• This Week in JazzSet History: (Four of Many) Women in JazzSet History

    March 12, 2012. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    JazzSet20LogoIt's the tenth week of the twentieth anniversary year of JazzSet, and the fourth installment of an archeological dig, as Alexander Gelles Ariff of the Jazz History Department at Rutgers University Newark trowels through a score of seasons of JazzSet.

    This week in JazzSet history, we honor Women’s History Month by tipping the cap to a few (of the many) women who have graced JazzSet’s airwaves. Toshiko Akiyoshi conducts while her husband and sideman Lew Tabackin wails. We'll also check out two traditionally classical instruments that are now regulars in the jazz world: flute and violin. Holly Hofmann is on flute, breathing new fire and soul into the groovy “Tom Thumb” by Wayne Shorter, and Regina Carter pays a special tribute to Stéphane Grappelli.

    Toshiko from WBGO's Jazzmatazz Magazine
    Toshiko from WBGO's Jazzmatazz Magazine for Children

    First, let’s honor one of the modern greats of vocal jazz, Dianne Reeves. This is an excerpt of her improvisation at the end of “A Child Is Born” by Thad Jones. Reeves has an ability to enunciate lyrics casually and convey her own story within timeless music. In this case, her story is freedom. Listen to how she riffs off the first melody and uses counterpoint within her massive range to build the excitement. The band is Peter Martin, piano; Reuben Rogers, bass; and Greg Hutchinson, drums, and they’re performing at the 49th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival in 2006.

    The Kennedy Center in Washington honors jazz women each year for the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival. On May 23, 1998, they honored violinist Regina Carter and flautist Holly Hofmann. Regina Carter has been featured numerous times on JazzSet, but back in ’98 she was riding on the wake of her second release as a leader. Present day: Carter is sitting on a MacArthur Genius Fellowship and seven albums as a leader and this week, she will be on JazzSet from the 2011 Newport Jazz Festival with her group Reverse Thread. Hear how she plays “Lady Be Good” in honor of her mentor, the great Grappelli. Her quintet at this festival featured Rodney Jones, guitar; Werner Gierig,  piano; Darryl Hall, bass, and Alvester Garnett, drums.

    Photo courtesy of Zack Karabashliev
    Photo courtesy of Zack Karabashliev

    And now, a big tip of the hat to Ms. Holly Hofmann. Phil Woods called her, along with Hubert Laws, “the best jazz flute player today.” Here she is performing “Tom Thumb” by Wayne Shorter at the same Women in Jazz Festival with her Four Women Only group: Cecilia Coleman, piano; Nicki Parrott, bass; Sylvia Cuenca, drums; Hofmann, flute.

    Toshiko Akiyoshi has also been honored at past Women in Jazz Festivals. Akiyoshi was born 19 years after May Lou Williams, so it might be easy to say that they don’t have much in common. However, like Mary Lou, Akiyoshi is part of a small circle of successful female jazz musicians of her generation who led a band, composed, arranged and played piano.


    Pianist Oscar Peterson discovered her and later insisted that producer Norman Granz record her beautiful piano playing … jumpstarting her career. She married tenor saxophonist Lew Tabackin  in 1969. The couple formed a big band that would go on to perform from 1973-2004. The band often featured Tabackin’s  tenor sax and flute features. In his excerpt, we hear his husky tone reminiscent of swing-era tenors Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. The relationship between soloist and arranger, both musical and romantic, bleeds onto the page. Listen as Akiyoshi paints delicate textures underneath the bold sound of Lew Tabackin’s  horn on the tune "Broken Dreams."

    IMG_5711-1Alexander Gelles Ariff has a B.A. in Jazz Studies from Florida State University. He is the recipient of the Morroe Berger - Benny Carter Jazz Research Fund Award from the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in Newark. Alex is writing his Master's thesis on the connection between jazz and five American poets -- Kenneth Patchen, Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth, and Langston Hughes.

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