April 29, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
Circumstances could have been completely different. Charles Brown was a chemist. He attended college, earned a degree in chemistry, taught high school science, and landed a civil service job in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. That would have been a career track for most. Brown had other ideas. He bristled at the racism he encountered each day. He volunteered to serve in the second world war, but was deemed unfit due to asthma. So Charles Brown packed his bags and headed to California.
Thank goodness. Can you imagine a holiday season without "Merry Christmas Baby?" Or a world without "Drifting Blues?" And who played the piano behind a fellow Texan, Ivory Joe Hunter, on "Blues at Sunrise?" How about "Trouble Blues," or "Black Night?" Mind you, most of those songs were hits before Elvis Presley had ever set foot in Sun Studios.
How about one of my all-time favorite records, Sam Cooke's Night Beat? If you simply listen to the way Cooke sings on that record, you might reach the same conclusion I did - would that record exist were it not for Charles Brown?
Brown celebrated New Year's Eve with WBGO, part of the Toast of the Nation coast-to-coast live music party. He welcomed 1994 from the Sheraton Hotel in Tacoma, Washington. His cool, bluesy ballad style was especially poignant on a song popularized by Lucky Millinder.
© 2008 WBGO
April 28, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
In 1985, Dorthaan Kirk presented Jazz-a-Thon, a marathon of live music that doubled as a fundraiser for WBGO. It attracted some of the jazz world's biggest talent.
Pianist Michel Petrucciani was both the smallest and largest that jazz had to offer that year. He was three feet tall and little more than fifty pounds, due to osteogenesis imperfecta, the rare "Glass Bones" disease. Yet he had one of the greatest commands of the piano - one that was classically virtuosic, effusively romantic, and heavily improvised. By this time, Michel had recently toured with Charles Lloyd, whom Petrucciani had nudged from retirement at California's Big Sur. Michel was now on the east coast, with his own band. Specifically, he was the Ritz in New York, with bassist Ron McClure and drummer Eliot Zigmund. Petrucciani had just signed with the recently revived Blue Note Records. In December of 1985, he recorded his extraordinary debut for the label, Pianism, followed by one of my favorites, Power of Three, a live concert from Montreux with Wayne Shorter and Jim Hall. Michel Petrucciani played until his death in 1999, age 36.
Listen to "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," from the WBGO Jazz-a-Thon.
You can also read Steve Cerra's blog post about Michel Petrucciani here.
© 2008 WBGO
April 25, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
I remember when Lizz Wright visited WBGO in 2003. It was the last hour of Gary Walker's Morning Jazz program, and the end of another May membership drive (by the way, contribute here). WBGO was one of the first stops on a press junket to promote her debut release, Salt. The hype machine was gaining momentum, and word was spreading fast. Lizz Wright had the goods - a voice that belied an ancient soul, from a quiet, almost reluctant star in the making. At the end of the interview, Lizz sang "Amazing Grace" with such conviction, you would have thought she was standing in the red clay of Hahira, Georgia and reaching for heaven.
"Open Your Eyes You Can Fly" is a song about freedom. When Flora Purim originally sang it in 1976, the meaning was literal. She had recently spent a year and a half in prison for drug possession. [That should be enough to make you investigate the source. And when you get there, you'll find some fascinating music from Flora's husband, the percussionist Airto, as well as Hermeto Pascoal. Alphonso Johnson's bass lines alone are a reason to hear the original recording.]
Lizz Wright's freedom is decidedly different from that of Flora. While the original had the classic seventies funk-meets-Brazil sound of Return to Forever, Wright's update suggested that forever was a place that she had never left.
© 2008 WBGO
April 24, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
Max Roach christened WBGO's music studio. Thanks to our den mother, Dorthaan Kirk, Max came to our performance space in 1987 with two different ensembles. It was a Sunday afternoon, and Max wore a grey silk suit. Those performances with then-WBGO host James Browne marked the beginning of many ambitions for a fledgling jazz station. Now, we have music performances all the time (seven bands booked in this month alone). But the first session with Max Roach is one that many at WBGO will never forget.
If you're feeling ambitious, check out the JazzSet Max Roach Memorial. It includes more music from this WBGO studio session.
And it you're even more ambitious, and you love to pay nothing for a show (like most jazz people I know), head to Brooklyn for a three-day tribute to Max Roach.
Fri 4/25 - Max Roach Tribute - music by Randy Weston African Rhythms & an ensemble featuring Lewis Nash, Concord Baptist Church of Christ, 833 Gardner C. Taylor Blvd, 718.756.9407,12-5PM
Sat 4/26 - Max Roach Tribute - music by M' Boom, Jeff King Band & Cecil Bridgewater, Boys n Girls High School, 1700 Fulton St.,718.756.9407, 3-8PM
Sun 4/27- Max Roach Tribute- panel discussion moderated by Gil Noble, interview with T.S. Monk, jazz celebrity jam session, Medgar Evers College, 1650 Bedford Ave, 718.756.9407, 3-7PM
© 2008 WBGO
April 23, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
Meet Paul Barbarin, one of the most important people in the history of New Orleans music, and the "how" we call jazz.
The Barbarin family constitutes one of the original lines of Creole musicians who were present at the creation of a new music. Paul's father, Isidore, played the alto horn in The Onward Brass Band, one of the early traditional brass bands in the city.
Before I moved to New York, I used to work at WWOZ in New Orleans. I started as a volunteer, operating the board for a woman named Betty Rankin. Every Saturday morning, while most people my age had hangovers from Friday night, I was in a tiny peach-colored building in Louis Armstrong Park, playing LPs, cassettes, and the occasional CD for a lady who wanted no business with those details. She spent her ninety minutes as "Big Mama," the host of "The Moldy Fig Jam." I was 22, and this was the most amazing radio I had ever heard in my life. She told stories about every jazz musician in the city who had ever picked up an instrument with the purpose of playing traditional New Orleans jazz.
As it happened, Big Mama was an associate curator of the Hogan Jazz Archive. She handled the extensive oral history of New Orleans' music, and she knew both the collection as well as the musicians' whose lives she had helped to document. On any given Saturday, she talked about Paul Barbarin as if he were in the studio with us. It was the beginning of my post-college, real world education. On one such occasion, it was the first time I had ever heard his song, "Bourbon Street Parade." She told her audience about the street parades, how Barbarin kept that tradition alive. In the 1960s, he revived the Onward Brass Band, the name of the group that his father played a part. In fact, Paul Barbarin died in a parade, leading the band. [While I'm no fan of death, that's a great way to shuffle off this mortal coil.]
Years later, on the cusp of 2002, I was the field producer for NPR's Toast of the Nation. We're at the Village Vanguard, with Michael White and The Original Liberty Jazz Band. Hear them play "Bourbon Street Parade" from that evening.
When I hear this song, I remember how I got this far into jazz. Because I live with music.
PS Watch the video of Paul Barbarin's funeral. The musicians are playing "Just a Closer Walk With Thee."
Watching that is knowing why New Orleans matters. Onward.
© 2008 WBGO