• Setting The Stage: The Cape Town International Jazz Festival

    April 1, 2016. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Welcome to the 17th annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival in South Africa.

    Table Mountain
    Table Mountain

    From all the places that WBGO and The Checkout takes you, there isn’t a destination more scenic -- and perhaps as breathtaking -- than Cape Town, one of Africa’s oldest port cities. It exists with the backdrop of Table Mountain, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. These towering rocks rise from beautiful white sand beaches next to the Atlantic Ocean.

    Lion Head
    Lion Head

    The sense of excitement among festival ticket holders is palpable. Event though the festival is only a two-night engagement, they call it “Africa’s Grandest Gathering” for a reason. Every year it sells out many months in advance. Those that aren’t fortunate to lock down a ticket can at least enjoy its annual free concert at Greenmarket Square. Laëtitia Dana from France kicked off the festivities this year.

    Dr. Victor & The Rasta Rebels
    Dr. Victor & The Rasta Rebels
    Laëtitia Dana
    Laëtitia Dana

    Dr. Victor & The Rasta Rebels are a favorite band among the locals. They mostly sing Bob Marley covers. The 90’s soul band SWV also performed Wednesday night with hundreds of South Africans singing along.

    Derek Gripper
    Derek Gripper

    One local artist who I’m especially enthusiastic about seeing is the classically-trained guitarist who's gone griot: Derek Gripper. He specializes in adapting ancient music from Mali in his latest recording Libraries on Fire, where he takes on tunes composed by his hero: the legendary kora master Toumani Diabaté. Stay tuned for my exclusive interview with Gripper on The Checkout plus his upcoming concert at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall in New York this November.

    Bokani Dyer
    Bokani Dyer with Simon Rentner

    And another rising star (and future guest on The Checkout) is pianist and producer Bokani Dyer, who's studied in New York City with pianist Jason Moran. The Botswana-born musician was raised by his South African parents in exile during the era of apartheid. He now resides in the country’s cultural capital of Johannesburg.

    Camps Bay

    Return to this blog for my daily updates from the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Soon there will be an interview with the extremely talented vocalist and songwriter from the Cape Flats Vuyo Sotashe. He finished second in this year’s Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. See the full festival lineup here.

  • Donny McCaslin and Jason Lindner talk working with David Bowie on his final album

    January 11, 2016. Posted by Josh Landes.

    Saxophonist Donny McCaslin and keyboardist Jason Lindner worked with the late David Bowie on what will be his final record, Blackstar. They came into the WBGO studios to talk about the experience with Simon Rentner for The Checkout.


  • The NYC Winter JazzFest 2016

    January 2, 2016. Posted by Brandy Wood.

    WBGO is once again partnering with The NYC Winter JazzFest in 2016. In the current issue of WBGO's program guide, Upbeat, there was a partial interview with one of the festival's producers, Brice Rosenbloom. The full interview plus artist interviews and more follow.

    Manfred Eichner, founder and owner of ECM Records

    Vijay Iyer

    Pianist Vijay Iyer talks with Simon Rentner about his latest ECM album and inspirations from Billy Strayhorn and Detroit techno producer DJ Robert Hood.

    Gilad Hekselman
    Gilad Hekselman

    Guitarist Gilad Hekselman on The Checkout

    Dr. Lonnie Smith

    Dr. Lonnie Smith recorded live at WBGO


    The Winter Jazz Festival, which turns 12 this year, runs in various venues around Greenwich Village in Manhattan, January 13-17. WBGO will once again partner with the festival, and Simon Rentner, host of The Checkout (Tuesdays at 6:30PM on 88.3FM WBGO and wbgo.org), sat down with the festival’s creator, Brice Rosenbloom, to discuss this year’s event.
    Simon: So how big can this festival really get?

    Brice: The audience that comes out every year …and the amount of talent that’s out there tell us that we can continue to see it grow every year. This year will be five days long [with more than] a hundred and twenty groups, over 650 musicians performing [in] 14 different venues across the Village. Last year we were in a beautiful venue, the Minetta Theatre, which we don’t have access to this year. [That] propelled us to start a conversation with the New School, and we’ve been able to secure four different stages at the school this year, in what we hope will become a long standing partnership. On the Friday and Saturday ECM records will be showcasing thirteen different groups of homegrown talent at the Tishman auditorium on 14th street and 5th Avenue. That showcase will feature artists like Vijay Iyer and Avishai Cohen, David Torn, Craig Taborn, Michael Formanek, Chris Potter and many others.

    Simon: I hear ECM records founder Manfred Eicher is making a special trip for this series.

    Brice: Yes, we understand that as well. We’re thrilled that he’s going to be in the room.

    Simon: It’s funny that you have all these venues in Greenwich Village which obviously holds great, storied history in jazz music in the United States where you’re presenting this festival. However, none of your acts are featured in any of these sort of jazz club mainstays in Greenwich Village itself like Smalls jazz club isn’t involved, Fat Cat isn’t involved or the Village Vanguard; all of these Greenwich Village jazz clubs. Was that calculated or it just didn’t work out that way?

    Brice: You know it’s somewhat calculated, but not fully. We do include the Zinc Bar, we have included the Zinc Bar almost…every year but for the past seven or eight years of our twelve year history. We choose, though, to offer opportunities to experience the music in non-traditional jazz settings for audience and presenters who are in town for the Arts Presenters Conference. So yes, we will offer a couple jazz clubs, but a lot of the venues feel more like rock clubs or big open theatres; the kind of spaces that a presenter might come in and experience the music in a vibrant setting that might lend, or remind themselves of how they might want to present that artist. So we’re using Le Poisson Rouge as one of our central larger venues, right on Bleecker Street. [Other venues include] the Judson church, which is a historic space right near [the] NYU campus, and …Sub Culture, a little further east of the Village, which is kind of a basement smaller theatre space. So, the goal is to not just be in concert halls and jazz clubs but to offer a varied way to experience the music.

    Simon: How would you say the Winter Jazz Festival is most unlike these other major jazz festivals that is now being compared to the Montreal Jazz Festival, Newport Jazz Festival, etc.

    Brice: One of the unique things that we’re proud of is that we’re presenting so much young talent and new projects. [In] almost everything we present, the goal is that it’s a new project. It’s a project that we feel our colleagues, presenters from around the country, are going to be interested in booking. Partly it’s because we’re excited about the project and partly it’s because we are just proving the point that the future is in the youth and there [is] so much great young talent on the scene right now that we’re thrilled to be able to showcase.

    Simon: Take off your promoter cap for a second. What are the acts, the musicians, the shows you are most looking forward to hearing?

    Brice: It’s hard to take off the promoter hat because for me it’s one in the same - my passion for these artists and what I’m specifically interested in seeing - but we’ll …just start from the top. Artists; it’s no surprise that I’m always excited to see [Kamasi Washington]. I had a chance to see him three times within the past few months and we’re going to be presenting him at the Webster Hall on January 14th. Washington will be performing again with the same group of L.A. musicians plus special guests that we’ve not yet announced. Vijay Iyer is going to close out the night on the ECM stage with his trio. His record release earlier this year Break Stuff is one of my picks of the year. Chicago drummer McCaya McCraven is performing at the Bitter End as part of the Revive Stage. His record In the Moment is also one of my top picks of the year. [I’m] excited to see him. There’s a vocalist performing the music of Gil Scott Heron and Brian Jackson, Charanee Wade and her group, signed to Motema records; they are performing at the New School, [I’m] excited to see that group. I actually have not seen that group live I’ve only heard the music.

    Simon: Shout out to Mark Ruffin who produced that record.

    Brice: Nice. That’s right. Another group that I have not seen live yet, but I’ve heard the record and [I’m] excited to see them when they come over state side from Manchester: Go Go Penguin; newly signed to Blue Note Records. They’re going to be performing at Le Poisson Rouge on the Saturday night January 15 as a part of the Winter Jazz Fest Marathon. So there you have it.

    Simon: Go Go Penguin received some great prize in Europe right? What did they win recently?

    Brice: They’re nominated for the Mercury Prize.

    Simon: Nominated for the Mercury Prize, which is like what-the Grammy of Europe?

    Brice: Every year they give the Mercury Prize to the best up and coming UK artists. So they’re nominated, I think, among another eight or nine different groups. It’s special that for them, being nominated as a jazz group, [as] it’s mostly been given to a pop group.

    Simon: And if you were to describe Go Go Penguin’s sound, I would say they’re sort of like a cross between EST and the Bad Plus; one of these sort of minimalist rock jazz enterprises.

    Brice: Yea, power trio. Exactly. Lots of energy.

    Simon: Power trio. Power jazz. Power to the people. The Winter Jazz Festival continues in its 12th year. I thank Brice Rosenbloom for joining us to talk about it. And we’ll see you this year in the winter time in Greenwich Village.

    Brice: Thank you Simon.

  • WBGO Says Goodbye to Saxophonist Bob Belden

    May 20, 2015. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Add new comment | Filed under: RIP, The Checkout

    WBGO says farewell to saxophonist and record producer Bob Belden, who passed away today after a massive heart attack over the weekend.


    A highly imaginative arranger, performer and producer, Belden served as the head of artists and repertoire for Blue Note Records, and won multiple Grammy Awards for his reissues of Miles Davis recordings for Columbia Records. He also produced two well-received Davis tribute albums with international musicians, Miles From India and Miles Español.

    "Animation," an ensemble he created with trumpeter Tim Hagans, recorded two albums for Blue Note and was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2001. He reformed the group for a concert in 2006 with young musicians from his alma mater, the University of North Texas. He released three RareNoise albums with the reformed group, with a fourth on the way.

    He also took Animation to perform at a music festival in Iran in February of this year, with Pete Clagett on trumpet, Jair-Rohm Parker Wells on bass, Roberto Verastegui on piano, and and Matt Young on drums. They were the first American jazz musicians to perform in the country since its 1979 Islamic revolution. A film crew traveled with the musicians for a forthcoming documentary.

    Belden and Hagans also brought Animation to perform in WBGO's studios in 2011, where they spoke with Josh Jackson. We'd like to share that special session and conversation with you again now.

    Farewell Bob and thank you!

  • Warren Wolf's Wolfpack Live From Berklee: Watch Now

    March 19, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Watch video from WBGO's live broadcast of vibraphonist Warren Wolf's Wolfpack at the Berklee College of Music's Cafe 939 in Boston on Wednesday, March 5 at 8 p.m.

    Every month, WBGO brings Berklee alumni back to their alma mater to present the fruits of their labor, with live audio and video broadcasts. Tune in April 4 to hear the Matthew Stevens Quintet!

    This concert features Wolf on vibes and marimba, Tim Green on saxophone, Alex Brown on piano, Kris Funn on bass, and Billy Williams Jr. on drums.

    Wolf has always been something of a wunderkind - he started in music at age three on piano and drums in his native Baltimore, where he attended the Peabody Institute's preparatory program and the Baltimore School For The Arts, where he concentrated on classical music.

    He graduated from Berklee in 2001, and by 2003 was teaching at the school. In addition to leading his own ensembles, he plays in the "Inside Straight" band led by bassist Christian McBride, who first took notice of the talented teenager a jazz camp in Colorado.