WBGO Blog
  • How Bessie Smith Ushered In The Jazz Age

    April 28, 2015

    Jazz and blues are often treated as one and the same — but how did one end up taking over and surpassing the other, ushering in the jazz age?

    That's a subject of an upcoming HBO biopic, called Bessie, about singer and songwriter Bessie Smith and her mentor Ma Rainey. Jazz bassist and composer Christian McBride, host of NPR's Jazz Night In America and a regular guest on All Things Considered, spoke with host Audie Cornish about Bessie Smith's legacy.

    An edited transcript of their conversation follows.

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  • First Listen: Kamasi Washington, 'The Epic'

    April 26, 2015

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    Kamashi Washington's new album, The Epic, comes out May 5. (Image Credit: Mike Park/Courtesy of the artist)

    The word "epic" sits cheerily amid the most overused hyperbole of our age. Teenage bros proclaim their recent "pretty epic" mild successes; sports commentators call anything which ends dramatically an "epic game"; the Internet-literate are quick to point out an "epic FAIL." But what else do you call a three-CD, nearly three-hour album anchored by a 10-piece jazz band, featuring a 32-piece orchestra and 20-member choir, and driven by the daydream of an imaginary martial arts grandmaster?

    The Epic is the title of the new recording from 34-year-old saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington, a musician you may have heard but not heard of. That's his horn all over the newest releases by fellow Southern Californians Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus. (The Epic is being issued by Brainfeeder, the record label Lotus co-founded.) Washington has toured with Snoop Dogg, Raphael Saadiq and Chaka Khan; his jazz credentials include work with elders like Gerald Wilson, Stanley Clarke and Kenny Burrell. The singing electric bassist Thundercat (Stephen Bruner) and his brother, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr., are lifelong friends; in fact, Washington has known most of his bandmates since high school in in South Central Los Angeles.

    The confluence of those experiences — of participating in a huge and diverse LA jazz scene, of making music people actually dance to, of working with like-minded peers for years — emerges here as scope and grandeur. The Epic swims in rhythmic crosscurrents, with two bassists, two keyboard players, two drummers. It's made tall and wide by the presence of strings and voices, made forceful and direct by horn solos and singer Patrice Quinn. It seems intentionally to overwhelm, in an immersive way; it's music to be swept up by and revisited after the wave subsides.

    In working with so many future-forward musicians, you might expect Washington's music to be equally slippery and resistant to categorization. Surely it is to some extent, as his band pulls from a huge bag of tricks. It also likes a driving modal swing groove or a knotty post-bop horn melody; it plays the blues and the standard "Cherokee." They execute these ideas with such bigness, and such a wide color palette, and a mission to remake the word "jazz" in the image of their own generation. That's the feat here. You wouldn't be wrong to call that ambition epic.

    Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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  • The Legacy Of The Jazz Organ In Philadelphia

    April 22, 2015

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    Rich Budesa was one of six organists to perform. (Image Credit: WXPN)

    In mid-century Philadelphia, dozens of organists reshaped jazz into a popular, swinging, danceable contemporary music. Often in trios with drums and guitar or saxophone, these organ players made church instruments into portable orchestras — a tradition that continues to the present day in Philadelphia.

    Jazz Night In America visits Philadelphia's World Café Live, where WXPN, WRTI and the Philadelphia Jazz Project organized a tribute to three native sons and daughters of the organ tradition: Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott and Charles Earland. Many top local performers help explain what made their city's jazz organ culture thrive.

    Copyright 2015 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit .