WBGO Blog
  • Jazzahead! Highlights: 5 New Bands From Europe

    April 26, 2013. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

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    Turkish-German vocalist Esra Dalfidan sings in several languages with her band FIDAN. (Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist)

    Bremen may be best known for its love of soccer and Beck's beer, but every April, its Jazzahead! festival turns the German port town into a capital city of jazz for a weekend

    What began as a small trade fair and showcase for German jazz nine years ago has grown into a four-day festival with more than 80 concerts and 600 exhibits, attracting 20,000 jazz fans and professionals. What sets Jazzahead! apart from other festivals — and makes it a magnet for young performers and industry insiders — is its focus on artist development. Organizers host matchmaking sessions that pair musicians with bookers, agents and the media.

    "Everybody who comes gets that positive energy, because they meet, network and make plans about how to improve the situation for jazz together," says Peter Schulze, the festival's artistic director.

    Jazzahead! has a European focus, but more and more visitors come from around the world. Many artists premiere new projects — and come from as far away as Finland, Albania and Brazil. A dozen acts are coming from the festival's partner country this year, Israel.

    Since many of these artists aren't well-known in the U.S., I've been exploring the Jazzahead! roster at the jazz bee, WBGO's HD2 stream for emerging artists. WBGO is hosting an around-the-clock showcase of recordings by groups at this year's festival, and will broadcast concert highlights on producer Josh Jackson's weekly music magazine, The Checkout, on May 7 and 14. Here's a sneak peek at five acts which surprised me, and may surprise you.

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  • South By South Africa: 5 Jazz Acts From The Rainbow Nation

    April 12, 2013. Posted by Simon Rentner.

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    The pianist and saxophonist Kyle Shepherd is one of Cape Town's most highly tipped musicians. (Image Credit: freelenz/Flickr)

    Brilliant art often hides in plain sight. Such is the case in South Africa, where, for centuries, the country turned its back on black and "coloured" musicians.

    In the mid-'60s, the apartheid government made it impossible for its best musicians to operate or make a living. Being a true jazz musician in the apartheid era was particularly dangerous; artists who played music that symbolized empowerment, integration and freedom posed a direct threat. This is why so few "classic" South African jazz recordings exist in the first place. Now, as South Africa enters a modern age, many of the same problems that frustrate American jazz artists actually plague South Africans. Recording contracts for its elders are few and far between.

    That said, there's one bright light in the country: The Cape Town International Jazz Festival, one of Africa's largest music events. Last weekend, jazz — and all that it represents — was celebrated as a vital component of South African identity. This "grandest gathering," as it was called, not only drew a massive audience (26,000 people in two days), but also attracted Africa's top business leaders and dignitaries, including South Africa's president himself.

    Here are five South Africans — all featured at this year's festival — whom every jazz aficionado should know.

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  • Jeff Ballard Fairgrounds: Live At The Village Vanguard

    April 10, 2013. Posted by WBGO.

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    Jeff Ballard. (Image Credit: John Rogers for NPR/johnrogersnyc.com)

    The drummer Jeff Ballard has a band called Fairgrounds. Well, he doesn't have a band as much as he has lots of bands, and knows lots of people to fill them — which might be expected of someone who has been a drummer for Chick Corea, Ray Charles and Brad Mehldau. With the Fairgrounds project, he gets to play a little fantasy baseball, mixing and matching sounds and musicians for his own ends.

    When this sideman-of-choice gets to headline a week at the Village Vanguard — a half-year after his first run was foiled by Hurricane Sandy aftermath — he brought together musicians from different locations and generations. WBGO and NPR Music presented a live video webcast of the Jeff Ballard Fairgrounds in concert.

    Set List

    • "1974 Blues" (E. Harris)
    • "Run To The Sun" (K. Hays)
    • "Freegrounds" (group improvisation)
    • "Lady B" (Ballard)
    • "Sweet Stuff" (H. Silver)
    • "Cryin' Blues" (E. Harris)
    • "Days Fly By [With Ruby]" (J. Parker)

    Personnel

    • Jeff Ballard, drums
    • Eddie Henderson, trumpet
    • Kevin Hays, piano
    • Jeff Parker, guitar
    • Larry Grenadier, bass
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