WBGO Blog
  • Grab A Seat In The Studio With The Miles Davis Quintet

    November 23, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

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    Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series Vol. 5 provides listeners rare access to the Miles Davis Quintet's creative process. (Image Credit: Veryl Oakland/Courtesy of the artist)

    Music historians, biographers and diehard fans have always had a keen interest in session reels, the unedited studio banter and outtakes from recording sessions. With the release of Freedom Jazz Dance, the fifth volume of Miles Davis' The Bootleg Series, avid listeners will have access to over two hours of previously unreleased recordings — including dialogue from studio sessions.

    When I first got my hands on the Miles Davis Quintet's session reels, I felt like I'd walked right into their studio and taken a seat in the sound booth. These reels are access to the insular world of Davis and his sidemen: how they joked, collaborated and worked.

    There are even scenes of discovery. One track gives a glimpse of the quintet rehearsing Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti" in 1967. Davis, laughing, offers an idea: "Hey man, why don't we make a tune just playin' the melody, not play the solos." He's met by laughter from the whole room. At the time, this band always improvised solos; solos developed a melody and gave it drama. But instead, there's a collective realization here that the horns should simply repeat the melody. That repetition created dramatic tension, and meanwhile the spectacular drumming developed the tune. Freedom Jazz Dance gives us this decisive moment of creation — and so much else.

    In another recording, Davis and pianist Herbie Hancock are working on the tune "Circle." Miles grumbles a little at the recording engineer, but mostly what I hear is camaraderie and diligence. This is Davis as a productive professional rather than the tortured genius we've seen on film lately. Whatever demons may have haunted him, this album reminds us that he was also an engaging bandleader who worked hard at his music.

    Freedom Jazz Dance isn't for everyone. With its false starts, sometimes barely intelligible dialogue, and sheer length — three full CDs of material! — some might see the album as merely of academic or historical interest.

    What this album does offer is the unfiltered creative process of one of jazz's greatest bands, a sense of how the musicians understood and evolved their art. Freedom Jazz Dance's session reels are nonfiction scenes from an important era in Miles Davis's musical life — and if we listen closely, the album gives us just enough information to compose the rest of the story ourselves.

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  • 'We're Contemporary People': BADBADNOTGOOD's Mixed Bag Of Inspiration

    November 21, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

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    "I think we came about precisely from just goofing around and having fun," bassist Chester Hansen (second from right) says. "And we're still just goofin'." (Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist)

    BADBADNOTGOOD knows its name is a little strange. The jazz group's bassist, Chester Hansen, says it invites jokes from nearly everyone the band meets. "It's probably the most punned name I have ever heard," he says.

    BADBADNOTGOOD also knows its songs sometimes sound more like hip-hop than jazz. But Matt Tavares, the group's keyboardist, says it makes sense for a band of young jazz players to interpret contemporary styles of music. "It's just fun," Tavares says. "We all listen to contemporary music – you know, 'cause we're contemporary people."

    Formed in Toronto in 2010, BADBADNOTGOOD attracted an early following by taking a loose, free-jazz approach to covers of songs by hip-hop artists like Gucci Mane and Kanye West. "When you're improvising on something or trying to express yourself emotionally, to have any kind of connection with the music is nice," Tavares says.

    Tavares says this approach stands in contrast to the time he spent with often-taught jazz standards in the jazz program at Toronto's Humber College. To him, at 19 years old, learning show tunes and American standards from the 1920s and '30s felt strange. "Some of the songs would be about like, not having a telephone or something, you know what I mean?" he says. "So it becomes hard to relate."

    What Tavares and his bandmates could relate to was their mutual love of hip-hop, funk and Brazilian music. Tavares says BADBADNOTGOOD's first three albums reflect that mixed bag of inspiration, and it all comes together on the band's latest and most cohesive album, IV.

    Hansen notes that even though BADBADNOTGOOD has finally found its sound, the band is still down to experiment. "I think we came about precisely from just goofing around and having fun," Hansen says. "And we're still just goofin'."

    Hear more from Tavares and Hansen at the audio link.

    Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • Soul Singer Sharon Jones Dies At 60

    November 18, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

    Updated at 4:59 p.m. ET

    Soul singer Sharon Jones, lead singer of the group The Dap-Kings, has died, her publicist announced late Friday. She was 60.

    She'd been fighting pancreatic cancer since 2013, when she took a break from touring to undergo extensive surgery and chemotherapy, Fresh Air wrote earlier this year. The cancer went into remission, but returned this year.

    She told Terry Gross about the difficulty of her treatment:

    "I couldn't sing. I couldn't get air because, people didn't realize, I was cut across the diaphragm, all the way up from right under the center under my breasts, all the way down to the top of my navel, almost."

    Even after she returned to the stage, she told Terry, she didn't feel like the band's dynamic performances were the same.

    "That energy, I mean, everyone said my energy was great, but I didn't feel it at all. Even now, the days on the stage I'm just not myself, I don't have that energy. The legs doesn't lift up like I want to with the pain, the neuropathy from certain chemo. It's a hinder, but I do the shows, but it's not the same."

    Jones went through treatment again this year while continuing to perform, but the band had to cancel a European tour this past summer because of a medical procedure Jones needed.

    Jones grew up the youngest of six children in Jim Crow-era Georgia, NPR's Mandalit Del Barco reports on All Things Considered. And even after she moved to Brooklyn, she continued to confront prejudice while trying to make it in the music business. She was told she was "too short," "too black" and "too fat," she told Terry.

    In the meantime, Jones supported herself by working as an armored car guard for Wells Fargo and a corrections officer at Rikers Island. It wasn't until she was 40 that she finally made her debut.

    Even then, it took some time before Jones and the Dap-Kings to break through: "Jones was in her 50s when she finally began to enjoy international recognition," Mandalit reports.

    But when they did, they made a big impact.

    "Her music was termed neo-soul, or retro-soul, but she and her band did this long enough to where there was nothing neo- or retro- about it," freelance music journalist Matt Rogers told Mandalit. "It was just as original as the music that inspired her and the band in the first place."

    Jones, who recalled first being inspired to become a singer while performing as a child in a church nativity play, performed a set of holiday songs for NPR's Tiny Desk last year. You can watch it below.

    Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • Celebrated Jazz Musician Mose Allison Dies At 89

    November 15, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

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    Mose Allison, circa 2000. The celebrated pianist and composer died in Hilton Head, S.C. this week. (Image Credit: David Redfern/Redferns)

    Mose Allison had a sharp eye for the way the world works, and doesn't. The pianist, singer and composer's acerbic lyrics, syncopated piano playing and distinctive southern drawl were beloved by jazz fans — and by the British rockers who covered his songs, from The Who to The Clash to Van Morrison.

    Allison died Tuesday morning at his home in Hilton Head, S.C., of natural causes. He had just had a birthday, his 89th, last week.

    Allison was born on his grandfather's farm outside Tippo, Miss. He told NPR in 2004 that he began learning piano from a teacher in Tippo when he was 5 years old, but quickly grew tired of lessons. "As soon as I found out I could pick things out by ear, I lost interest in learning to read music and all," he said.

    Allison was inspired by the blues musicians he heard around him, as well as by Nat King Cole, and combined those influences to create something distinctive. He wound up in New York City, playing with jazz stars like Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan. When people heard him sing, they thought he was African-American.

    "It doesn't matter whether you're black or white," he would say in response. "What matters is whether you're good."

    He was good enough to record some 50 albums. But Allison said he never knew what to call his music, which is perhaps surprising for an English major. In that 2004 NPR interview, he chose to quote a novelist named Ishmael Reed.

    "He wrote a book called Mumbo Jumbo," Allison says. "And he said that in New Orleans in the '20s, there was a virus that started out and it made you wanted to shake your behind and snap your fingers. and it just spread all over the world. And it just grew, so they called it 'just grew.'"

    Allison had a hand — or two — in spreading it, too.

    Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • At 75, Chick Corea Still Has That Magic Touch

    November 13, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

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    Chick Corea is in the middle of an eight-week run at the Blue Note Club in Greenwich Village. (Image Credit: Dino Perrucci/Courtesy of the artist)

    Jazz pianist Chick Corea is celebrating his 75th birthday this year with a marathon of live performances. He was on the road all summer and has finally settled into an eight-week run at the Blue Note Club in Greenwich Village in New York. The birthday bash features 15 different bands, playing music from every phase of Corea's long career.

    Corea walks one day through the door of the Blue Note on West 3rd Street, greets the staff and walks past the Yamaha grand piano on the stage to the drum set, where he begins to play. He learned to play drums when he was 8, four years after he started playing piano. Back at the keyboard, he says he thinks of his fingers as drumsticks or mallets.

    "I think of the piano like that," Corea says. "Like a great big marimba. Or a percussion instrument. There's so many possibilities of putting it together when you've got 10 mallets and 88 drums."

    Corea's touch on the piano is what sets him apart, says New York Times music critic Nate Chinen. "It's almost like his fingers bounce off the keys," Chinen says.

    He says this holds true on the acoustic piano, but also on the Fender Rhodes electric piano, where Corea's touch is unmistakable. "He's one of the greatest Fender Rhodes pianists ever," Chinen says. "His touch on that instrument is really distinctive. You know it's him within a note or two."

    Armando "Chick" Corea was born in 1941 in Chelsea, Mass., just across the river from Boston. His father was a bebop trumpet player and his grandparents on both sides were Italian immigrants. Yet, in high school, Corea gravitated to Latin music when he joined a dance band.

    "The conga player was the one who really introduced me to Latin music," Corea says. "He showed me how to do various things with Latin music."

    Latin music influences have remained a constant throughout his career — and so has the influence of Miles Davis. Corea says he has long been a student of Davis' work — he first heard Davis in 1947, playing trumpet with Charlie Parker on a 78 rpm recording.

    In the late 1960s, Corea joined Davis' band, where he helped pioneer the sound of jazz-rock fusion. He played on the groundbreaking records In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew.

    Around the same time, Corea began a lifelong involvement with the Church of Scientology and the controversial teachings of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. "I discovered something that I was really looking for, which is how to understand myself and other people," Corea says. "How we operate. How we tick. And ways to keep oneself free and fresh."

    After he left Davis' band, Corea's musical restlessness led him to the free-form jazz quartet Circle. Then, the pianist shifted gears again and formed the group that would become his most popular band: Return to Forever. The group began as a mostly acoustic project, but then Corea decided to amp it up with an electric guitar and synthesizers. The band's 1976 album Romantic Warrior sold half a million copies.

    Lenny White, the drummer for Return to Forever in the mid-1970s, remembers how enthusiastic the group's fans were at its 1975 concert at Wollman Rink in Central Park. He says the venue was meant to hold 7,000 people, but when fans found out that Return to Forever was playing there, they took down the gates and opened the show up to a crowd of 12,000.

    "There was this power in the music," White says. "To be able to present highbrow, intelligent music like that, and have 12,000 people screaming their heads off like they were at a rock concert."

    Although he loved connecting with those audiences, Corea moved on again, to a series of new projects that he's continuing today: duets with pianist Herbie Hancock and vibraphonist Gary Burton, acoustic jazz combos and an electric funk band.

    Chinen says he's struck by the scope and variety of Corea's projects. "Is there anything that he hasn't actually attempted?" he asks.

    For Corea, it's all about collaboration. "The particular music that I love is not just casual interaction with other musicians, but actually creative interactions with other musicians," Corea says. "It means everything."

    That love of creation is what the 75-year-old pianist says keeps him going.

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