WBGO Blog
  • A Few of My Favorite Things

    January 3, 2008. Posted by Cephas Bowles.

    As the General Manager of WBGO, I am a jazz fan and listen to the station quite a bit. While I work at the station, and had an above-average knowledge of jazz prior to moving back to Newark to assume this gig, I'm not all knowing and actually learn quite a bit about jazz and what I like from the station. Thank you, WBGO announcers!!!! In this short post, I want to share with you SOME of the things that I like about jazz.

    I lust for the sound of a driving rhythm section. There's nothing better than being able to peck out the rhythm with one's neck (thank you Cecil Brooks III) while driving down a wide open road with jazz blasting from the radio. Drummers are among my favorites--Art Blakey, Max Roach, and Roy Haynes.

    I like the melodic sound of the vibraphone played so beautifully or pretty , as Michael Bourne says, that you have to stop to listen to it. I like Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Locke and Stefon Harris. There are others but those three stand out. I love Cal Tjader and regret that I didn't go to see him when I lived out West and he was still with us!

    I adore the big sound of the Hammond B-3 played by someone who knows how to get every ounce of funk and bass from this king of instruments. Add a great guitarist and drummer and you have listening heaven. The sound overwhelms you. I don't know anyone who can sit still while a good organ trio is doing its thing. I loved Charles Earland. Jimmy Smith was great but didn't move me the way the Earland did. (Yes, I realize that I've just trangressed against an icon of the B3!!!) Joey D., McGriff, Radam, they're good but nobody fills the shoes left by the Mighty One.

    I like the sound of lyrical pianists who play effortlessly and take those compositions and make them sing. Horace Silver and Cyrus Chestnut are two of my favorites! I also love jazz pianists who sound like they are playing percussion. Michel Camilo, Don Pullen and Danny Mixon are examples. And, then, there are those pianists who command the instrument to perform--Harold Mabern and McCoy Tyner.

    I like uncommon instruments played well. Andy Narell on steel pans; the late Roland Kirk playing nose flute, manzello and stritch; Steve Turre with his shells; Regina Carter playing lots of violin; and Toots Thielemann's whistling. Paquito D'Rivera's Tango Band includes a guest bandoneon player. I love the sound of that accordion-like instrument.

    I love Latin and Brazilian jazz. Again, so rhythmic and full of fun.

    There are so many great saxophonists who swing. The late great Jackie Mac, James Carter, Eric Alexander, Joe Lovano, and countless others.

    I love the young guys who are working hard to develop their chops on various instruments and who value the music historically and practically.

    I truly appreciate the knowledge of jazz and love of music that the WBGO announcers bring to the table each day and the fact that the station's Board of Trustees are committed to the 24/7 presentation of this music.

    I value your interest in music as demonstrated by your review of this very modest post and your attention to all that WBGO does for you and other music fans. I also appreciate the opportunity to share a bit of myself with you through this blog.

    Each staff person at WBGO is a fan of the music. If you come to our events or talk with us on the phone or elsewhere, you'll learn that for yourself. Many of us work in WBGO's back room. That is, the second floor of our office building where some WBGO staff members think it's too quiet and too far from the jazz action. It isn't and, best of all, we have radios and computers that bring the sound to us just fine!!!! Thanks for allowing us to do this for you and for us.

    These are a few of my favorite things--some of life's simple and all-too-often unspoken pleasures. I hope that you have some and will share them with family and friends. Record parties and word-of-mouth comments work well to introduce people to this music and to whet the appetites of those unfamiliar with our favorite things.

    Cephas Bowles

    WBGO General Manager

  • Goodbye Oscar Peterson

    December 27, 2007. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    Oscar Peterson

    Oscar Peterson 1925-2007

    Sometimes you're just not ready for a particular artist or a piece of music.

    That was my first experience with Oscar Peterson. I wasn't ready for it. The sound was simply overwhelming. Too many notes. Pianistic pyrotechnics, at least to my inexperienced ears. My comfort zone at that time was the lilting sway of Red Garland, the impeccable touch of Wynton Kelly, the lonely lyricism of Bill Evans. Basically, any piano player that Miles Davis endorsed.

    And Miles was less than kind when it came to descriptions of Oscar Peterson. "Nearly everything he plays," said Davis, "he plays with the same degree of force. He leaves no holes for the rhythm section."

    So I ignored Oscar Peterson for too long. But neglecting Oscar wasn't easy, and it didn't last. He was a prolific performer, and he began to creep into my peripheral vision more and more. He was everywhere. Ella and Louis - check. Diz and Getz - check. Prez and Lady Day - yup.

    I kept getting closer to the source. In 2000, I worked on Jazz From Lincoln Center with Ed Bradley. We recorded a "Duet on the Hudson" from the Kaplan Penthouse in New York. Ray Brown and Monty Alexander. I interviewed them both for the eventual radio show. Ray Brown talked about the great duet record with Jimmy Blanton and Duke Ellington. Then the conversation turned into an Oscar ceremony - his admiration for bassist Oscar Pettiford, and his longtime association with pianist Oscar Peterson. Monty Alexander started in about Nat Cole, and eventually landed on Oscar Peterson.

    I remember a moment during Martin Scorsese's THE BLUES series a few years later. During the episode that Clint Easwood directed, "Piano Blues," Ray Charles gave a ringing endorsement to Oscar Peterson's skill, one that I'll allow you to discover for yourself. Let's just say it contained a fairly colorful phrase that the FCC would not consider "family-friendly."

    Anyway, I owe thanks to Brother Ray for redirecting me to the Oscar Peterson Trio. I dug into those classic recordings of Peterson, Ray Brown, and drummer Ed Thigpen. Boy, do they swing (I know that word is highly charged, so I don't use it lightly). I still haven't heard all of those trio records. But the trio recording NIGHT TRAIN, THE SOUND OF THE TRIO, LIVE FROM CHICAGO, WE GET REQUESTS, VERY TALL, TRIO +1, and the bushel of songbook records are a still a joy to visit.

    One session that comes to mind is the date that the trio recorded with the master arranger Nelson Riddle. They sounded so restrained, or better, so composed. All that finger-breaking technique at Oscar Peterson's disposal, yet he plays some of the most unadorned piano I ever heard him play. The B side of the record ends with Benny Goodman's classic signoff - Gordon Jenkins' "Goodbye." Great stuff.

    Oscar Peterson signed off recently. He played music for a living. He played himself, for us. I'm glad I discovered that.

    Goodbye, Oscar Peterson.