WBGO Blog
  • WBGO Says Goodbye to NEA Jazz Master Gunther Schuller

    June 21, 2015. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    WBGO says farewell to NEA Jazz Master Gunther Schuller, who died today at age 89. The composer sought  to combine jazz and classical music in his seventy-year career, and coined the phrase "Third Stream" to describe this style.

    In 2008, he was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, the nation's highest honor for jazz musicians and advocates. WBGO's Rhonda Hamilton was on hand for the occasion, and we'd like to share their memorable conversation with you again now.

    Thank you, Gunther, and rest in peace!

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    Schuller began his career as a French horn player in the early forties, and recorded with trumpeter Miles Davis and other jazz musicians while also principal hornist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman were among the jazz artists whose works he championed at this time.

    In 1959, he left performance to concentrate on scholarship and composition. He served as president of the New England Conservatory for twenty years, and as artistic director for the Tanglewood Music Center for fourteen. His two volumes on "Early Jazz" and "The Swing Era" are foundational texts of jazz musicology.

  • Farewell to NEA Jazz Master Orrin Keepnews

    March 2, 2015. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    WBGO says farewell to NEA Jazz Master Orrin Keepnews, who passed away at 91 on March 1.

    The producer's Riverside Records, which he co-founded in 1953, was home to memorable sessions by pianist Thelonious Monk, saxophonist Sonny Rollins and many others.

    Keepnews and former Columbia classmate Bill Grauer worked together at Record Changer magazine, then launched Riverside on a shoestring in 1953. At first, they focused on reissues of traditional jazz and blues, but quickly gained interest in modern jazz, signing pianists Randy Weston in 1954 and Thelonious Monk in 1955.

    While Keepnews famously insisted a record producer was really a catalyst, rather than a creator, his thoughtful approach quickly earned respect from many of the era's most innovative music makers.

    In appreciation, Pianist Bill Evans composed "Re: A Person I Knew" - an anagram of Keepnews' name - and recorded it for Riverside in 1962:

    In 2011, Keepnews was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts. The nation's highest honor for jazz musician, he is one of only a handful of non-musicians - along with fellow writers Nat Hentoff and Dan Morgenstern - to receive the honor for their advocacy.

    More about Keepnews' storied career, including links to interviews, can be found at his NEA Jazz Masters profile page and in his New York Times obituary by Nate Chinen.

    Thank you, Orrin!

  • Farewell to NEA Jazz Master Gerald Wilson

    September 9, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    WBGO says goodbye to Gerald Wilson, who died Sept. 8 at his home in Los Angeles, four days after his 94th birthday.

    The trumpeter, bandleader and arranger played a key role in the development of West Coast and orchestral jazz over his 75 years as a professional musician. Fresh out of Detroit's Cass Technical High School in 1939, he joined Jimmie Lunceford's band and never looked back.

    Based in Los Angeles, Wilson arranged for Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, and dozens of others, as well as his own large and small ensembles. In 1990, he was named an NEA Jazz Master, the nation's highest honor for a jazz musician.

    Wilson visited WBGO many times over the years, and stopped by in 2003 for a heartfelt chat with Morning Jazz host Gary Walker, which we'd like to share with you again now.

    Thank you, Gerald, we will miss you!

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