WBGO Blog
  • WBGO's Monifa Brown: "There's Something About Ella"

    April 24, 2015. Posted by Monifa Brown.

    There’s something about Ella. “I sing like I feel,” she once confessed.

    This candor and transparency are why Ella’s voice transcends age and race, and has earned followers around the world.

    Photo by WIlliam P. Gottlieb / LOC
    Photo by WIlliam P. Gottlieb / LOC

    It’s close to twenty years since Ella left the physical realm, and nearly eighty since she first wowed audiences at the Apollo Theatre’s famed ‘Amateur Hour’ as a teenager in Harlem.

    She entered the contest as a dancer - luckily for us, at the last minute, she decided to sing instead. But her irrepressible sense of swing probably came in part from the fact that she knew how to dance.

    Ella’s voice embodies girlish charm and endearing wit. Her exuberance is contagious.

    She was a tour-de-force on an up-tempo swinger, then could turn around and deliver a ballad with the same great sense of drive.

    Few, for my money, can take a lyric, whether by Berlin, Porter, Arlen, or Rodgers and Hart, and make you hear it in a new light like Ella.

    Even Ira Gershwin once declared, "I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.”

    Photo by WIlliam P. Gottlieb / LOC
    Photo by William P. Gottlieb / LOC

    Ella had amazing chops. She could – and did - hang with the best of them: Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Flip Phillips, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.

    She was also prolific – she recorded over 200 albums. From her early dates with Chick Webb to Jazz At The Philharmonic and her Pablo sessions with Joe Pass, she shows her ability to evolve as an artist, the true mark of a creative genius.

    Pianist Jimmy Rowles, her accompanist and one of those who knew her best, spoke of her magical presence in this way.

    "Music comes out of her,” he said. “When she walks down the street, she leaves notes.”

    Her Grammy-winning album Mack The Knife is one of my favorites. It’s a classic example of her onstage brilliance, charisma and ingenuity.

    The album was recorded live in Berlin, with pianist Paul Smith, guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Wilfred Middlebrooks and drummer Gus Johnson.

    It showcases her technical proficiency, the agility of her instrument, and often-humorous approach to improvisations.

    Her scatting on the title track, where she forgets the lyrics and doesn’t miss a beat, are priceless.

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    As a kid in the 70s, I was star-struck when I first saw Ella in a Memorex commercial.

    I used to borrow my dad’s Memorex cassettes to record my favorite songs off the radio and create my own mix tapes.

    In the commercial, Ella’s voice shatters a crystal glass. I’d never seen that before. I thought she was some sort of super hero.

    Rightfully dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” Ella’s ability to deliver a lyric without gimmicks, and with clarity and potency, is unrivaled.

    Billy Strayhorn sums it up best. "Ella is the boss lady. That's all.”

  • WBGO Jam Live 2015: Berklee "Effortless Mastery" Ensemble

    April 22, 2015. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    The Berklee College of Music's "Effortless Mastery" Ensemble, directed by pianist Kenny Werner,  performs live at WBGO for Jazz Appreciation Month. Click below to hear this concert.

    Werner also spoke with Rhonda Hamilton about Berklee's new "Effortless Mastery" Institute, which teaches students holistic techniques for developing and maintaining healthy performance practices.

    All month long in April, WBGO is showcasing student ensembles with vocalists who performed live in our studios for Jazz Appreciation Month. All of these full sets will be available online. Enjoy!

    Click on the image below to see a slideshow from this live in-studio performance.

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    Berklee College of Music "Effortless Mastery Ensemble

    live at WBGO 4/20/15

    Kenny Werner, piano, Long Island, NY
    Vivienne Aerts, voice, Leiden, Netherlands
    Edmar Colon, sax, Coamo, Puerto Rico
    Mao Sone, trumpet, Chiba, Japan
    Max Salinger-Ridley, bass, Boston, MA
    Tiago Michelin, drums, Cambridge, MA

  • WBGO JAM Live 2015: SUNY Purchase Johnny Hartman Ensemble

    April 20, 2015. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    The SUNY Purchase Johnny Hartman/John Coltrane Ensemble performs live at WBGO for Jazz Appreciation Month, with vocalists Juno Arreglado. Click below to hear this concert, and tune in to 88.3 FM to hear this group featured on air during the third week of April. A full set list is below.

    Every week in April, WBGO-FM will showcase a different student ensemble with vocalists who performed live in our studios for Jazz Appreciation Month. All of these full sets will be available online. Enjoy!

    Click on the image below to see a slideshow from this live in-studio performance.

    purchase669

    SUNY Purchase Johnny Hartman/John Coltrane Ensemble

    live at WBGO

    March 16th, 2015

    1) You Are Too Beautiful (Rodgers & Hart)
    2) Autumn Serenade (DeRose)
    3) My One and Only Love (Wood & Mellin)
    4) Dedicated To You (Cahn-Chaplin-Zaret)
    5) Lush Life (Stayhorn)
    6) They Say It’s Wonderful (Berlin)

    Juno Arreglado, Voice, from Rockland County, NY
    Jaedon Alvira, Tenor Saxophone, from Brooklyn, NY
    Ben Rice, Piano, from San Francisco, CA
    Drummond Dominguez/Kincaid, Guitar, from Croton-on-Hudson, NY
    Michael Roninson, Bass, from Latham, NY
    Zach Berns, Drums, from Boulder, CO

  • WBGO Jam Live 2015: William Paterson Vocal Ensemble

    April 13, 2015. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    The William Paterson University Jazz Vocal Ensemble performs live at WBGO for Jazz Appreciation Month, with vocalists Ana Petrillo, Jamie Henry and Vuyo Sotashe. Click below to hear this concert, and tune in to 88.3 FM to hear this group featured on air during the second week of April. A full set list is below.

    Every week in April, WBGO-FM will showcase a different student ensemble with vocalists who performed live in our studios for Jazz Appreciation Month. All of these full sets will be available online. Enjoy!

    Click on the image below to see a slideshow from this live in-studio performance.

    WP669

    William Paterson University Jazz Vocal Ensemble

    Live at WBGO - March 11th, 2015
    Nancy Marano, Instructor
    Dave Demsey, Coordinator of Jazz Studies

    1) "I’ll Be Seeing You" by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal

    (Arranged by Darmon Meater, sung by Anna Petrillo, Jamie Henry, Vuyo Sotashe, and Megan Roy)

    2) "Lush Life" by Billy Strayhorn

    (Sung and arranged by Jamie Henry)

    3) "Yesterdays" by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach

    (Sung and arranged by Jamie Henry)

    4) "On Green Dolphin Street" by Bronisław Kaper and Ned Washington

    (Sung and arranged by Anna Petrillo)

    5)  "Wee Small Hours" by Bob Hilliard and David Mann

    (Sung and arranged by Anna Petrillo)

    6) "Day By Day" by Stephen Schwartz

    (Sung and arranged by Vuyo Sotashe)

    7)  "Sophisticated Lady" by Duke Ellington and Mitchell Parish

    (Sung and arranged by Vuyo Sotashe)

    Anna Petrillo (senior, Bayonne, NJ), vocals
    Jamie Henry (senior, Edmonton, Alberta), vocals
    Vuyo Sotashe (masters, Fulbright Scholar, South Africa), vocals
    Sam Javitch (senior, New York, NY), piano
    Chris Sullivan (masters, San Francisco, CA), alto saxophone
    Miguel Rodriguez (senior, Freehold, NJ), tenor saxophone
    Vincent Dupont (junior, Hudson, NH), bass
    Matt Niedbalski (junior, Gainesvoort, NY), drums

  • WBGO's Monifa Brown: My Sarah Vaughan

    April 10, 2015. Posted by Monifa Brown.

    Monifa Brown tells us how  Sarah "Sassy" Vaughan first entered her life. Read on!

    When I was a voice student at New York’s LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, I had this dream: I would meet Sarah Vaughan, and she would take me under her wing.

    I would apprentice with one of the greatest voices to ever grace the planet.

    Photo: William P. Gottlieb / LOC
    Photo: William P. Gottlieb / LOC

    Needless to say, that never happened. But to this day, Sarah’s emotive and highly textured, multi-octave contralto can move me to tears - in an instant.

    Her voice is without rival. It is transformational.

    With a single note, Sassy can create a state of euphoria: her spine-tingling vibrato and cascading turns of phrase can nestle you deep inside the bluesy harmonic crevices of a song.

    “Music was my refuge,” Dr. Maya Angelou once said. “I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness."

    I often wondered if she had Sarah Vaughan in mind when she wrote that.

    Here’s Sarah, in her own words: “When I sing, trouble can sit right on my shoulder - and I don't even notice.”

    Photo: William P. Gottlieb / LOC
    Photo: William P. Gottlieb / LOC

    I have always gravitated towards music and musicians that elicit a visceral reaction, or emotional and spiritual awakening. Those are the musicians who transcend their art.

    They are the creative spirits who make you aware that artistry flows through them – it emanates from a higher source.

    For me, 'The Divine One' is such an artist.  Her voice is the perfect balance of yin and yang; it is the ebb and flow of the cerebral and the visceral, the technical and emotional, of restraint and wild abandon. Sassy's instrument is the ultimate voice.

    My parents played all of the great female vocalists when I was coming up. In addition to Sarah, they loved Billie, Nina, Ella, Betty, Abbey and Nancy.

    But there was one particular day when I began to really appreciate what I was experiencing.

    It started on a sunny afternoon in Brooklyn's Clinton Hill section, where I grew up: a few apartments away from John Ore, down the street from Lester Bowie and the Marsalises, and a few blocks away from Oliver Lake.

    I ventured out on a warm Saturday afternoon to rummage through Pratt Institute's Street Fair. I was looking for vintage clothes, so I could make some sort of Denise Huxtable-Gordon Gartrell ensemble.

    Don't laugh - yes, I liked to make my own crazy clothes back in the day!

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    What I found was so much more. Somewhere between Dekalb and Willoughby Avenues, buried deep in a milk crate, I found a cassette of a Sarah’s 1954 Emarcy session with Clifford Brown.

    For less than $2, I held in my hand what would spark my lifelong affinity for one of the world's greatest voices.

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    I remember spending hours in my room that afternoon listening to that album, again and again.

    In the days and weeks that followed, I was on a crusade to match Sassy’s impeccable and swinging solo on George Shearing's “Lullaby Of Birdland” note for note.

    If you ever happen to hear me playing this track on air, know that as it is pumping through the speakers at WBGO, I am once again trying to scat those brilliant lines.

    As a teenager, just beginning to understand heartache, disappointment and romance, Sarah's honey-drenched delivery of songs like “Jim” - which we hear above - spoke to me.

    The cry in her voice spoke to my soul.

    Sassy's flawless diction, irrepressible sense of swing and the sheer beauty of her instrument were undeniable - unlike anything I had ever heard.

    They are still unlike anything I have ever heard.

    In a word, Divine.

    - Monifa Brown, host of Saturday Afternoon Jazz

    Follow Monifa on Twitter: @globaljazzqueen