WBGO Blog
  • A Tribute To Kenny Wheeler

    May 19, 2015

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    Kenny Wheeler. (Image Credit: W. Patrick Hinely/Courtesy of the artist)

    The late Kenny Wheeler's stunning compositions and imaginative improvisations on trumpet and flugelhorn left deep impressions on generations of musicians. Two such devotees — trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and saxophonist Steve Treseler — revisited Wheeler's compositions after his death in 2014 at age 84. And in doing so, they realized they wanted to record their arrangements, paying tribute to the man who catalyzed their own careers. So Jensen, raised in Vancouver and now based in New York, traveled back across North America to meet Treseler, who resides in Seattle, to make the album and play a gig while they were there.

    Jazz Night In America explores the legacy of Kenny Wheeler through the music that Jensen and Treseler arranged and performed live at the Royal Room in Seattle. They're accompanied by Jensen's working rhythm section — pianist Geoffrey Keezer, bassist Martin Wind, drummer Jon Wikan — and local vocalist Katie Jacobson. Watch the concert here.

    Copyright 2015 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit .

  • 50 Years Ago, Ramsey Lewis Joined 'The In Crowd'

    May 16, 2015

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    Ramsey Lewis' hit single "The In Crowd" was recorded live in concert 50 years ago this month. (Image Credit: Courtesy of Ravinia Festival)

    Fifty years ago, the Ramsey Lewis Trio sat in a Washington, D.C. coffee shop, musing over what it could add to its set that evening. It was booked for a run at Bohemian Caverns — the group had issued a live album made at the nightclub, and it was gearing up to record a follow-up live album. Over walked a waitress, who inquired about the band's predicament.

    Fifty years later, Lewis still remembers her name: Nettie Gray.

    "She had a jukebox," Lewis says. "Jukeboxes in coffee shops — people don't know about that any more, but she went over to the jukebox and played: 'You guys might like this! Listen to this!'"

    Her recommendation was "The In Crowd," sung by Dobie Gray — a popular hit at the time. Lewis and the band worked out an arrangement quickly, then ended their set with it that evening, to wild applause.

    Fifty years later, that song remains Ramsey Lewis' biggest hit.

    "If somebody had come up with another song that fit the style of what we wanted, there would not have been an 'In Crowd,' " he says.

    Lewis, now 79 and still actively performing, spoke with NPR's Arun Rath about how the song came to be. Hear their conversation at the audio link above.

    Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • B.B. King, Legendary Blues Guitarist, Dies At 89

    May 15, 2015. Posted by WBGO.

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    B.B. King performs at Bluesfest Music Festival in Byron Bay, Australia, in 2011. (Image Credit: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

    It seemed as if he'd go on forever — and B.B. King was working right up until the end. It's what he loved to do: playing music, and fishing. Even late in life, living with diabetes, he spent about half the year on the road. King died Thursday night at home in Las Vegas. He was 89 years old.

    He was born Riley B. King on a plantation in Itta Bena, Miss. He played on street corners before heading to Memphis, Tenn., where he stayed with his cousin, the great country bluesman Bukka White. His career took off thanks to radio; he got a spot on the radio show of Sonny Boy Williamson II, then landed his own slot on black-run WDIA in Memphis. He needed a handle. At first it was Beale Street Blues Boy. Then Blues Boy King. Finally B.B. King stuck.

    You can't mention names without talking about his guitar, Lucille. It was actually more than one. The story goes that the first was a $30 acoustic he was playing at a dance in Arkansas when two men got in a fight, kicked over a stove and started a fire. When King was safe outside, he realized he'd left the guitar inside. He ran back into the burning dance hall to save it. After he learned the fight had been over a woman named Lucille, he decided to name his guitar for her to remind himself never to get into a fight over a woman. And since then, every one of his trademark Gibson ES-355s has been named Lucille.

    The sound he got out of her was what set him apart. Playing high up on the neck, he'd push a string as he picked it, bending the note to make it cry. He didn't burn a lot of fast licks, but you could feel each note he played. Nobody sounded like B.B. King, though later on plenty of rockers tried. (Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green got closest.)

    King scored an R&B hit in 1951 with "Three O'Clock Blues" and began the next stage of his life as a touring musician. According to his website, King and his band played 342 one-night stands in 1956. He performed more than 250 nights a year into his 80s, his distinctive guitar sound and smooth vocals filling just about every major venue in the U.S. and abroad. In 1991, he opened his own spot, B.B. King's Blues Club in Memphis. Others followed, and King remained involved in how they were run.

    He was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in '87. He was so beloved that he received honorary degrees from the Berklee College of Music as well as Yale and Brown universities, among others.

    In 1970, he scored a crossover hit with "The Thrill Is Gone." It's the tune everyone knows — classic B.B. King: Lucille's piercing single notes punctuating each phrase.

    The thrill is gone.
    The thrill is gone away from me.
    Although I'll still live on,
    But so lonely I'll be.

    That pretty well sums up how a lot of fans are feeling right now, now that B.B. King is finally gone.

    Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.