February 16, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.Toshiko Akiyoshi developed a reputation as a fierce bebop player. But she says she wasn't completely accepted in the jazz world as a woman and an Asian. (Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist)
Pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi was the first Japanese musician to become popular with jazz fans in the U.S. Oscar Peterson demanded that his label record her; Charles Mingus hired her for his band. Then she went on to form her own acclaimed Jazz Orchestra. On Tuesday afternoon, Akiyoshi reassembled that group for a rare performance at the Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Frederick P. Rose Hall.
Back at the grand piano in her Upper West Side brownstone, 86-year-old Toshiko Akiyoshi says the occasion for her orchestra's reunion is to celebrate two milestones — when she started her professional career, and when she moved to the U.S.
"It's very easy to remember, because I started in '46, so it will be the 70th anniversary," Akiyoshi says. "I came to this country in '56, so it will be the 60th anniversary in this country."
Akiyoshi put together her first Jazz Orchestra in Los Angeles in 1973 with her husband, saxophonist Lew Tabackin — he was playing with the Tonight Show band, and helped fill her 16-piece orchestra with some of the best studio musicians in town. Akiyoshi says all of the sax players could also play flute and clarinet; that led to her signature style.
"The saxophone players — if you wanted to be studio player, you had to double everything. So I thought, 'Maybe I can write a woodwind section.' And it became one of my trademarks."
Along with the texture of woodwinds, the Toshiko Akiyoshi Big Band is distinctive in its use of Japanese instruments and themes.
A few years after the band was formed, the musicians performed in Minneapolis, where a University of Minnesota student named Maria Schneider heard them play.
"That concert was so powerful for me," Schneider says. "The music was so beautiful, and there was something about it being displayed in that concert hall — and her conducting and her playing — just the whole took me, and it made me all of a sudden ask the question, 'Wow, could I do that?'"
Schneider is composing for and leading her own jazz orchestra. She says Akiyoshi helped pave the way.
"It wasn't that she was a woman," Schneider says, "but it was that somebody was doing jazz that was infused with classical — it was concert music."
Akiyoshi studied classical piano in Manchuria, China, where she was born in 1929. At the end of WWII, her family was forced to return to occupied Japan.
"We came back and my parents lost everything," Akiyoshi says. "I could not hope to get the piano. And it was during occupation time. And [there were] many clubs: There was the officer's club, NCO club, the Sergeant's Club, and they all need musicians. On top of that, the Japanese wanted to dance, too, and there wasn't that many musicians. So I was hired immediately."
Akiyoshi was a teenager. She studied jazz and began to perform in small combos. In 1952, pianist Oscar Peterson heard her in a Tokyo nightclub, and he persuaded the head of Verve Records to record her.
Akiyoshi came to the U.S. to study at what was then called the Berklee School of Music in Boston. She was the first Japanese musician at the school. She moved to New York and developed a reputation as a fierce bebop player, but she says she wasn't completely accepted in the jazz world as a woman and an Asian.
"In those days, 'Japanese play jazz, really?' And when it come to girl — 'Really, really?' kind of thing."
Her husband, Lew Tabackin, says she continued to face discrimination, but he says they have no regrets.
"I think we did pretty well, considering we had a band for 30 years," Tabackin says. "We did some really great things. You know, we made a contribution. How many people can actually feel that they've made a contribution?"
Toshiko Akiyoshi disbanded her orchestra in 2003 to focus on her first love — and, at 74, to try to get better.
"I started missing piano," Akiyoshi says. "Because I started as a pianist, and all my writing come from my experience as a player. So 30 years I say maybe I stop, disband it. Maybe I try to concentrate on playing piano. Maybe I'll be able to play just as good as before. I can at least try."
Akiyoshi says she hopes she's given something back to jazz, which she says has been very kind to her.Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
© 2016 WBGO
February 11, 2016
Eric Lewis' career has circulated both in and out of what he calls "the jazz republic." Performing under his given name in the 1990s, Lewis was a powerful up-and-coming pianist who toured in the bands of Wynton Marsalis and Elvin Jones. As his career progressed — or failed to, from a business perspective — he found that a lot of contemporary rock music also spoke to him deeply. So, performing under the name ELEW, he devised a new theatrical, high-energy method of solo piano he called rockjazz, and his cover songs took him to TED Conferences, national tours, America's Got Talent, celebrity gatherings and the White House. But he never left the late-night straight-ahead jam sessions: In fact, he's just recorded And To The Republic, a return to the jazz trio format featuring some major players.
Jazz Night In America follows ELEW to the studio, and to Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola within Jazz at Lincoln Center, where his burning band includes Reginald Veal on bass and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums.
© 2016 WBGO
February 4, 2016. Posted by WBGO.Maurice White flanked by singers Ralph Johnson (left) and Philip Bailey (right) of the band Earth, Wind & Fire perform at the Wiltern Theater December 11, 2004 in Los Angeles. (Image Credit: Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)
Maurice White, the founder of Earth, Wind & Fire, the band known for hits like "Shining Star and "Boogie Wonderland," died in his sleep overnight. He was 74.
Verdine White posted the following message on the group's Facebook page:
"My brother, hero and best friend Maurice White passed away peacefully last night in his sleep. While the world has lost another great musician and legend, our family asks that our privacy is respected as we start what will be a very difficult and life changing transition in our lives. Thank you for your prayers and well wishes."
White founded the horn-driven band in the late 1960s. "The group went on to sell more than 90 million albums worldwide, displaying a flashy and eclectic musical style that incorporated his influences from growing up in Memphis, Tennessee," The Associated Press reports.
One of the Earth, Wind & Fire's most famous songs was "September," a song that's a go-to at wedding receptions everywhere. NPR Music wrote about the origins of the song in 2014.
"The story of the song begins in 1978. Allee Willis was a struggling songwriter in LA — until the night she got a call from Maurice White, the leader of Earth, Wind & Fire. White offered her the chance of a lifetime: to co-write the band's next album. Willis arrived at the studio the next day hoping it wasn't some kind of cosmic joke."
It wasn't a joke, and over the next month, the group wrote one of the happiest-sounding songs ever.
"The trigger for that yearning feeling, Peretz says, is the opening line. White asks, "Do you remember?" and we supply the memories. It's a song that can bring all of the generations together, which makes it perfect for family gatherings. The true meaning is up to us — including, Allee Willis says, that strangely specific date.
"'We went through all the dates: 'Do you remember the first, the second, the third, the fourth ... ' and the one that just felt the best was the 21st,' Willis explains. 'I constantly have people coming up to me and they get so excited to know what the significance was. And there is no significance beyond it just sang better than any of the other dates. So ... sorry!'
"That's OK, Allee. Maurice was right. It doesn't matter what it means. When we hear it, it's September 21st, and we are dancing again with our family, in a song that never really ends."Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
© 2016 WBGO
February 4, 2016
Jazz Night In America's regular host, Christian McBride, happens to be a Grammy-winning bassist and composer, but he forbade us to feature him unless it was for something special. It so happens that he's written a special work: Teaming with choral director JD Steele, he's composed a bluesy and soulful oratorio for big band, gospel choir with soloists, and four speakers who represent great figures of the Civil Rights Movement. It's called The Movement Revisited, and is inspired by the written words and speeches of Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr., and President Barack Obama.
Jazz Night In America follows McBride around his own hometown of Philadelphia, as he speaks with the people who raised him at home and in the music, and features a performance of The Movement Revisited from the Kimmel Center in downtown Philly. NPR's Audie Cornish guest-hosts this episode, featuring the Christian McBride Big Band, the Philadelphia Heritage Chorale, and orators Sonia Sanchez, Rev. Alyn Waller, Dion Graham and Samuel Stricklen.
The Christian McBride Big Band: Christian McBride, leader/bass; Nabate Isles, trumpet; Brandon Lee, trumpet; Frank Greene, trumpet; Benny Benack III, trumpet; Jeffery Miller, trombone; Steve Davis, trombone; Joseph McDonough, trombone; Douglas Purviance, bass trombone; Steve Wilson, alto sax; Ron Blake, tenor sax; Todd Bashore, alto sax; Dan Pratt, tenor sax; Lauren Sevian, baritone sax; Joel Ross, vibes; Geoffrey Keezer, piano; Terreon Gully, drums.
The Philadelphia Heritage Chorale: JD Steele, choral director/featured soloist; J. Donald Dumpson, musical director. With Waverly Alston Jr., Melvin Berrian, Eric Cook Jr., Andrew Lawson, Garrick V. Morgan, Tyree Miller, Cali Graver, Ja-Tun Reid, Kimberly Quarles, Shavonne Edwards, Tiffany Godette, A. China Guess, Carrie Walker Lessene, Hope McDowell, Tia McNeil, Tyrre Miller, Janine Momasso, Melanie Richardson, Lauren Robinson, Sue E. Spencer (featured in "Sister Rosa"), Maria Caldwell Stoddard, Cyrile Trawick, Monica Underwood, Philis E. Williams.
With Sonia Sanchez as Rosa Parks, Rev. Alyn Waller as Martin Luther King Jr., Dion Graham as Muhammad Ali, and Samuel Stricklen as Malcolm X.
© 2016 WBGO
January 28, 2016
Jazz has its capital cities: major hubs like New York, Chicago and New Orleans. But the music manages plenty well in many other places, too. What goes into those smaller ecosystems to enable jazz to thrive? How do talented musicians make it happen? In search of some answers, we sought out the DIY concert producers of CapitalBop in Washington, D.C., as they presented artists from the Baltimore-Washington area. And we met with the musicians themselves — in one case, touring the place he calls home.
Jazz Night In America presents highlights from CapitalBop's converted-warehouse "loft" stage at the 2015 DC Jazz Festival, featuring bands led by vibraphonist Warren Wolf and bassist Kris Funn.
© 2016 WBGO