October 8, 2015Jason Moran leads an expanded version of his band at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. (Image Credit: NPR)
Moran is in a dressing room deep within the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., where he's the artistic director for jazz. He's not really wearing that hat at the moment, though. He's talking as a musician himself — and very personally, at that.
"OK, in my world, he is the most important musician," Moran says. He clarifies: Thelonious Monk was his chief inspiration as a 13-year-old in Houston; Monk was the musician who made him want to be a pianist. "I heard Thelonious Monk in that time when everything about me was transitioning, and it was the thing I could grab on to and focus on through my teenage years that pulled me through that time of wondering about everything that a teenager wonders about."
He's still obsessed with the pianist and composer, as well he ought to be. Monk left such a strikingly distinct body of work and personal style that one could dig deep yet hardly scratch the surface.
A few years ago, Jason Moran developed a tribute concert to Monk. Moran being who he is, it was more than a simple tribute. First, he started at a particular concert held at New York City's Town Hall in 1959 — notable because it featured Thelonious Monk backed by a large ensemble which had rehearsed intently for the date. Then he kept digging. He found audio tapes and photographs from the rehearsals. ("It's how to learn Monk from Monk," Moran says.) He looked into Monk's personal history. And he assembled a new band to do much more than re-create the music from that evening: He wanted players to perform his original arrangements of those tunes, along with a video projection by David Dempewolf.
Jazz Night In America took in a recent performance of Jason Moran's In My Mind: Monk At Town Hall, 1959 at the Kennedy Center. Watch highlights from the concert in our video feature — and on the radio program, hear more music and learn more about Monk's original presentation.
© 2015 WBGO
October 1, 2015
There's no one person responsible for creating music festivals — or for making them such a huge part of how we witness live performances today. But starting in 1954, one person developed a recipe for their secret sauce.
George Wein still goes to his signature event every year, checking out performances and greeting the artists. These days, he does it on a golf cart which drives him between stages — he's about to turn 90, after all — but he says he takes his job as producer very seriously.
"If I don't hear the music, I don't know what my festival is all about," Wein says. "So I have to hear the music."
Wein was already running a jazz club in Boston — and playing some piano himself — when he met a wealthy tobacco heiress named Elaine Lorillard. She spent her summers with New England's rich and famous in the seaside town of Newport, R.I. She thought jazz could entertain where the New York Philharmonic couldn't. So she and her husband laid out a line of credit, Wein booked some big names (Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday), and the Newport Jazz Festival was born.
Its success led to its return the next year, and the year after that. To Paul Gonsalves' 27 ecstatic choruses in "Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue." To the Newport Folk Festival and Bob Dylan "going electric." To crowd riots which threatened and caused cancellations. To the Newport Jazz Festival's relocation to New York City. To its return to Rhode Island in the 1980s. And, in all that dedication, to the spread of outdoor music festivals worldwide.
George Wein could have shifted his focus and cashed in on larger, more lucrative rock-oriented festivals. But he's now operating his Newport Jazz Festival as a non-profit so it can continue long after he's gone — and so he can still run it the way he wants to.
"Look, I'm going to be 90 years old and I'm still doing what I love," Wein says. "I guess my survival philosophy is working."
In this radio episode of Jazz Night In America, hear more from the 2015 Newport Jazz Festival, including performances from Bria Skonberg, Scott Robinson and Tom Harrell. And, in this video short, watch a portrait of George Wein's career through the years.
© 2015 WBGO
September 29, 2015. Posted by Tim Wilkins.
WBGO says goodbye to alto saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master Phil Woods, who passed away at age 83 from complications of emphysema.
Woods was known for his soaring, seemingly effortless bebop improvisations, which often earned him comparisons to Charlie "Bird" Parker. He married Parker's widow, Chan, in 1955, and lived with her in France for several years.
Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, Woods became well-known to pop fans through his solos on songs such as Billie Joel's "Just The Way You Are" and Paul Simon's "Have A Good Time."
Woods continued to perform despite his emphysema, including at a farewell concert September 6 in which he reprised the challenging arrangements of the album Charlie Parker With Strings at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in Pittsburgh,
"No doubts that Phil Woods is the most influential altoist after Bird. He is also a great and very funny colleague," said fellow saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera after that performance.
Woods spoke with WBGO's Michael Bourne on many occasions, including in 2007 when Phil was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, the nation's highest honor for a jazz musician. We'd like to share that conversation with you again now.
Farewell, Phil, and thank you!
© 2015 WBGO