February 25, 2008
While we celebrate Jazz every day here for its energy and complexity, and relish in the swing of it, and nod our heads in approval at a monster solo, it can be easy to forget that Jazz has been at the forefront of social change movements and African-American history and culture for more than a century, supporting freedom movements abroad, civil rights struggles at home and fighting against war and racial injustice both here and abroad.
To celebrate that, we've launched a new podcast series called "We Insist!: Jazz Speaks Out." Over the four half-hour episodes, host Angelika Beener talks to some of the brightest lights in Jazz about how the music influenced them and how they influenced the music. Guests include USC Professor Dr. Robin D. G. Kelly, pianist Randy Weston; trumpeter Terence Blanchard; saxophonist Marcus Strickland and others.
Some of the featured music includes: Max Roach's "We Insist;" Miles Davis' "Jack Johnson;" Randy Weston's "Uhuru Afrika;" John Coltrane's "Alabama;" Sonny Rollins' "Freedom Suite;" and many more. The series launched Friday and we'll add epsodes weekly.
Listen (and subscribe) to the first episode here. - David Cruz
© 2008 WBGO
February 20, 2008. Posted by Stevan Smith.
What's going on all! Welcome to my blog series "DIGGIN' THE CLASSICS"! When new releases in the music world get slow, we all tend to dig into our collections for some vintage pleasure. Join me for my weekly (or whenever I feel like it) quest for soundtrack satisfaction. This is a blog for music lovers! "Walk With Me".
This edition celebrates: Yusef Lateef- The Gentle Giant (1972)
1. Nubian Lady
2. Lowland Lullabye
3. Hey Jude
4. Jungle Plum
5. The Poor Fishermen
6. African Song
7. Queen of the Night
8. Below Yellow Bell
Now I will admit, I am really picky when it comes to instrumental recordings. There has to be something powerful about a rhythm that speaks without words. Yusef Lateef is most definitely gifted in this area. Lateef defines his brand of music as "-insert here-", but don't call it jazz. "The Gentle Giant" is evidence of his unique talents. With Lateef playing various instruments (flute, tenor, and oboe) and a 9-minute cover of "Hey Jude" (?), there is enough variety on this album to prevent it from boring the "A.D.D." listener. One stand out track is, "Nubian Lady". The title say's it all. With it's melodic rhythms and ultra cool vibes, songs like these leave no room for words. That would just mess things up.
"I'm smiling, but don't call it jazz fool!"
Another track that stands out is "Queen of the Night" (must be something about the ladies). A funky track that has a bass line tailor made for hip-hop. It is this variety that makes this album one of his most interesting works. This Lp speaks to generations, and most likely opened the door for world music. Some refer to this album as being erratic compared to his prior works. I feel this is just a classic display of any artists' journey to evolve. This album is a honest contribution to the foundation of jaz......I mean "-insert here-". It dares to be different. ...And it is the "different" that makes it an instant classic.
"What do you mean by different?"
© 2008 WBGO
February 11, 2008. Posted by Angelika Beener.
Like many of you, I was home last night watching the Grammys. I started not to watch it, because often times it's long, tedious, and not very interesting. At least for someone like me who doesn't listen to a whole lot of mainstream music. But it was a Sunday night, and I was routing for a few albums, and so I thought...why not? I ordered up my dinner and plopped in front of the screen.
As I was watching the red carpet special, the E! host caught up with Herbie Hancock. Herbie mentioned to the host that it had been 43 years since a Jazz album won the overall Best Album category. Well, the Grammys have only been around for 50! That really blew my mind. I then began to really think about that and frankly, it truly bothered me. I knew that the lack of well-rounded programming on the Grammys was always frustrating to me and many others, but Herbie's comment really put it into perspective for me. I mean, think about it...I don't think I've ever just seen a quartet or a quintet just burn out on a Grammy stage. Jazz is always packaged in some cheesy, or watered-down package on mainstream award shows. Bad enough that the Jazz categories don't get televised! Then when they DO show jazz-type performances, they are so "Vaudevilled" out, that it's no wonder that the masses (especially a lot of young folks) don't become necessarily interested in Jazz...the representations are all wrong!
OK, now that I'm done venting, let's talk about some of the highlights for me, and the things I'm very proud of about this year's Grammys.
HERBIE HANCOCK WON THE GRAMMY FOR ALBUM OF THE YEAR!
YES!!!! And well deserved. It was not "stolen" as I've read a couple places in the press this morning. I thought it was so commendable on the behalf of the academy to recognize Herbie in this way. I think the young artists - Winehouse, Kanye and the like, needed that. The music industry at large needed that. They needed to see where so much of their inspiration comes from. And that at 67, Herbie is still a giant among giants. You don't have to check out Maiden Voyage or Empyrean Isles to know just how bad this cat is (though I strongly suggest everyone does). He is always one to be contended with because he remains ahead of his time. And River: The Joni Letters, is just a beautiful album.
Another special highlight for me was Terence Blanchard getting the Grammy for Best Large Ensemble Jazz Album for his
A Tale of God's Will: A Requiem for Katrina. This album is truly special, and I'm so glad it was acknowledged in this way. I was also happy for the late Michael Brecker to be honored.
I hope that Herbie's high-profile victory will open up the discussion about the importance of Jazz, and spark the programming folks at the Grammy's to consider including more Jazz performances, and exposing the thriving genre to a lot of folks that need to be hipped...and would greatly enjoy appreciate the music.
Congratulations to everyone!
© 2008 WBGO
February 8, 2008. Posted by Angelika Beener.
This is another up-and-coming artist that I'm really excited about. Jaleel Shaw is one of the most talented and interesting young players that has come along in the latest wave of young lions. I first met Jaleel around 2002 - he was a finalist in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition that year as well. I was completely blown away by this cat. This year, he is a recipient of the ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composer Award, along with another great young talent, Kendrick Scott.
Oh, and Happy Birthday too!
© 2008 WBGO
January 11, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
Since Branford Marsalis moved to Durham, North Carolina some years ago, he has become a major proponent of the local jazz scene. He joined the North Carolina Central University Jazz Ensemble today, under the direction of Ira Wiggins (his 21st year as Director of Jazz Studies at NCCU). The young talent was already swinging pretty heavily before Branford joined them. They played Oliver Nelson's arrangement of "Down by the Riverside," from the Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery Dynamic Duo recording. Check it out below:
When you're a North Carolina jazz unit, it makes perfect sense to play music from one of your state's native sons. Especially when you have saxophonist Branford Marsalis, an outspoken devotee of John Coltrane. Here's John Fedchock's arrangement of a Coltrane ballad, "Central Park West":
The set ended with another Coltrane original, "Giant Steps." NCCU's two Artists-in-Residence, Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo, join the students on Frank Foster's arrangement.
- Josh Jackson
© 2008 WBGO