• WBGO's Michael Bourne Remembers B.B. King

    May 16, 2015. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    BB was actually named King.  He was born Riley B. King on a cotton plantation in 1925.  He grew up around Indianola, Mississippi, and he first became known in Memphis — where he worked as a singer and DJ on radio station WDIA.

    That's when his nickname Beale Street Blues Boy was shortened to Blues Boy, and then to BB.

    Photo by Dave Stryker
    Photo by Dave Stryker

    T-Bone Walker was an early inspiration, and I always remember the look on his face when I quoted something he’d said about how much he loved listening to Django Reinhardt.

    With his eyes closed and his face beaming, he smiled and he said only “Django …”

    BB’s own sound on the guitar he called Lucille was magisterial.  When he played a note, a finger of his left hand quivered on the string, so that every note sounded like a bell, echoing.
    BB loved listening to Frank Sinatra sing, and his own voice was as down-to-earth and heartful.  When he was singing, he didn’t play.  When he was playing, Lucille was singing.

    No blues artist popularized the blues around the world like BB King.  No blues artist ever sang or played the guitar like BB King.

    He was — and always will be — the King of the Blues.

    Guitarist Dave Stryker sent me this picture of of his "prized possession" - a Red clear vinyl Crown Records 195.

    Pretty much says it all. For Dave, for me, and for all of us.

    Thank you, BB.

  • WBGO's Lezlie Harrison Remembers Dale Fitzgerald

    April 1, 2015. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    WBGO says goodbye to  jazz advocate and friend Dale Fitzgerald, who passed away March 20 at age 72. Lezlie Harrison knew him well: she and Dale created The Jazz Gallery with trumpeter Roy Hargrove in 1995, and worked side by side for more than two decades. She offers this heartfelt remembrance. Farewell Dale, and thank you!

    Photo courtesy of Ingrid Hertfelder

    It's been just over a week since my hip, cool, smart, dapper, funny, daring, stubborn, generous, complex, ride-or-die friend, of 26 years,  Dale Kelley Fitzgerald, Executive Director of The Jazz Gallery,  physically departed this earth.

    Our friendship was founded on our love for jazz music, art, and culture. We turned that love into creating The Jazz Gallery.

    We jokingly called The Jazz Gallery our child. When we first acquired the space on Hudson Street, it was used to give trumpeter Roy Hargrove a space to rehearse. Dale was also Roy's business manager and often had to assuage Roy's neighbors who complained about his late night trumpet playing. It was there that The Roy Hargrove Big Band was created. The Gallery  eventually  morphed into an art gallery that showcased jazz related art work, with music as background. In 1995 we officially opened our doors in August with an exhibit that celebrated the extinct jazz club, the Tin Palace.

    Over the last twenty years I have worked with and supported his efforts to establish a home for the youngest generation of jazz musicians to create and showcase their artistry. This year our baby turns 20 and our fearless Founder is gone.

    When I returned to WBGO last June as a part time on-air announcer,  he was thrilled. He was always “taking notes” to give me after each show to improve on the listening experience. In writing this, I really miss him as he was also a great editor and he I am sure he’d have me make changes somewhere!  He was my champion. I will miss him dearly Though my heart is heavy, love remains.

    Plans are underway to honor Fitzgerald with a celebration at The Jazz Gallery soon.

    In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to an education fund for his young son, Gabriel.

  • Farewell to NEA Jazz Master Orrin Keepnews

    March 2, 2015. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    WBGO says farewell to NEA Jazz Master Orrin Keepnews, who passed away at 91 on March 1.

    The producer's Riverside Records, which he co-founded in 1953, was home to memorable sessions by pianist Thelonious Monk, saxophonist Sonny Rollins and many others.

    Keepnews and former Columbia classmate Bill Grauer worked together at Record Changer magazine, then launched Riverside on a shoestring in 1953. At first, they focused on reissues of traditional jazz and blues, but quickly gained interest in modern jazz, signing pianists Randy Weston in 1954 and Thelonious Monk in 1955.

    While Keepnews famously insisted a record producer was really a catalyst, rather than a creator, his thoughtful approach quickly earned respect from many of the era's most innovative music makers.

    In appreciation, Pianist Bill Evans composed "Re: A Person I Knew" - an anagram of Keepnews' name - and recorded it for Riverside in 1962:

    In 2011, Keepnews was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts. The nation's highest honor for jazz musician, he is one of only a handful of non-musicians - along with fellow writers Nat Hentoff and Dan Morgenstern - to receive the honor for their advocacy.

    More about Keepnews' storied career, including links to interviews, can be found at his NEA Jazz Masters profile page and in his New York Times obituary by Nate Chinen.

    Thank you, Orrin!