WBGO Blog
  • 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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  • Tom Harrell's 'Colors Of A Dream': Live At The Village Vanguard

    March 27, 2013. Posted by WBGO.

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    Tom Harrell at the Village Vanguard. (Image Credit: John Rogers for NPR)

    At 66, the jazz trumpeter Tom Harrell is as busy as ever: His current band has released five excellent albums since 2007 alone. (It performed for this concert series in 2009.) He's so prolific that he's been writing and arranging music for other ensembles all the while. Last year, Harrell presented a nine-piece chamber jazz ensemble, and he's been at work on a new, piano-less project. That band, called Colors of a Dream, supplements most of his working quintet with new additions — saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding.

    A veteran of bandleaders like Horace Silver and Phil Woods, Harrell visits the Village Vanguard to present the next step in his now-hefty solo discography. WBGO and NPR Music featured Colors of a Dream in a live online video webcast and radio broadcast.

    Set List

    All compositions by Tom Harrell.

    • "State"
    • "Phantasy In Latin"
    • "2013 Blues"
    • "Sail Away"
    • "Sunday"
    • "Nite Life"

    Personnel

    • Tom Harrell, trumpet/flugelhorn
    • Jaleel Shaw, alto saxophone
    • Wayne Escoffery, tenor saxophone
    • Esperanza Spalding, bass/vocals
    • Ugonna Okegwo, bass
    • Johnathan Blake, drums
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