WBGO Blog
  • Winter Jazzfest 2011: You Were Great! Now Change

    January 10, 2011. Posted by Simon Rentner.

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    Orrin Evans plays piano and conducts his Captain Black Big Band at Sullivan Hall as part of Winter Jazzfest. (Image Credit: Patrick Jarenwattananon/NPR)

    In jazz-rich New York City, it often seems like there's a major festival going on every week. But few concerts have become as hotly anticipated as those of the city's annual Winter Jazzfest. This year, the music marathon encompassed five venues, two nights and 60 performances, and drew more than 3,000 4,000 fans.

    What started as a showcase designed for attendees of the concurrent Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference has become a massive event for New Yorkers, too. It's a worthy celebration not just for its overload of shows, most of which feature less-known ensembles or known musicians' new bands; it's also an exciting scene, with plenty of that prized young audience, not to mention plenty of musicians hanging out and watching their friends play.

    In addition to the great music and the equivalent vibe, this year's Winter Jazzfest was marked by sub-freezing temperatures at night. That set into clear relief the event's struggles with crowd control. Tickets -- an absurdly good deal at $35 for two entire nights -- sold out early, and those looking to hop from club to club often found themselves struggling to peer over standing-room-only sections, if not waiting in long lines to enter.

    These are good problems to have, of course. Among the 4,000-plus were Josh Jackson, host of WBGO's The Checkout, and Simon Rentner, another WBGO staff producer. They joined me for a recap of what we all saw, via instant message. (NPR Music's Bob Boilen, of All Songs Considered, was there on Saturday evening, and had some reflections too.)

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  • The Many Moods Of James Moody

    November 23, 2010. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

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    James Moody. (Image Credit: Brad Barket/Getty Images Entertainment)

    Millions of listeners know James Moody, even if they don't know him by name. He composed one of the most enduring songs in American music, "Moody's Mood for Love," and he did it with on-the-spot improvisation. Even Aretha Franklin sang it. He's made an unforgettable film appearance, walking an invisible dog in Clint Eastwood's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. He splashes more cologne than any one person should use, yet his kiss-on-both-cheeks greeting is treasured for its sincerity, even if the scent marks the recipient for the rest of the day.

    Moody is one of bebop's finest practitioners, and he's made tremendous music for more than 60 years. As a partially deaf child in Newark, N.J., he battled the perception that he was mentally retarded (to use the term of the day). As a member of a segregated Air Force band, he suffered the indignity of racism in 1940s America. He battled an addiction to alcohol.

    Yet there's no one with a sunnier disposition than James Moody, an indomitable spirit in jazz music. He's one of this country's great treasures, and the spirit of jazz is better for having him as one of the music's leading lights. Hear a handful of great Moody recordings here, but be sure to explore further. There's plenty more.

    Note: James Moody has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he has decided against continued treatment. He is convalescing in his California home. If you'd like to send him a note, please contact him here.

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  • Kurt Rosenwinkel: The Grapes Of Jazz

    November 18, 2010. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

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    The days of wine and jazz improvisation. (Image Credit: Josh Jackson)

    "Making a good wine," my oldest son says, "is about choosing the grapes that you'd like to eat." And you can't do that with huge containers. You have to be like a small child filling a bucket.
    --René Barbier, Clos Mogador Winery

    When Joan Cararach, the Artistic Director of the Barcelona Jazz Festival, told me about his gambit, it sounded a little impractical. The premise was thus:

    Bring Spain's finest vignerons together at Monviníc, an oenological cultural institution in Barcelona's Eixample district. Taste their finest wares -- an Iberian sauvignon, an albariño, a blended red from Penedès, another red from the heart of Catalunya's Priorat hills, an ancient Moscatel from Málaga and a noble Jerez Amontillado. Invite Kurt Rosenwinkel to play improvisations based on his impressions of these wines. Is this even possible?

    The short answer is yes. Rosenwinkel had plenty of study time. His trio (Eric Revis, Ted Poor) and guests enjoyed four bottles at a specially prepared menu in Paris. The remaining two bottles were consumed in Umeå, Sweden, for Kurt's 40th birthday. He made tasting notes on an index card and then worked from there. "I'm not an expert by any means," Rosenwinkel said. "But it was a great challenge to translate and interpret the qualities of the wine into musical qualities."

    I still wasn't sure, but Kurt had a plan. "All the colors and textures, they all have harmonic colors. They all have speed. Some wines are fast some are slow. Some are rhythmic, some are plaintive. I immediately heard some chords, so for each bottle, I would feel a certain tonality."

    Were there any favorites? It's an unfair question to ask, but I did anyway. "They're all great," Rosenwinkel said. "The Clos Mogador 2001 floored me. It's such a beautiful red wine -- very light but very intense flavor. It had a deep and profound tannic structure. It made for a very complex improvisation, and it was hard to reconcile both the wine and the music for that one."

    My heart leaps up when I think about what happened in Barcelona on Monday night. I'll admit to some initial skepticism, but too much of it can rob a man of good intentions. You have to let wine and song prevail, else your bucket's got a hole in it.

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