• Playdate With Matt Wilson Show #8: 3/25/14

    March 24, 2014. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    PlaydateBannerUpdatedWelcome to Playdate #8, the last in our series of highlights from WBGO's archive of live recordings. We've packed this show, which airs on WBGO-FM March 25 at 6:30 p.m., to the brim with excitement, and there's even more at WBGO.ORG/PLAYDATE.

    First up is JazzSet's historic trip to Cuba in December of 1998. You'll hear trombonist Steve Turre jam on conch shells in the streets of Havana with a seven-woman percussion group, trumpeter Roy Hargrove grooving hard with locals, and more music and stories from producer Becca Pulliam and field engineer Duke Markos.

    To read and hear more about this trip, visit this blog post we created for JazzSet's twentieth anniversary.


    The view of the Habana River from Producer Becca Pulliam's hotel room

    Show #8 also features pianist Harold Mabern, The Dave Holland Quintet at the 1998 Mount Hood Jazz Festival, tenor saxophonist Frank Wess with the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, and music from the two hosts of JazzSet: saxophonist Branford Marsalis, who hosted the show in its first decade, and vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, our current host.

    You'll also hear part of an intimate performance by guitarist Larry Coryell with pianist Albert Dailey, bassist George Mraz and drummer Billy Hart at the Village Vanguard on April 26, 1984.

    That morning, Count Basie passed away. Coryell dedicates his version of "Body and Soul" to the legendary organist, pianist and bandleader, who embodied for many jazz lovers, the sound and sense of "swing."

    At WBGO.ORG/PLAYDATE, you can hear the full audio from this performance, as well as "On Green Dolphin Street," which features Coryell's group with innovative saxophonist Geroge Braith. On the track, Braith plays the Braithophone - a multi-reed instrument of his own invention.


  • Toots Thielemans Hangs Up His Harp

    March 18, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    NEA Jazz Master Toots Thielemans, who turns 92 in April, has decided it's time to retire. After seven decades, the harmonica player and composer of "Bluesette" - who is also a master whistler -  has decided to hang up his harp, at least on the concert stage,  his website says.

    Toots has been a soulful and constant companion to jazz lovers lover over the years, with an unquenchable reserve of musical talent and enthusiasm. He has been frequently featured on WBGO and NPR, as in March, 2011, when we recorded him for JazzSet at the Kennedy Center.

    Listen to Toots' JazzSet here

    After that, he was scheduled to perform at New York's Blue Note, but canceled some of those shows, citing fatigue.

    A year later in May of 2012, Toots was back: he made an multi-city tour of his home country, Belgium, to celebrate his 90th birthday.

    WBGO's Becca Pulliam was lucky enough to visit Dinant and Brussels to take part in Belgium's celebration of their national treasure.  In the bookstore at the museum of musical instruments, she saw this stack of commemorative books.

    Stack of Toots books

    Back in the US, she wrote this appreciation of The Harmonica-Playing Baron of Belgium and the Toots90 concert in Brussels for NPR's A Blog Supreme:

    ". . . four of Toots' first five tunes were recorded by Miles Davis in a short span: 'On Green Dolphin Street' (1958), 'All Blues' (early 1959), 'I Loves You, Porgy' and 'Summertime' (both 1958, for Porgy and Bess). 'Days of Wine and Roses' was the other number. . . .  [T]hough he's streamlined his playing, 30 years later he still sounds tuneful, optimistic, willing to soar.

    "When [pianist Kenny]Werner and [guitarist Oscar] Castro-Neves came to the stage — excitement! embraces! — they brought shades of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Hollywood as they played 'How High the Moon' (a samba, thanks to Castro-Neves), 'All the Way' (Werner on synthesizer, interpolating 'My Way'), and the theme to Midnight Cowboy, an eight-note melody that circles and haunts. Indeed, Thielemans played it on the soundtrack [to the movie]."

    Toots was back in New York later that year to perform at Jazz At Lincoln Center, with his Brazilian friends Oscar Castro-Neves, Eliane Elias and Dori Caymmi, as well as Herbie Hancock, Kenny Werner, and Marc Johnson.

    The center of attention, the heart of the matter - was this wonderfully resilient, determined, and most musical nonagenarian, Toots Thielemans.

    According to his manager, Toots now - on the cusp of his 92nd birthday - "wants to enjoy the rest he deserves."

    Deserved, indeed, and thank you, Toots!

  • Playdate With Matt Wilson Show #7: 3/18/14

    March 18, 2014. Posted by Becca Pulliam.


    Playdate #7 delivers The Message! Tonight at 6:30 p.m., host Matt Wilson presents hard bop innovator Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers live at New York City's Jazz Forum, in a vivid broadcast first heard on WBGO in 1983.

    Terence Blanchard and Donald Harrison, Jr. play trumpet and alto on "One by One," written by former Messenger Wayne Shorter. The pianist is Johnny O'Neal, still a must-see these days at New York clubs like Smalls and Smoke.

    Also from the present day, Jazz Forum's proprietor, Mark Morganelli, gives Playdate a succinct, affectionate portrait of his friend Blakey who - Mark recalls - drove a Rolls Royce.

    Morganelli sent us this photo of Mr. Blakey behind Woody Shaw at the Jazz Forum, a loft near Bleecker and Broadway.


    Born in Pittsburgh in 1919, Art Blakey emerged in the late 1940s playing drums with Thelonious Monk. He formed the Jazz Messengers in the middle 1950s.

    As host and drummer Matt Wilson says, "The Messengers were a jazz school before before there were jazz degrees from conservatories... an on-the-bandstand education."

    Over its thirty-plus years in existence, The Messengers produced more than ninety top-flight musicians, ranging from Wayne Shorter to Johnny Griffin, Wynton Kelly to Keith Jarrett, and Lee Morgan to Wynton Marsalis.

    Coincidentally, also from 1999 in this episode, we hear the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band play an exclusive arrangement of Monk's "Off Minor."

    We note with sadness the passing of drummer Ralph Penland earlier this week in California. Here on Playdate #7, Penland sounds great playing "Sky Dive" in Freddie Hubbard's sextet on New Year's Eve 1990.

    Guest tenor Ernie Watts joins the band, and the late keyboard man George Duke and bassist Stanley Clarke are in the audience at Catalina's for this set, first heard as part of New Year's Eve Coast to Coast, from WBGO and NPR.

    On the air, Freddie notes Penland's extraordinary drumming and says, "It's very seldom in Hollywood that I have a chance to play jazz... I haven't had this much fun for a long time!"

    And that's just to whet your appetite. Want more? Head to WBGO.ORG/PLAYDATE to stream all our shows and enjoy our web extras. Thanks for playing!

  • A Tribute to Carline Ray's Musical Life: "Be Your Own Self"

    December 2, 2013. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    We said goodbye July 18th to the incomparable bassist and activist Carline Ray. I was fortunate to be among those who gathered at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in New York on November 13 to celebrate her life in music.

    John O'Connor, the Recording Vice-President of the New York City musicians' union, AFM Local 802, was also there, and he read from a wonderful essay on Carline by Mikael Elsila. In it, Ray tells the story of her life as a working musician and describes encounters with artists such as Art Tatum and Miles Davis along the way. This story, which first appeared in 1998, is reprinted here with permission from Allegro, the magazine of the New York City musicians' union (AFM Local 802). For more background, see www.Local802afm.org.

    ‘Be Your Own Self’ by Mikael Elsila

    Carline Ray with daughter Catherine Russell in 2008. Photo: Joseph A. Rosen
    Carline Ray with daughter Catherine Russell in 2008. Photo: Joseph A. Rosen

    The life of Carline Ray (1925-2013), the champion of bass, was as rich and deep as her luxuriant contralto voice. A professional singer and electric bass specialist for 54 years, Ray was an activist as well as a premier musician. She was a member of Local 802 since 1945, served on the union’s trial board for six years, and was an active member of the Jazz Advisory Committee. But she also stood up for fellow musicians even when there was no union agreement.

    For instance, there was the time Ray and her lifelong friend and musical collaborator, Edna Smith, got a job playing in a ten-cents-a-dance hall. Ray (on piano) and Smith (on bass) were the only women in the band. “The band had to play continuously,” Ray remembers, so she figured out a way to get them some breaks. “The boss liked ‘Stardust,’ so I told him I would sing it for him if he would let everybody off for five minutes. I would do this just about every night. He just loved ‘Stardust’!”

    Carline Ray's first publicity shot. Photo: Carline Ray Collection

    Born and raised in Harlem, Carline Ray grew up surrounded by music. Her father, Elisha Manasseh Ray, was a member of Local 802 and a graduate of Juilliard, who played the bass, tuba and euphonium. He taught Ray piano and rudimentary theory when she was young, and she always knew that she wanted to be a musician. In junior high she discovered her voice and started singing in glee clubs and choruses.

    Ray entered Juilliard as a piano major, studying with Harold Lewis and Gordon Stanley, and later studied composition. She graduated with a composition degree in 1946, and 10 years later earned a master’s in voice from the Manhattan School of Music.

    While still at Juilliard, she began exploring jazz after school hours. She and Edna Smith, a bass major, started playing in clubs and spending time on 52nd Street, where Ray heard musicians like Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Art Tatum. In those days she was doing more listening than playing, but she would often go up to a jam session in Harlem at a place called The Hollywood. There she met Billy Taylor, and heard Willie “The Lion” Smith, and other stride pianists. Tatum always played last. “Nobody followed Art Tatum; he was the king.”

    Ray already had a reputation as a singer, and at The Hollywood one night she was asked to sing. Tatum offered to accompany her. “I was speechless, of course. So I sang a Gershwin tune. When I got through Art asked, ‘Well, Carline, did I play all right for you?’ “

    It was around this time that she and Edna got a job playing weekends at Pete and Dom’s Restaurant in Staten Island, and Ray joined Local 802. “In those days you had to audition to get into the local. They asked for a little Bach, a little Beethoven, a little boogie-woogie, and I accommodated.” Also around this time, she began teaching herself guitar, and soon was playing on gigs.

    In 1956, while she was playing in a band fronted by her late husband, the pianist-composer Luis Russell, Ray decided to give the bass a try. “I took to it like a fish to water.”

    Ray started subbing for Smith on her gigs and became the regular bass player for her husband’s group, at a time when few musicians were playing the instrument. “A lot of people have accused me of causing them to play electric bass,” says Ray. “I may have inspired some people to think they could sound like me, but you have to know ahead of time what kind of sound you want. I was trying to emulate the sound of an upright bass; I always wanted that big sound.” One musician who influenced her strongly was Ray Brown. “He had this big, fat, round sound with ringing notes. It really moved me, and I said to myself that if I was ever going to be a bass player, that’s the way I’d want to sound. Ray Brown is my mentor, but he doesn’t know it. That sound continues to be my motivation.”

    Her first big band experience came in 1946, when she and Edna Smith met Maurice King, the musical director for the all-female Sweethearts of Rhythm, and soon joined the group. Ray was the rhythm guitarist and special production vocalist, and when she sang “Temptation” at the Million Dollar Theater in Los Angeles, she brought down the house. “I was overwhelmed,” she said.

    Ray had never been west of New Jersey before, but she happily traveled around the country in a bus fitted out with sleeper berths that was home to the 16 women in the Sweethearts of Rhythm. In those days, she recalls, “Jim Crow was alive and kicking and flying around and carrying on – so there was always the specter of that hanging over us, whenever we went down South.” Ray and the Sweethearts did a “Black Circuit,” covering the Apollo in New York and the Howard in Washington, D.C., among other venues.

    Carline Ray played with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm; she’s pictured on guitar (second row, third from the left). Photo: Carline Ray Collection

    Next, Ray was invited to sing with a band led by trumpeter Erskine Hawkins, based at the Savoy Ballroom. She was the only woman in the band but she felt respected. “A few guys tried to hit on me, but I had a couple of ‘big brothers’ who would look out for me,” she said. “I was never intimidated by my male counterparts.”

    Ray didn’t see herself as a pioneer among female musicians because, she said, so many women came before her. But she pointed out that “it’s only now that women musicians are starting to be taken seriously.” When she was starting out, she said, agents “didn’t care about your talent. They always approached a woman based on the way she looked. But I view myself and any other woman musician as a musician first, who just happens to be female.”

    She recalled that it was a long time before she saw any woman musicians in the New York Philharmonic. Ray believed that women in music now have more respect and acceptance, but she noted that this has happened “very slowly and grudgingly, as far as classical orchestras are concerned” – and that some female musicians “still seem to be intimidated.”

    She also recalled problems with sexism in the union. “I received a lot of mail over the years addressed to ‘Dear Brother.’ Even the union hasn’t always recognized women.”

    The union has not always supported jazz artists as strongly as Ray would have liked, but she was optimistic about Local 802’s Justice for Jazz Artists campaign and became deeply involved with the Jazz Advisory Committee. “I was very impressed with the composition of the committee – the fact that people like Jamil Nasser and Benny Powell were involved – and I could see that Local 802 was serious about this.”

    Ray did it all. She taught at Medgar Evers College. She met Miles Davis on the A train, where they chatted about Sarah Vaughan. She played with numerous top musicians, including Mary Lou Williams, Mercer Ellington and Skitch Henderson. She received an NEA grant to study acoustic bass with Major Holley. She helped form Jazzberry Jam, made up of herself, Bertha Hope on piano, Paula Hampton on drums and the late Gwen Cleveland on vocals. And she raised a daughter, Catherine Russell, the well-known and highly respected vocalist.

    What advice would she give musicians?

    “As a jazz musician, you have to decide where in this wide spectrum of music you want to be represented. You have to aspire to be as individual as you can be; it has to be you injected into this music. You just can’t be a copycat, playing something just because someone else is playing it. Every one of us has individual aspects of our performance – something that is special about them. Be your own self.”

    - Mikael Elsila is the editor of Allegro.

  • WBGO's Love For Moody Week

    December 23, 2010. Posted by Alex Rodriguez.

    WBGO Executive Director Cephas Bowles (left) showing some love for James Moody

    WBGO dedicates this week of programming to the memory of Newark native and jazz luminary James Moody, who passed away Thursday, December 9 at the age of 85.

    UPDATE: The final segment of our James Moody tribute airs tonight at 8 p.m., 88.3 on your fm dial. Or, have a listen to it here:

    As Becca and Brandy have mentioned previously, this week will feature some of our favorite Moody memories as we close out the 2010 broadcasting year (and look forward to Toast of the Nation.)

    Tonight at 6:00 p.m., we will air a special edition of JazzSet, recorded for Moody's 80th birthday at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC in 2005. It features some other heavy hitters, too, including Slide Hampton, Paquito D'Rivera, Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller. The show will re-air on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

    Tomorrow at noon (right after the news) we will follow up with Piano Jazz, featuring an interview with Moody and the show's always-lovely host, Marian McPartland.

    On Thursday, we close out our special coverage with a compilation of Moody interviews from our extensive archives, edited by Simon Rentner. The hour-long feature begins at 8:00 p.m.

    Follow the links below for more WBGO coverage celebrating the life and music of James Moody:

    Doug Doyle remembers Moody for the WBGO Journal

    Becca Pulliam pulls some Moody music from the WBGO archives

    Eulus Cathey interviews Moody in 2009:

    Josh Jackson pays homage to Moody on The Checkout

    Finally, a video produced by Josh Jackson and Dan Karcher:

    WBGO has been truly blessed by Moody's presence for many years -- we're sad to see him go, yet so fortunate to be able to honor his legacy. Join us this week as we celebrate the life of one of one of New Jersey's greatest contributions to jazz history. Please, feel free to share your favorite Moody memories in the comment section below.