April 16, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
WBGO staffers have big love for vibraphonist Milt Jackson. Among the monumental contributions to jazz music, "Bags" turned a set of percussive steel bars into a more versatile jazz instrument. His was an altogether different sound for the vibraharp, sonically more warm and mellow than his predecessors, Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo. Milt Jackson made the vibes sing.
It's no wonder that Milt Jackson was himself a singer, a teenaged tenor in a gospel group, The Evangelist Singers, in his Detroit hometown. He loved the sound of the voice, and he accompanied many singers throughout his career. One of his last records was Sa Va Bella (For Lady Legends), a tribute to the leading ladies of jazz that Milt Jackson loved so much - Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, and Etta Jones.
WBGO recorded Milt Jackson's Quartet in the summer of 1996. The concert was part of the Oris Spirit of Jazz concert series (of which we are still proudly associated). Mike LeDonne is the pianist, Peter Washington the bassist, and Mickey Roker the drummer.
© 2008 WBGO
April 15, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
Thad Jones and Mel Lewis created one of the most enduring rituals in New York. They started a big band in 1966, one that included some of the most gifted composers and improvisers in the city, many of whom were making their living as studio professionals or in Broadway pit bands. Max Gordon at the Village Vanguard booked them for three consecutive Monday evenings, and the rest is history. Both Jones and Lewis are gone, but the spirit of their music (as well as the original compositions and arrangements from their bands) continues with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.
Every February, the VJO plays a weeklong showcase at the Vanguard. On the thirty fourth anniversary of the band, WBGO recorded the group on Monday night, of couse. As it happened, that was Valentine's Day, 2000.
We'll feature "Samba Con Getchu," a composition from Bob Brookmeyer, one of the early members of the Thad Jones - Mel Lewis Orchestra. The VJO included Jay Brandford, Ralph Lalama, Dick Oatts, Rich Perry, Gary Smulyan, Saxophones / Glenn Drewes, Earl Gardner, Joe Mosello, Scott Wendholt, Trumpets / Luis Bonilla, Jason Jackson, John Mosca, Douglas Purviance, Trombones / Ted Rosenthal, Piano / Dennis Irwin, Bass / John Riley, Drums
© 2008 WBGO
April 14, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
When I listen to swing music these days, I love it with a sense of loss, a disconnect. Nearly all of the swing legends are gone. This music has the feeling of a time that no longer exists, not that it ever did for me. I had to find it. Twenty-six years ago, however, swing still had some traction in our culture.
I would like to put myself back in that time. I'd be the coolest eight year old in the world, digging the scene at Sweet Basil. Trombonist Al Grey and saxophonist Buddy Tate are playing "Undecided." I can't believe I'm hearing this.
Chances are, however, I was anticipating the release of Michael Jackson's Thriller, which came out in records stores the week after this recording was made.
As I listen to this performance from the WBGO Archives, I am reminded of the vitality of the swing era, and that the music still had resonance in 1982. Count Basie was still alive. So were a number of his associates. Tate was one of them. Grey another. Tate was the tenor player that had the unenviable task of replacing Herschel Evans in Basie's band. Al Grey joined Basie much later, but he had previous stints with Benny Carter and Lionel Hampton. These were swing men through and through.
So much seems different now. By the end of 1982, Time Magazine declared the computer as Man of the Year, the first-ever distinction for an object. These real men are gone, except for their music. Here I am in 2008, writing a blog entry on my laptop, trying to get closer to an analog era. How do I feel about it? Decidedly Undecided. All I know is that it's easy to get lost in ones and zeros, better to be found alive, and even greater to be swung....Tempus fugit, baby.
PS That amazing photo courtesy of Rein. Check out her photostream.
© 2008 WBGO
April 10, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
Saxophonist Jimmy Heath, drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath, and the late bassist/cellist Percy Heath were jazz family long before the Marsalis clan. Separately, the sum of their music making covers the totality of modern jazz - Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, the Modern Jazz Quartet. I could go on and on, but enough already! Together, the Heath Brothers were a cohesive jazz combo that brought their collective experience to the stage to form their own brand of brotherly jazz.
WBGO has recorded a number of Heath Brothers performances. They include a beautiful recording from New Jersey Performing Arts Center's Prudential Hall, as well as a club date at Iridium. And that's just during my seven year tenure at the station! In 1984, WBGO recorded The Heath Brothers on New Year's Eve. December 31, 1984 at Sweet Basil in New York. The pianist was Stanley Cowell.
PS While you're still here, watch this clip from Danny Sherr's award-winning video about the siblings, Brotherly Jazz.
© 2008 WBGO
April 9, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
The group Steps Ahead came together in 1979, but their debut album did not arrive until 1983. By that time, Steps had created a potent form of fusion. WBGO recorded an early version of the band in the summer of 1982, during the now-defunct Kool Jazz Festival. Vibraphonist Mike Maineri (photographed above) was the leader, and the lineup included some heavy hitters - drummer Peter Erskine, bassist Eddie Gomez, pianist Don Grolnick, and saxophonist Michael Brecker. Brecker was already a star, even though he had not yet recorded a solo effort (and would not for nearly five more years...strange but true...). Steps Ahead became a group that people in and out of jazz noticed, and a lot of young talent got an early lift from being in the band
(pianist Eliane Elias comes to mind).
Check out Steps Ahead playing "Islands," from the WBGO Archives.
© 2008 WBGO