• Brian Blade: Live at the Village Vanguard

    June 18, 2008. Posted by WBGO.

    Brian Blade. (Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist)

    Widely recognized as one of the finest drummers in modern jazz — or in all of popular music, for that matter — Brian Blade directed the spotlight onto his compositional and bandleading talents when he helmed his Fellowship Band in a live performance at the Village Vanguard, broadcast live on air by WBGO and live online at NPR Music.

    Blade's band began much as their new record Season of Changes does, performing the first four tracks in the order in which they begin the album, before branching deeper into their repertoire and ending with a new, unrecorded composition. On full display were the shifting moods, pastoral textures and elegant soloing with which the Fellowship Band has distinguished itself for over a decade. Their intricate music ebbed and flowed, yielding broad spaces for tasteful improvisation bookended by cathartic climaxes or meditative themes. The sextet deployed a wide range of tone colors, from open-sounding guitar sustains to clamorous cymbal work to duets for bass clarinet and pump organ.

    The members of the Fellowship coalesce around the writing of Blade and keyboard player Jon Cowherd; the long-standing rapport of the ensemble ensures that Blade and Cowherd can work with specific voices and collective expression in mind. A thoroughly modern jazz band, the Fellowship is no neo-classical hard bop ensemble; it openly seeks emotive power in sinuous lyricism, open voicings, and the guitar twang of country and folk music. Behind it all is the subtly virtuosic rhythmic finesse on which Blade has made his name.

    Having soaked up the musical lessons of his native Louisiana, Blade first emerged on the national jazz landscape in the 1990s amid talented peers such as Brad Mehldau and Joshua Redman. As his generation of young lions turned into the standard-bearers of contemporary jazz, his talents also have garnered him frequent appearances and recordings with legends like Wayne Shorter. Blade hasn't limited himself to jazz alone; he has played on records with Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan, among others.

    As the leader of the Fellowship Band, Blade was first able to document his compositions on 1998's critically acclaimed Brian Blade Fellowship, produced by Daniel Lanois. It was followed by the equally beloved Perceptual in 2000. Eight years later, Blade's long-awaited third album Season of Changes was released this spring.

  • An Interview With Brian Blade

    June 17, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    Brian Blade

    Drummer and composer Brian Blade brings the Fellowship Band to the Village
    Vanguard this week. We are presenting them live on WBGO and NPR Music,
    tomorrow night at 9pm. Don't miss this.

    It's never an easy interview when your guest is a quiet, introspective person.
    But Brian and I share a passion for music made intently and intensely. I
    suppose that's why I love listening to The Fellowship Band. Especially when
    they play at the Village Vanguard.

    Anyway, listen to Brian Blade talk about music. My favorite story? One night,
    just before midnight, Brian biked through the French Quarter in New Orleans.
    He absolutely had to buy a Blind Willie Johnson record before the store closed.
    So Brian gets home, plays the music, and cannot go to bed. The bare sound
    of Johnson and his guitar was haunting. One of many stories you'll find when
    you listen to the interview here.

  • WBGO Jazzy Teacher Award

    June 17, 2008


    What an exciting honor to take part in the 2nd annual Jazzy Music Teacher contest, sponsored by NJEA, The New Jersey Education Association. This year's winner, Mrs. Tamah Freni, was overjoyed to be honored for her creative efforts in bringing music to life for her students. These inspiring kids joined in a collaborative effort to submit their essays. I snapped pictures and video along the way to capture each moment of how the effort promoted the educational mission of both NJEA and WBGO.

    Also receiving honorable mention was Mr. Milt, of The Deron School in Union, NJ, for his efforts in keeping music alive for his special needs students, which received a visit from WBGO news reporter Jen Poyant, to cover the story for our news department, to be featured soon on WBGO Journal. Debbie Kirkland, storyteller, was able to help the children tell their story in an essay that capture judge's attention, along with drawings that included Dizzy Gillespie and Wynton Marsalis.

    I have created a playlist of three special videos which capture the excitement of these special educators. Two are of the winning concert given by Mark Gross and his band at Union Valley Elementary in Sicklerville, NJ. I hope you enjoy the bebop dance contest as much as we did...and Mr. Milt and his class, breaking out unexpectedly in song, while Jen Poyant captures all on tape for her soon to come story. Enjoy!
    -Vickie Smith

  • Live Blog - Rodriguez Brothers at Gracie/JVC

    June 16, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    Rodriguez Brothers at JVC

    Well, the weather in New York is cooperating enough. We're live at Gracie
    Mansion with the Rodriguez Brothers.

    6:17 And we're off! The first tune was a blazing number called "Rowdy Rod."

    6:24 Vibraphonist Joe Locke has joined the rest of the ensemble on stage.
    They are Robert Rodriguez on piano, Michael Rodriguez on trumpet, Ricardo
    Rodriguez (not one of the brothers, however) on bass, and Johnathan Blake
    is the drummer.

    6:25 "Like Joe," with Joe Locke.

    6:31 Gary Walker just informed me that this band also plays with Joe Locke
    as the leader. The group changes their name to Force of Four. And if you're
    in Newark on June 26th, you can catch Force of Four at the Newark Museum
    for the Jazz in the Garden Series. WBGO's Sheila Anderson is the host. Go!

    6:39 "Sundance," featuring Joe Locke soloing. Also a nice solo from Michael
    Rodriguez on flugelhorn. His choice of notes reminds me of Woody Shaw.
    And this song also has that kind of vibe, too.

    6:50 This one called "Rude Awakening." As the title implies...
    Yet another tune for the absolutely effortless mastery of Johnathan Blake,
    one of the young masters/monsters on drums.

    6:57 Wow. What a piano solo.

    6:59 The skies have gotten AWFULLY DARK. Uh oh...
    We might be ending this very soon.

    7:01 Everyone in attendance has huddled underneath the tent. And the band
    is trading fours.

    7:04 Due to extremely bad weather, this show is OVER.