WBGO Blog
  • Paul Bley, Influential Jazz Pianist, Has Died

    January 5, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

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    Paul Bley. (Image Credit: Hans Kumpf/Courtesy of ECM Records)

    Paul Bley, a jazz pianist whose thoughtful but intuitive commitment to advanced improvisation became widely influential, died of natural causes Sunday. He was 83.

    Bley was surrounded by family at his winter residence in Stuart, Fla., according to his daughter Vanessa Bley.

    A career spent with musicians like Charlie Parker and Lennie Tristano, Charles Mingus and Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman, Carla Bley and Annette Peacock — that's just the first 20 or so years — began in Paul Bley's hometown of Montreal. When the virtuoso performer Oscar Peterson was summoned away on tour, a teenage Bley was asked to replace him in Peterson's trio.

    Bley soon enrolled at the Juilliard School, which placed him in New York City amid the bebop wave which had landed upon the city's jazz community. In 1953, he made his debut recording, a trio date for the small record label started by Charles Mingus, with the big-name backing of Mingus on bass and Art Blakey on drums.

    It would take a while longer for Bley to develop a musical identity he was proud to call his own, but he said he was already thinking about it when he moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s. While working a regular engagement at the Hillcrest Club, in a black neighborhood of L.A., Bley welcomed two young performers with an original concept into his group. The new band was highly polarizing, especially when it eventually moved to the jazz hub of New York City. By that point, the stir was about the alto saxophonist and trumpeter: Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry.

    Bley did not travel with the group to New York, but his head was turned by its possibilities. He would eventually feel compelled to return to New York, where he found himself in different improvising contexts: in an innovative trio with clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre, recording with jazz theoretician George Russell, performing again with Mingus, touring with saxophone giant Sonny Rollins, playing with free improvisers Sunny Murray and Albert Ayler, joining a musicians' collective called the Jazz Composers Guild with his wife at the time, composer Carla Bley. His own recordings at the time, often using bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian, began to reflect his evolving ideas, as they bridged song structure with improvisatory freedom.

    The open-ended promise of free jazz exerted a great influence on Bley for the rest of his career. "It's free only in the sense that you're not bringing written music to the table," he said in an episode of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz. "In place of the written music, you're bringing the acoustics of the room that you're playing in, the nationality of the audience, the weather of the evening and you-name-it."

    Bley also was an early adopter of electronic synthesizers, recording often with composer/vocalist Annette Peacock — his second wife. Bley also married music with video recording and video art, founding a record label called Improvising Artists with videographer Carol Goss — his third wife. Notably, the label featured the recording debuts of Jaco Pastorius and Pat Metheny. In 2005, Metheny praised Bley on NPR's Talk Of The Nation, particularly his solo on a 1963 recording of "All The Things You Are" (from the album Sonny Meets Hawk!).

    "His solo really did kind of open up a whole new universe of harmonic possibilities and is really, in my opinion, one of the greatest solos in jazz," Metheny said.

    Bley continued to tour, record and eventually teach throughout the remainder of his life. "[H]e blueprinted a concept of the avant-garde that looked to romantic rumination over visceral, atonal tinkering," Evan Haga wrote in an NPR Music feature. In 2000, Bley spoke with fellow pianist Marian McPartland for Piano Jazz.

    "There's a responsibility to being Paul Bley and having 120 records out," he said. "The responsibility is not to repeat yourself. There's 120 things I can no longer play, having already recorded them. ... What you're not going to play becomes the real decision, and what's left is what you do play."

    McPartland asked him whether he perceived a clear direction he wanted to explore presently.

    "I think the music contains all the information already," Bley said. "Just by tuning into the playing, it informs all those questions."

    Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • Best in Jazz: 2015

    January 5, 2016. Posted by Steve Williams.

    Add new comment | Filed under: Jazz Alive

    Daytime-DJs-300x300

    Gary Walker, Rhonda Hamilton and Michael Bourne play excerpts from, and offer in depth commentary about their favorite jazz recording releases of 2015.

  • The NYC Winter JazzFest 2016

    January 2, 2016. Posted by Brandy Wood.

    WBGO is once again partnering with The NYC Winter JazzFest in 2016. In the current issue of WBGO's program guide, Upbeat, there was a partial interview with one of the festival's producers, Brice Rosenbloom. The full interview plus artist interviews and more follow.


    Manfred Eichner, founder and owner of ECM Records

    Vijay Iyer

    Pianist Vijay Iyer talks with Simon Rentner about his latest ECM album and inspirations from Billy Strayhorn and Detroit techno producer DJ Robert Hood.

    Gilad Hekselman
    Gilad Hekselman

    Guitarist Gilad Hekselman on The Checkout

    Dr. Lonnie Smith

    Dr. Lonnie Smith recorded live at WBGO

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    The Winter Jazz Festival, which turns 12 this year, runs in various venues around Greenwich Village in Manhattan, January 13-17. WBGO will once again partner with the festival, and Simon Rentner, host of The Checkout (Tuesdays at 6:30PM on 88.3FM WBGO and wbgo.org), sat down with the festival’s creator, Brice Rosenbloom, to discuss this year’s event.
    Simon: So how big can this festival really get?

    Brice: The audience that comes out every year …and the amount of talent that’s out there tell us that we can continue to see it grow every year. This year will be five days long [with more than] a hundred and twenty groups, over 650 musicians performing [in] 14 different venues across the Village. Last year we were in a beautiful venue, the Minetta Theatre, which we don’t have access to this year. [That] propelled us to start a conversation with the New School, and we’ve been able to secure four different stages at the school this year, in what we hope will become a long standing partnership. On the Friday and Saturday ECM records will be showcasing thirteen different groups of homegrown talent at the Tishman auditorium on 14th street and 5th Avenue. That showcase will feature artists like Vijay Iyer and Avishai Cohen, David Torn, Craig Taborn, Michael Formanek, Chris Potter and many others.

    Simon: I hear ECM records founder Manfred Eicher is making a special trip for this series.

    Brice: Yes, we understand that as well. We’re thrilled that he’s going to be in the room.

    Simon: It’s funny that you have all these venues in Greenwich Village which obviously holds great, storied history in jazz music in the United States where you’re presenting this festival. However, none of your acts are featured in any of these sort of jazz club mainstays in Greenwich Village itself like Smalls jazz club isn’t involved, Fat Cat isn’t involved or the Village Vanguard; all of these Greenwich Village jazz clubs. Was that calculated or it just didn’t work out that way?

    Brice: You know it’s somewhat calculated, but not fully. We do include the Zinc Bar, we have included the Zinc Bar almost…every year but for the past seven or eight years of our twelve year history. We choose, though, to offer opportunities to experience the music in non-traditional jazz settings for audience and presenters who are in town for the Arts Presenters Conference. So yes, we will offer a couple jazz clubs, but a lot of the venues feel more like rock clubs or big open theatres; the kind of spaces that a presenter might come in and experience the music in a vibrant setting that might lend, or remind themselves of how they might want to present that artist. So we’re using Le Poisson Rouge as one of our central larger venues, right on Bleecker Street. [Other venues include] the Judson church, which is a historic space right near [the] NYU campus, and …Sub Culture, a little further east of the Village, which is kind of a basement smaller theatre space. So, the goal is to not just be in concert halls and jazz clubs but to offer a varied way to experience the music.

    Simon: How would you say the Winter Jazz Festival is most unlike these other major jazz festivals that is now being compared to the Montreal Jazz Festival, Newport Jazz Festival, etc.

    Brice: One of the unique things that we’re proud of is that we’re presenting so much young talent and new projects. [In] almost everything we present, the goal is that it’s a new project. It’s a project that we feel our colleagues, presenters from around the country, are going to be interested in booking. Partly it’s because we’re excited about the project and partly it’s because we are just proving the point that the future is in the youth and there [is] so much great young talent on the scene right now that we’re thrilled to be able to showcase.

    Simon: Take off your promoter cap for a second. What are the acts, the musicians, the shows you are most looking forward to hearing?

    Brice: It’s hard to take off the promoter hat because for me it’s one in the same - my passion for these artists and what I’m specifically interested in seeing - but we’ll …just start from the top. Artists; it’s no surprise that I’m always excited to see [Kamasi Washington]. I had a chance to see him three times within the past few months and we’re going to be presenting him at the Webster Hall on January 14th. Washington will be performing again with the same group of L.A. musicians plus special guests that we’ve not yet announced. Vijay Iyer is going to close out the night on the ECM stage with his trio. His record release earlier this year Break Stuff is one of my picks of the year. Chicago drummer McCaya McCraven is performing at the Bitter End as part of the Revive Stage. His record In the Moment is also one of my top picks of the year. [I’m] excited to see him. There’s a vocalist performing the music of Gil Scott Heron and Brian Jackson, Charanee Wade and her group, signed to Motema records; they are performing at the New School, [I’m] excited to see that group. I actually have not seen that group live I’ve only heard the music.

    Simon: Shout out to Mark Ruffin who produced that record.

    Brice: Nice. That’s right. Another group that I have not seen live yet, but I’ve heard the record and [I’m] excited to see them when they come over state side from Manchester: Go Go Penguin; newly signed to Blue Note Records. They’re going to be performing at Le Poisson Rouge on the Saturday night January 15 as a part of the Winter Jazz Fest Marathon. So there you have it.

    Simon: Go Go Penguin received some great prize in Europe right? What did they win recently?

    Brice: They’re nominated for the Mercury Prize.

    Simon: Nominated for the Mercury Prize, which is like what-the Grammy of Europe?

    Brice: Every year they give the Mercury Prize to the best up and coming UK artists. So they’re nominated, I think, among another eight or nine different groups. It’s special that for them, being nominated as a jazz group, [as] it’s mostly been given to a pop group.

    Simon: And if you were to describe Go Go Penguin’s sound, I would say they’re sort of like a cross between EST and the Bad Plus; one of these sort of minimalist rock jazz enterprises.

    Brice: Yea, power trio. Exactly. Lots of energy.

    Simon: Power trio. Power jazz. Power to the people. The Winter Jazz Festival continues in its 12th year. I thank Brice Rosenbloom for joining us to talk about it. And we’ll see you this year in the winter time in Greenwich Village.

    Brice: Thank you Simon.