WBGO Blog
  • Evolution Of A Song: 'I Got Rhythm'

    February 9, 2011. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    image
    Judy Garland (right) sang "I Got Rhythm" in the 1943 movie version of the 1930s musical Girl Crazy. (Image Credit: Courtesy of MGM)

    When George Gershwin wrote "I Got Rhythm" for the 1930s musical Girl Crazy, he created one of the most catchy melodies in American history. But little did he know that his lovable song — apart from becoming a hugely popular jazz standard — would evolve into something far greater.

    The song itself, on the most basic level, became the perfect vehicle for jazz improvisers. Swing and bebop musicians thrived on its formula: a memorable 32-bar AABA structure and irresistible chord progression. This structure served as a model for many other successful jazz tunes, some say hundreds, like Duke Ellington's "Cotton Tail," Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" and Nat King Cole's "Straighten Up and Fly Right." Remarkably, the "I Got Rhythm" form rivals only the blues structure as the most adapted, mimicked or ripped-off, depending how you look at it.

    George Gershwin's later symphonic work, "Variations on I Got Rhythm," was dedicated to the song's original lyricist, his brother Ira Gershwin. But even his brother couldn't have imagined the endless variations on this winning composition. Who could ask for anything more?

    Read more
  • Roy Eldridge: The 'Little Jazz' Centennial

    January 25, 2011. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    image
    Roy Eldridge. (Image Credit: William Gottlieb/The Library of Congress via Flickr)

    Trumpeter Roy Eldridge's legendary sound and bravado dwarfed his 5'6" frame. Known as "Little Jazz," and later just "Jazz," his nicknames befit his devotion (five decades) to the art form. His peers spoke of his soulful style and great competitiveness, not to mention his ridiculous chops. These qualities marked him as one of the greatest trumpet kings of all time; he reigned from the late 1930s and beyond, when many other top trumpeters came into the fold.

    But Eldridge's legend endured. He was an innovator who, for many historians, conveniently bridged the gap between Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie in jazz's evolutionary chain. This may be hyperbole or an oversimplification, but many agree that Eldridge modernized the way to play jazz. And nobody ever discounted the red-hot passion that once crackled from his brass. On Jan. 30, Eldridge would have been 100, so we celebrate The Little Jazz Centennial with some of his fieriest early performances.

    Read more
  • Winter Jazzfest 2011: You Were Great! Now Change

    January 10, 2011. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    image
    Orrin Evans plays piano and conducts his Captain Black Big Band at Sullivan Hall as part of Winter Jazzfest. (Image Credit: Patrick Jarenwattananon/NPR)

    In jazz-rich New York City, it often seems like there's a major festival going on every week. But few concerts have become as hotly anticipated as those of the city's annual Winter Jazzfest. This year, the music marathon encompassed five venues, two nights and 60 performances, and drew more than 3,000 4,000 fans.

    What started as a showcase designed for attendees of the concurrent Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference has become a massive event for New Yorkers, too. It's a worthy celebration not just for its overload of shows, most of which feature less-known ensembles or known musicians' new bands; it's also an exciting scene, with plenty of that prized young audience, not to mention plenty of musicians hanging out and watching their friends play.

    In addition to the great music and the equivalent vibe, this year's Winter Jazzfest was marked by sub-freezing temperatures at night. That set into clear relief the event's struggles with crowd control. Tickets -- an absurdly good deal at $35 for two entire nights -- sold out early, and those looking to hop from club to club often found themselves struggling to peer over standing-room-only sections, if not waiting in long lines to enter.

    These are good problems to have, of course. Among the 4,000-plus were Josh Jackson, host of WBGO's The Checkout, and Simon Rentner, another WBGO staff producer. They joined me for a recap of what we all saw, via instant message. (NPR Music's Bob Boilen, of All Songs Considered, was there on Saturday evening, and had some reflections too.)

    Read more