WBGO Playdate

WBGO's Playdate: Lester Bowie Day in Brooklyn

Poster for the 2014 Brooklyn Brass Festival

By Becca Pulliam

This is bonus audio, "Good Morning, Heartache"  by Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy in 1989. Hear more by this group in Playdate #5 and explore all our episodes here.

"Lester Bowie first became a sensation playing trumpet with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, though he's from St. Louis and now lives in Brooklyn," said host Michael Bourne on a 1990 edition of WBGO's American Jazz Radio Festival.

"Nowadays, he's working most often with Brass Fantasy. They're all superb brass soloists* and play music that's imaginative and always fun. He's even called one of the band's albums Serious Fun. They dress in green or orange satin jackets, as if some lounge band from Mars. Bowie's own characteristic outfit is a lab coat, but with Brass Fantasy, it's a silver satin lab coat."

That concert was presented by New Music America as part of the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The music was sublime.

Whereas we, the baby boomers in the audience, had learned about the brass family in Music Appreciation classes, Bowie gave us Brass Fantasy. He conducted and deconstructed the hits from "The Great Pretender" (The Platters, 1956) to Sade's  "Smooth Operator" (1984).

Last Saturday night at Kumble Theater on the LIU Brooklyn campus, the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music and the Brooklyn Brass Festival presented a Tribute to Lester Bowie with Brass Fantasy (2014).

In the absence of Bowie (1941-99), Earl McIntyre conducted. Mutes were scattered around the stage like knocked-over, kicked-around traffic cones on pavement. Lips were the engines and tubing the vehicle. The Office of Borough President Eric Adams made a Proclamation.


It's amazing that -- 25 years after the BAM concert -- E. J. Allen, Gerald Brazel, Stanton Davis were back on trumpets, with new players Jeff Scott on French horn, and Luis Bonilla and Frank Lacy on bones. Bob Stewart gave a great, active foundation on tuba, with Victor See Yuen on percussion and Tommy Campbell on drums.

Playdate #5 features Bowie and Brass Fantasy playing Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" at BAM. Here's another song from that 1989 concert: "Good Morning, Heartache." Michael Bourne calls the song "[arranger] Earl McIntyre's portrait of Billie Holiday." Diana Ross had the 1972 hit, the title song of the bio pic.

McIntyre's arrangement starts out sunny, takes us through mournful, hands around and rebuilds the melody phrase by phrase, spotlights every section, delivers those wonderful offbeats that I loved to hear the French horns play in high school band, and at the end I presume it is Bowie himself who cries in the coda. As heard then on WBGO and now on wbgo.org/playdate.

*The 1989 BF is E. J. Allen, Gerald Brazel, Stanton Davis, tpts; Vincent Chancey, French horn; Steve Turre, Clifton Anderson, tbns; Marcus Rojas, tuba; Vinnie Johnson, drums; Famoudou Don Moye, percussion.

Listen to additional tracks:

Support comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, New Jersey State Council on the Arts and WBGO.

Playdate funders

Produced for WBGO by Alexander Ariff,
with Becca Pulliam and Duke Markos, Executive Producer Josh Jackson.

Check out more WBGO Playdate...