• This Week in JazzSet History: Bill Frisell and Ella + Stevie Spread Sunshine

    April 25, 2012. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    Alexander Ariff is a Master's Degree student in Jazz History & Research at Rutgers University . In celebration of 20 years, he digs up and shares special gems from the JazzSet archive.

    There is something definitively “American” about the two clips this week. JazzSet offers not only music that swings, but jazz's many overlapping elements (world, Latin, funk, soul, etc.) Today is Ella Fitzgerald's birthday so I thought I'd share a special clip featuring two icons, Ella and Stevie Wonder, in one seriously soulful duet. These two icons presented careers to the world of music that certainly bent, if not broke, genre boundaries.

    First, let’s have a dose of one of my favorite guitarists/composers, Bill Frisell.  A personal favorite of mine was his recent release with strings entitled Sign of Life and later this year (August), he’ll be interpreting the music of John Lennon with longtime collaborator and violinist Jenny Scheinman (who just released her own project, Mischief and Mayhem). Also, we'd like to extend a special congratulations to Bill Frisell for being selected as a 2012  Doris Duke Charitable Foundation recipient. In this clip, he is performing near the bluffs above the Iowa River in downtown Iowa City for the 2000 Iowa City Jazz Festival. JazzSet is proud to be a part of this great treasure of the Midwestern jazz scene.  Each year, the festival falls on Fourth of July weekend. Becca Pulliam remembers smelling a storm rolling in during Frisell's set as audience members occupied the street and nearby fire escapes. It must have been a magical Independence Day from the heartland. Frisell was joined by Greg Leisz, slide guitar; David Piltch, bass; Kelly Wolleson, drums. Here is a the full live audio performance of “Egg Radio,” first released in 1998 on Frisell's album Gone, Just Like a Train.

    Ella Fitzgerald and Stevie Wonder, 1977, (c) Michael P. Smith Photography

    The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival kicks off this weekend! This clip is in honor of one of the most authentic festivals and jazz vocalists) in the world. The 1977 festival was a particularly special year. New Orleans native and legendary brass band leader Ernest “Doc” Paulin performed, and a certain 94-year-old pianist called Eubie Blake gave one of his final performances aboard the SS President river boat. But one dream collaboration continues to warm the hearts of many (including JazzSet producer Becca Pulliam): Ella Fitzgerald invited Stevie Wonder on stage during her set to sing Stevie's "You Are The Sunshine of My Life." NPR's Jazz Alive! recorded this performance. It was unheard for decades until JazzSet aired it. And this performance was later released on We Love Ella: Celebrating the First Lady of Song. Listen closely to how the two masters trade back and forth and you can distinctively hear Ella's influence on Stevie.

  • This Week In JazzSet History: Christian McBride/Ray Brown Duet and "Tain"!!!

    April 18, 2012. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    Alexander Gelles Ariff is a musician/composer and graduate student in the Jazz History & Research Program at Rutgers University-Newark. Each week, he resurfaces gems from past JazzSets.

    This week in JazzSet history, it’s all about the music! In celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month, I’d like to express my appreciation for the preservation of great music. The JazzSet archive is like a time capsule into  the past 20 years of jazz—an ever evolving music. JazzSet captures the spontaneity of the live performance. I’m presenting a special gem this week: a duet between a 68-year-old Ray Brown and 22-year-old Christian McBride. Below is a recent photo of McBride that I shot at the Jazz House Kids summer concert in Montclair, NJ.


    Ray Brown and Christian McBride performed a duet at 1994 Monterey Jazz Festival. The recording first aired April 22, 1995. They take their time at the beginning of each tune. First is “Things Ain't What They Used To Be,” and McBride takes the first solo. Second is the tune “Bye, Bye Blackbird." If you listen closely you can hear the audience singing along—you can also hear grunts of satisfaction from the bassists as the two engage in a musical conversation while trading-fours.


    Beware! The wrath of "Tain"!! When drum Jeff "Tain" Watts is behind the kit, there is no groove he cannot tackle. In 2001, Watts brought in his 41st birthday at The Village Vanguard. JazzSet, with many thanks to proprietor Lorraine Gordon, aired the Jeff “Tain” Watts’ debut band: Ravi Coltrane, tenor; Paul Bollenbeck, guitar; David Budway, piano; Eric Revis, bass. The clip below begins in the piano solo and works its way to the end. The tune’s title—and the title of Watts’ debut album as a leader --is “The Impaler.” (We think this might be Watts' first week as a leader at The Vanguard. --Ed.)

    In an interview with JazzSet host Branford Marsalis, Watts explained how his roots culminated into forming The Impaler. Tain said, "A good thing about my generation is we were privy to Motown and James Brown, Classic R&B and Rock, but at the other side of the spectrum we were still 18 and 19 years old when Hip-Hop was put into effect.” Your work is much appreciated, Mister Tain, your exceptional drumming bares all!

  • This Week in JazzSet History: Sphere, Badi Assad, Marcus Roberts and Stanley Cowell

    April 11, 2012. Posted by Alex Ariff.


    By Alexander Gelles Ariff, our weekly historian

    Week 15 in JazzSet history contained a massive amount of stellar moments: it was painfully difficult to select these four, but I did it!  We’ll examine re-harmonization methods by Marcus Roberts and Stanley Cowell. Both pianists both take a tune that we all know, and introduce new textures and grooves. We'll conclude at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, to hear a truly one of a kind artist from Sao Paolo, Brazil.

    But first, let’s have an early toast to Earth Day, April 16! In honor of the land we live and breathe, JazzSet aired Sphere on April 15, 1999. The group celebrated with a program of mostly Monk tunes, but I chose the Billy Strayhorn tune "Isfahan" to showcase this all-star band. It features saxophonist Gary Bartz on alto, playing the part so iconic to Johnny Hodges on the Far East Suite album. Bartz makes the piece his own without falling short of the classic melody played by Johnny Hodges. This recording is from November 21, 1998, at the Dayton Arts Institute (.. another fine Duke Markos recording - Ed.).

    Promotional Flyer for Sphere's Gig

    It's no coincidence that Sphere chose to play "Isfahan." Strayhorn's home town was Dayton, OH.  The band featured Gary Bartz, alto; Kenny Barron, piano; Buster Williams, bass; and former Monk drummer Ben Riley on drums. Riley has been leading the  Monk Legacy Sexet, but is currently performing with a new group featuring Wayne Escoffery on tenor sax. They will be releasing a new album coming out on April 24th entitled Grown Folks Music. Escoffery's bold new release, The Only Son of One, is available today.

    Now let’s turn to two piano masters. The clip below contains two excerpts. The first one you’ll hear is Stanley Cowell performing “A Whole New World” from Disney’s Alladin, recorded at Pro Piano Hall in NYC in October of 2001. The next clip is Marcus Robert’s modern take on of the Fats Waller classic “Aint Misbehavin’,” from the 2002 Gilmore International Keyboard Festival. I especially love the way drummer Jason Marsalis and bassist Roland Guerin lock up in the groove at the end of the clip.

    I chose these two clips not just for their inventive interpretations—there is a common thread I’d like to identify. You know the moment after  Cowell plays the melody “I can show you the world…” In  the space after the “world" in the melody, he infuses a harmonic gesture common in jazz. Popularized by John Coltrane,  this harmonic motion has been most famously executed on "Giant Steps." Simply put, Coltrane created a new path to arrive at a familiar destination.  Marcus Roberts also introduces a new harmonization to “Ain't Misbehavin'," adding a modern, J-Master twist on a timeless standard.

    Marcus Roberts, 2010; Photo credit: Alex Ariff
    Marcus Roberts, 2010; Photo credit: Alex Ariff

    I have a special connection with Marcus Roberts: he is a professor at Florida State University where I earned my B.A in Jazz Studies. I only took one private lesson with him—I'm a saxophonist—but he frequently gave lectures, master classes and performances (which were like lessons in their own right). We still stay in touch, and he continues to inspire me with his humble generosity and relentlessly creative and diligent ethic. One afternoon at FSU, he surprised the jazz department by hosting a Master Class with modern banjo legend Bela Fleck. Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio were  workshopping their new music for us before premiering it at the Savannah Jazz Festival in Spring 2011. Roberts also believes strongly in the power of mentorship. He will employ three Florida State University alumni for his James P. Johnson program, coming to JALC May 11 and 12.

    I’d like to close out with a musical performance of acrobatic proportions. Guitarist Badi Assad performing “Asa Branca,” a traditional Brazilian song, on November 18, 2005, at the Kennedy Center Jazz Club. She shared the gig with a “Three Guitars” ensemble featuring Larry Coryell and John Abercrombie. “Asa Branca” startled me so much that I couldn’t believe it was one human producing the sounds. She plays guitar and sings through her nose, while doing mouth percussion.

  • This Week in JazzSet History: Victor Goines, Alex Sipiagin and Gianluigi Trovesi's Octet!

    April 4, 2012. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    JazzSetAnniversaryNoTag_200x200_FinalWelcome to April! We're into week 14 of JazzSet's 20th Anniversary celebration. Each week Alexander Gelles Ariff, of the Jazz History & Research program at Rutgers University Newark, digs deep to bring you these special moments.

    This week in JazzSet history, we’ll start in one of my favorite cities at one of my favorite festivals, the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans. I’ve attended the past two years and plan on keeping it up. We’ll also close out Women in Jazz Month with a Kennedy Center broadcast of the 2005 Mary Lou Williams Jazz Piano Competition. Daniela Schaechter’s quintet puts a powerful imprint on the American standard “Stella by Starlight.” And we’ll end up in the Netherlands with Gianluigi Trovesi’s Octet delivering an twisted take on Dixieland. JazzSet gets around!

    Back in 1991, before he joined Jazz at Lincoln Center, Victor Goines brought his quintet to the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans. The band featured Goines on tenor and soprano; Glenn Patscha, piano; Rolan Guerin, bass; Brian Blade; drums; and a 19-year-old Nicholas Payton on trumpet. Payton holds his own, but I want to feature the virtuosity and development of Goines’s tenor solo on an original composition “Heterogeneity.”  The tune calls to mind elements of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers band from the mid '60s; with Brian Blade on drums in this band, you better hold on tight!

    Dr. Billy Taylor and Daniela Schaechter, courtesy of DS
    Dr. Billy Taylor and Daniela Schaechter, courtesy of DS

    In 2007, JazzSet concluded March, Women's History Month, with a broadcast featuring Sicilian pianist Daniela Schaechter and her quintet at the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival. It was special for Daniela because she was performing with her mentor Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. Other band members include Russian musicians Alex Sipiagin on trumpet and Oleg Osenkov on bass. Their arrangement of Victor Young’s “Stella by Starlight” caught my ear. I love the way Alex Sipiagin’s trumpet -- while introducing a fresh modern intensity -- harks back to the way Miles phrased the melody in ’58.

    Groningen is the small, capital city on the northernmost province of the Netherlands. At the 1993 Groningen Jazz Festival, Italian reedman Gianluigi Trovesi and his octet delivered a truly multicultural performance, and we have the extended audio! Trovesi fuses traditional Italian music with Bulgarian rhythms and hints of Ornette Coleman. In this original piece entitled “Hercab,” Trovesi is on clarinet and bass clarinet; Pino Minafra, trumpet; Rudy Migliardi, tuba and trombone; Marco Remondini, cello; Roberto Bonati and Marco Micheli, bass; Vittorio Marioni, drums; and Fulvio Maras on percussion. (Host Branford Marsalis loved pronouncing the band names!) Trovesi’s spectrum of sound on the bass clarinet is astounding, and Pino Minafra’s megaphone rap adds an unfamiliar dark texture. It reminds me of a cross between Pink Floyd’s The Wall and the "Cantina Theme" from Star Wars.

    About halfway through the tune, the cello quotes the French tune “Frère Jacques.” This is is most likely a nod to Gustav Mahler, who used the melody in Symphony No. 1, Movement 3. Uri Caine unveiled his own Mahler interpretation on a previous episode of This Week in JazzSet History. Special thanks to producers of these recordings, N.O.S. Radio and P.H. van de Pohl in the Netherlands and WGBH’s Bob Lyons in Boston.

    Alexander Gelles Ariff has a B.A. in Jazz Studies from Florida State UnIMG_5711-1iversity and is now completing his Master's in Jazz History and Research at Rutgers-Newark. He is the recipient of the Morroe Berger - Benny Carter Jazz Research Fund Award from the Institute of Jazz Studies. Alex is writing his Master's thesis on the selected recorded collaboration between jazz figures and American poets -- Kenneth Patchen, Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth, and Langston Hughes.

  • This Week in JazzSet History: Burton, Cook and Elvin Jones!

    March 27, 2012. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    It’s the end of March and we’re rounding the sixth  installment of an archeological dig, as Alexander Gelles Ariff of the Jazz History Department at Rutgers University Newark trowels through twenty seasons of JazzSet.

    JazzSetAnniversaryNoTag_200x200_FinalThis week in JazzSet history, we’re heading to Boston for three subtle but saucy performances thanks to the great station WGBH, a major contributor to and carrier of JazzSet since 1992. Steve Schwartz of WGBH was the producer for all three of the recordings cited below.

    First we’ll hear Gary Burton and Makoto Ozone duo as they tackle a traditional tune made famous by John Coltrane’s quartet, “Afro Blue.” Next, keeping with the Coltrane theme, we’ll turn to Elvin Jones. Instead of checking out his ferocious poly-rhythmic textures we know and love, I thought I would shed light on his brushwork on “Sophisticated Lady.” Finally, we’ll close out with one of the final performances tenor-titan Junior Cook gave before his untimely passing at the age of 57 in February of 1992.

    Gary Burton was the first vibraphonist to improvise using not two but four mallets. His virtuosity has transcended decades of jazz making him a living legend and inspiration to anyone holding the mallets. Boston is an important place for both Burton and pianist Makoto Ozone (oh-ZOH-nay). Burton’s bio on the Berklee website reads: “Much of Burton's story is intertwined with that of Berklee, where he arrived as a student in 1960, returned as an instructor in 1971, became dean of curriculum in 1985, and served as executive vice president from 1996 until his retirement in 2004.” Makoto Ozone attended Berklee in 1980 under the tutelage of Gary Burton, with whom he began playing in 1983. On June 7, 2001, the two reunited to perform at the Regattabar at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, MA. Here they are performing Mongo Santamaría's “Afro Blue.” If you dig this, check out this great video of the two in Montreaux.

    Elvin Jones’s late career involved a rotating line-up small group with the uniform name -- Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. This installment featured Jones, drums; Javon Jackson, tenor; Willie Pickens, piano; Andy McKee, bass, and a 19-year-old Nicholas Payton on trumpet. For this clip, we’ll hear the rhythm section on the Duke Ellington/Irving Mills classic “Sophisticated Lady” from an August 23, 1992, gig at the DeCordova Museum. I love Willie Pickens’s touch on the piano. He phases in and out of moments that are Monk-esque then Ellingtonian. Jones’s brushwork punctuates this sample. He’s 64 years old at the time, but sounds as fresh as any 1960s Impulse session! The original broadcast of this clip was April 3, 1993.

    One of Junior Cook’s last performances (and professional live recordings) was with the Michael Weiss quartet. Weiss grew up listening to Cook and told JazzSet that the the first record he bought was Horace Silver’s Blowin’ the Blues Away with Junior Cook on tenor. I love Cook’s laid back phrasing on the tune “Gnid” by Tadd Dameron featuring Weiss on piano, Tony Scheer on bass, and Andy Watson on drums. This clip is from a gig at Scullers on Boston on October 24, 1991, about three months before Cook passed away.