WBGO Blog
  • WBGO's Monifa Brown: The Fearless Betty Carter

    April 17, 2015. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    I love Betty Carter.  Four simple words, straight from my heart, and undoubtedly true.

    As a musician and woman, Betty Carter embodied a spirit, strength and uncompromising vision I deeply admire.  Her take-no-prisoners-attitude demanded excellence at every turn. She was fearless.

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    Betty Carter in Prague, 1986; photo by Gampe

    Betty had an unerring and unwavering commitment to present her music – her way. In an industry dominated by men, she paved her own road, staying true to her artistic vision and poured her love for this music into generations of musicians.

    She was also an entrepreneur. When the industry was not living up to her expectations, she founded her own label, Bet-Car Records, to bring her music to the people.

    Betty also gave me some of the best advice I  ever received. Anyone who knew her, knows she was never one to mince words.

    One evening, here’s what she said to this once timid teenage girl:

    “Never be afraid to do or ask for what you want.”

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    These words were imparted to me at the now defunct Bottom Line, where we sat in the audience listening to Carmen McRae.  They are words that I find myself coming back to, time and time again.

    In the 90s, I got to tour with Betty as the publicist on an educational program sponsored by Harmon International. That experience and others confirmed for me her genuine desire to mentor and cultivate new talent.

    Betty “schooled” many of the baddest musicians on the jazz scene today. Betty’s bands nurtured the talents of Harold Mabern, Eric Harland, Kenny Washington, Curtis Lundy, Benny Green, Cyrus Chestnut, Winard Harper…  the list goes on.

    Need I say more?!

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    Betty Carter in San Francisco, 1979; photo by Brian McMillen

    Betty’s voice is instantly recognizable. “It’s not about the melody,” she once said, and in listening to her sing a single phrase you understand why.

    Betty's otherworldly improvisatory explorations, keen sense of harmonics and remarkable ability to swoop in and sing the notes in between  notes are pure magic.

    Her rhythmic fluidity coupled by her ability to connect with her audience and create intense and theatrical drama, are unparallel.

    When Betty Carter took the stage she came to work and she made the cats in her band get down to business too!

    There will never be another Betty Carter.   Thank you for your spirit, your wisdom and courageous musical spirit!

    -Monifa Brown, host of WBGO's Saturday Afternoon Jazz

    Follow on twitter @Globaljazzqueen

  • Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt: Listen Now

    April 16, 2015. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt talks with Rhonda Hamilton about his CD "Tales, Musings And Other Reveries." Pelt performs with his quintet to celebrate the CD release at New York's Smoke April 17 to 19. Enjoy!

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    Photo by Tim Wilkins

  • WBGO In South Africa 9: At The Cape Town Jazz Fest

    April 15, 2015. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Our amazing WBGO travel experience to South Africa ends with an exclamation point: The 16th Annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival!

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    Thanks to our travel expert, Hema Shah from Immersion Journeys, Rhonda Hamilton, 25 WBGO members and I spent the first part of our trip truly immersed in the Rainbow Nation’s heritage, wildlife, history, communities of Johannesburg and Soweto – and even got to play golf!

    After this we dove headfirst into South Africa's vibrant jazz scene. The Cape Town International Jazz Fest featured more than forty concerts over two days on five stages, exhibitions, master classes, and even a fashion show.

    Most of these concerts were held at Cape Town’s convention center, which stands up to any state-of-the-art theater anywhere in the world. It is well worthy of hosting a world-class jazz festival.

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    In his news features for the WBGO Journal, Giovanni Russonello explains this year’s fest emphasized South Africa’s domestic jazz talent - such as emerging Cape jazz drummer Claude Cozens, and bassists Benjamin Jephta and Carlo Mombelli.

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    Photo by Ignatius Mokone

    Russonello also had a conversation with Cozens for The Checkout – don’t miss it. They talk about Abdullah Ibrahim, the so-called “Goema” Cape Jazz sound, and the young drummer’s modern take on that music with his trio’s new CD, Jubilee Jam.

    In addition to these newcomers, South Africa’s musical legends are here too. I felt lucky to hear in concert and also interview the man who is perhaps Africa’s most important living jazz player: trumpeter Hugh Masekela.

    Photo by Ignatius Mokone
    Photo by Ignatius Mokone

    It cannot be overstated how much of a gift is to see and hear Hugh play on his home turf, in front of ten thousand squealing fans humming along to every song.

    “It’s akin to seeing Shakespeare performed by the Royal Shakespeare company,” says Dean Irby, an actor and WBGO member who traveled with our group. “Seeing the master actors perform in front of the people the play was written for.”

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    Photo by Ignatius Mokone

    In my conversation with Masekela for The Checkout, we take a time warp back to 1965, the year that made him a star.

    That year, Masekela recorded his career-making album The Americanization of the Ooga Booga, while in exile in New York City. He says that experience brought his music into the mainstream.

    In 1965, he also launched his own boutique record label, Chisa! That venture helped the trumpeter find his unique voice that combined jazz with the sounds of his homeland.

    Another high point for me was hearing the contemporary jazz/hip-hop group led by the talented singer Melanie Scholtz alongside rapper Jitzvinger.

    Photo by Mary-Ann Daniels
    Photo by Mary-Ann Daniels

    Scholtz, a Cape Town-bred singer and songwriter, won the 2010 Standard Bank Young Artist jazz prize. Her popularity in Europe has been growing steadily; she plans to move to Prague soon. She will be featured on The Checkout in May.

    Photo by Ignatius Mokone
    Photo by Ignatius Mokone

    Last, and definitely not least, for me, was Thundercat, aka Stephen Bruner! HooooooO!

    This elusive bassist, singer-songwriter and producer is one of my personal creative heroes; I’ve tried to get him on The Checkout for years. I was thrilled to spend an hour talking with him at the Cape Sun Hotel.

    Thundercat not only creates his own brilliant music, but he is constantly busy, working with some of today’s cutting-edge mainstream musicians, such as Kimbra and Kendrick Lamar.

    We talked about those artists and many others in his Los Angeles creative sphere: Eric Andre, Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington, and the late Austin Peralta.

    What more can I say about my experience at the Cape Town International Jazz Fest? Only that I can’t wait to go back!