WBGO Blog
  • Roy Eldridge: The 'Little Jazz' Centennial

    January 25, 2011. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    image
    Roy Eldridge. (Image Credit: William Gottlieb/The Library of Congress via Flickr)

    Trumpeter Roy Eldridge's legendary sound and bravado dwarfed his 5'6" frame. Known as "Little Jazz," and later just "Jazz," his nicknames befit his devotion (five decades) to the art form. His peers spoke of his soulful style and great competitiveness, not to mention his ridiculous chops. These qualities marked him as one of the greatest trumpet kings of all time; he reigned from the late 1930s and beyond, when many other top trumpeters came into the fold.

    But Eldridge's legend endured. He was an innovator who, for many historians, conveniently bridged the gap between Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie in jazz's evolutionary chain. This may be hyperbole or an oversimplification, but many agree that Eldridge modernized the way to play jazz. And nobody ever discounted the red-hot passion that once crackled from his brass. On Jan. 30, Eldridge would have been 100, so we celebrate The Little Jazz Centennial with some of his fieriest early performances.

    Read more
  • Winter Jazzfest 2011: You Were Great! Now Change

    January 10, 2011. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    image
    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.)

    Read more

  • The Many Moods Of James Moody

    November 23, 2010. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    image
    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.

    Read more