WBGO Blog
  • At The Portland Jazz Festival, Delicate Issues And Joyful Audiences

    March 4, 2011. Posted by WBGO.

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    Clarinetist Don Byron leads his The Music of Mickey Katz project, with vocalist Jack Falk, at the Portland Jazz Festival in 2011. (Image Credit: Fran Kaufman/Courtesy of the Portland Jazz Festival)

    After 10 days of world-class performers, the 2011 Portland Jazz Festival wrapped up last weekend. WBGO blogger and production assistant Alex Rodriguez, a Portland, Ore. native, recently returned to his hometown for the event. He helps us make sense of this year's incarnation, themed "Bridges and Boundaries: Jewish and African Americans Playing Jazz Together."

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  • Choo Choo Boogaloo: Jazz For Trains

    March 1, 2011. Posted by Simon Rentner.

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    Panel No. 1 from Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series. The panel is titled: "During World War I there was a great migration north by southern African Americans." (Image Credit: Courtesy of The Phillips Collection)

    Locomotives churning across America's vast open landscape provided plenty of fuel for jazz composers in the early 20th century. Railroads symbolized freedom, escape and opportunity for countless musicians, many of whom lived a vagabond lifestyle, always in pursuit of the next gig.

    During the Great Migration, millions of African-Americans packed their belongings and moved north by train in hopes of finding work. So it's only natural that train travel has historically occupied many black artists' imagination, perhaps most vividly in painter Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series, pieces of which can be seen at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

    Over the years, hundreds of blues, folk and jazz songs have been dedicated to the allegory of the locomotive. Here are some of my favorites.

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  • Evolution Of A Song: 'I Got Rhythm'

    February 9, 2011. Posted by Simon Rentner.

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    Judy Garland (right) sang "I Got Rhythm" in the 1943 movie version of the 1930s musical Girl Crazy. (Image Credit: Courtesy of MGM)

    When George Gershwin wrote "I Got Rhythm" for the 1930s musical Girl Crazy, he created one of the most catchy melodies in American history. But little did he know that his lovable song — apart from becoming a hugely popular jazz standard — would evolve into something far greater.

    The song itself, on the most basic level, became the perfect vehicle for jazz improvisers. Swing and bebop musicians thrived on its formula: a memorable 32-bar AABA structure and irresistible chord progression. This structure served as a model for many other successful jazz tunes, some say hundreds, like Duke Ellington's "Cotton Tail," Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" and Nat King Cole's "Straighten Up and Fly Right." Remarkably, the "I Got Rhythm" form rivals only the blues structure as the most adapted, mimicked or ripped-off, depending how you look at it.

    George Gershwin's later symphonic work, "Variations on I Got Rhythm," was dedicated to the song's original lyricist, his brother Ira Gershwin. But even his brother couldn't have imagined the endless variations on this winning composition. Who could ask for anything more?

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