel. The area we hike only features one percent of that land, but offers some of its richest landscape, situated at the park’s northeast corner on the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It’s one of the most biologically-diverse areas in South Africa. About 75 percent of Kruger wildlife diversity can be discovered here.

    Lana Gorge
    Lanner Gorge

    The best way to get up close and personal with Mother Africa Nature is on foot, leaving all vehicles behind. This way of “roughing it” and experiencing the bush may not be for everyone: hiking underneath a scorching sun with sudden, chance encounters with South Africa’s Big Five: buffalo, rhino, elephants, lions, and leopards, will certainly raise any spectator’s blood pressure. My heart palpitated when we encountered a herd of curious, unflinching African buffalo.

    African Buffalo
    African Buffalo

    Our guides tell us these beasts are the most dangerous and unpredictable mammals in Kruger’s animal kingdom. But the thrill of watching them on foot is only half of the story. The moments of the walking trail that are most memorable are more subtle  – like hearing the wind rustle through the Fever Tree forest. (Fever trees got its name because they were once believed to be the cause of malaria.)

    Fever Tree Forest
    Limpopo fever tree forest

    Or, the endless loop of exotic African songbirds, singing, chirping, dancing all around you.

    Birds
    Birds

    Or, the graceful galloping of all its deer-like creatures: zebras, impalla, nyalla, and kudu running next to your path. I swear I even felt the ground reverberate, sending chills down my spine.

    Kudu
    Kudu

    And just when the serenity and natural beauty is all too much and your spirit couldn’t get anymore tranquil, you turn a blind corner to find the rear of an giant elephant, tail wagging exuberantly, only a few yards away.

    The unpredictability of the bush is really one of its biggest selling points, especially when you are on foot. Every walk offers its own story and surprise engagement with the most compelling natural world around you. And, if the Pafuri Walking Trails isn’t your thing, which is a step up from car camping -- I believe the term is “glamping" -- then you can opt for a more luxurious stay in Return Africa’s Pafuri Camp, complete with 4X4 vehicles, 19 designer lodges with en-suite bathrooms, fine dining, full amenities, and a view of the Luvuvhu River that will steal your breath away.

    Pafuri Camp Luxury Lodge
    Pafuri Camp Luxury Lodge

    For information about Return Africa's Pafuri Camp, click here.  And for the "walking trails," here.

  • And Then There Were the Men… (at Cape Town Jazz Fest)

    April 12, 2016. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    The Cape Town International Jazz Festival is a fabulous way to see South Africa’s unique perspective and definition of jazz music. Singer-songwriters that perform something closer to “neo-soul” or “smooth jazz” -- Angie Stone, SWV, and Jazz Attack featuring Peter White, Rick Braun, and Euge Groove – are all billed as jazz headliners here. Nevertheless, many of the "heavier" musicians that we know in New York City, many of whom who have appeared on The Checkout, such as saxophonist Mark Turner, are featured here too. (Listen to that interview here.)

    Mark Turner at Rosies photo by Gregory Franz
    Mark Turner at Rosies photo by Gregory Franz

    And the Cape Town Jazz Fest certainly offers its own native crop of serious jazz talent such as Bokani Dyer, Themba Mokena, Thandi Ntuli, Nduduzo Makhathini, and Benjamin Jephta. Listen to The Checkout's interview with Benjamin Jephta from last year here.

    Benjamin Jephta
    Benjamin Jephta

    My favorite venue to hear this kind of talent is undoubtably Rosies. It’s the smallest space at Cape Town’s brand new convention center, yet offers the best ambience and sound, and it’s not even close. It’s also an experience worth paying for -- those concerts usually require an additional ticket price. Tumi Mogorosi performed at Rosies this year.

    Tumi Mogorosi
    Tumi Mogorosi

    He may be a rising star in South Africa, but remains relatively unknown on jazz’s international landscape, at least for now. (The Checkout intends to remedy that a little with an upcoming feature with him soon.)  The Sotho drummer and composer released The Elo Project in 2014, a more-or-less string-less trio of drums, bass, and saxophone with sparse interjections of guitar and trombone. Its distinctive and most important ingredient: a vocal quartet. This small choir with jazz combo sounds similar to what Kamasi Washington released a year later with his recording The Epic.

    Derek Gripper at Rosies
    Derek Gripper at Rosies

    By far the concert I enjoyed most at Rosies this year, and perhaps my favorite concert ever from my three years of attending The Cape Town International Jazz Festival, was guitarist Derek Gripper, solo. Who plays the music of Bach, Egberto Gismonti, Ali Farka Touré, and Toumani Diabate all in the same set?  No one I can think of. This classically-trained guitarist whose based in Cape Town is making us rethink how we perceive the music of some of Africa’s greatest composers of the 20th century when he compares the work of Bach with that of Touré and Diabate.

    Derek Gripper at home
    Derek Gripper at home

    We recorded an intimate interview and field recording with the guitarist in his home at the base of Cape Town’s Table Mountain. Look out for that soon, including music from his latest (awesome) recording Libraries On Fire. That name refers to a griots death in West African culture.  When a griot dies, a library burns.

    Ilhan Ersahin
    Ilhan Ersahin

    Ilhan Erhasin is all over the globe these days, playing with his Turkish popstar friends, or curating an electro-jazz festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We New Yorkers know and love the saxophonist for his Lower East Side establishment known as NuBlu. In his upcoming interview for The Checkout, he reveals that his iconic New York club is moving soon, and also shares music from his recording The Istanbul Sessions.

    BadBadNotGood at Moses Molelekwa Stage
    BadBadNotGood at Moses Molelekwa Stage

    Just when you think the legend behind Toronto’s rogue jazz trio couldn’t get any more mystical, these bad boys of jazz, BadBadNotGood, keeps dropping the magic -- releasing jazz/hip hop gems on the interwebs and enchanting young audiences at music festivals. South Africa’s millennials – who are often referred to as “Born-Frees” in Cape Town – were the subjects this time. The enthusiastic crowd was rewarded by a supernatural guest appearance of Yasiin Bey formerly known as Mos Def.  I can’t think of a better way to end The Cape Town International Jazz Festival’s 17th installment.

    Yasiin Bey photo by Paul Michael Charles
    Yasiin Bey photo by Paul Michael Charles
  • Women in Jazz (and Beyond) at Cape Town Jazz Fest

    April 3, 2016. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    A close associate to this year's Cape Town International Jazz Festival says this year's concert programming had a strong focus on women in music.

    Abigail Kubeka and Dorothy Masuka
    Abigail Kubeka and Dorothy Masuka

    No one would argue that the two most "Legendary Ladies In Song" at this year's festival (as they are also co-billed), are Dorothy Masuka and Abigail Kubeka.

    Dorothy Masuka
    Dorothy Masuka

    Like South African jazz mega-stars Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim these two singers should also be commonly known among jazz appreciators in America. But that never happened. One theory, I suppose, is that neither left Africa in exile during apartheid. Thus, their artistry was never recognized internationally like their male counterparts. Nevertheless, their mark on South African music history should be noted. Masuka penned “Pata-Pata” – yes, that “Pata-Pata,” made famous by Miriam Makeba, whom she was close with.

    Abigail Kubeka
    Abigail Kubeka

    Abigail Kubeka played in some of her country’s most historic jazz ensembles – the Malombo Jazz Makers, the Elite Swingers, and the Jazz Dazzlers. Kubeka even shared the stage with Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) and Kippie Moeketsi, known as the “Charlie Parker” of South Africa. Stay tuned for our upcoming feature with both “legendary ladies” on WBGO’s The Checkout.

    Nhlanhla Nciza
    Nhlanhla Nciza

    Many of today’s South African women in music are less informed by jazz but embrace a more pro-Africa sound like Nhlanhla Nciza, the other half of Zulu-influenced pop duo Mafikizolo. Her music fits her like a glove, or, perhaps more accurately, her own clothing line: sleek, modern, and as vibrant as her rainbow nation.

    Tribute “Birdie” Mboweni
    Tribute “Birdie” Mboweni

    Singer/songwriter/songbird Tribute “Birdie” Mboweni, born near Kruger National Park, is new voice in South Africa’s soundscape. Don’t let her tiny body fool you. Her booming voice advocates for the preservation of Africa’s endangered environment. And, bird-watching is one of her hobbies.

    Lizz Wright
    Lizz Wright

    And then there were the many American female vocalists who appeared this year –- Cassandra Wilson, Angie Stone, Sheila E., and SWV. Look out for The Checkout’s ongoing coverage of this year’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival with our exclusive interviews with Lizz Wright, and the brilliant Meshell N’dgeocello.

    Meshell N’dgeocello
    Meshell N’dgeocello
  • A "Born-Free" Jazz Singer: Vuyo Sotashe

    April 2, 2016. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Vuyo Sotashe
    Vuyo Sotashe

    The South African born, Manhattan-based Vuyo Sotashe placed second place in last year's Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition. For our continued coverage of the 17th Cape Town International Jazz Festival this week, we speak to the jazz singer/songwriter from the Cape Flats about the complexities of being a "Born-Free," part of the generation born in South Africa after the era of apartheid. He also shares an original song written in his native Xhosa language dedicated to his mother.