WBGO Blog
  • Return Of The Jazz Harp

    June 17, 2016

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    Brandee Younger and Edmar Castañeda. (Image Credit: Courtesy of the artists)

    The harp may be one of the most ancient musical instruments, but it isn't particularly prominent in jazz. Despite the mid-century emergence of innovators Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane, the harp has remained on the fringe. But two contemporary performers are changing that: Brandee Younger, who explores the textual modes defined by Ashby and Coltrane, and Edmar Castañeda, a Colombian-born folkloric virtuoso.

    Jazz Night In America splits the hour with two concerts from Jazz at Lincoln Center, featuring Younger and Castañeda, respectively.

    Copyright 2016 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • First Listen: Allen Toussaint, 'American Tunes'

    June 2, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

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    Allen Toussaint's new album, American Tunes, comes out June 10. (Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist)

    In the last decade or so of his life, the record producer, composer, songwriter and arranger Allen Toussaint started playing a lot more live shows. The root cause was sad — a consequence of relocating from his native New Orleans after hurricane-related flooding — but the performances were everyday magic. Often it would be just him at the piano as he played a broad selection of his hits, his non-hits, songs he had a hand in, songs he just liked. He would sing without affectation, tell stories as one would at the dinner table, and deviate frequently. It was obvious that he was a master musician, able to play Romantic classical masterpieces and Professor Longhair rhumba riffs in the same breath. He was also hosting you at his salon, with a genuine gentlemanly manner and a wink of vast experience.

    American Tunes, released posthumously following his death last November, isn't designed to capture or simulate a live concert experience. But it does present a side of Toussaint he seemed to emphasize at those shows — an almost retrospective, autumnal focus on the ideas which made him and his music. This is a program of largely all-time-classic songs from jazz and pop history, emphasizing his hometown and personal hero Professor Longhair. Ellingtonia staples "Come Sunday" and "Lotus Blossom" are in the mix with "Big Chief" and "Mardi Gras In New Orleans"; equally on the level are tunes by fellow pianist-composer-virtuosi Fats Waller, Bill Evans, Earl Hines and even New Orleans' own Louis Moreau Gottschalk. It's hard not to read a subtext here: that all these songs belonged in the canon which gave rise to Toussaint and his city, and thus to the bigger picture of important American tunes.

    This project was recorded with producer Joe Henry in two parts: one a solo session and the other with a rhythm section (bassist David Piltch and drummer Jay Bellerose) joined by special guests with their own slanted Americana: Bill Frisell, Charles Lloyd, Greg Leisz, Rhiannon Giddens, Van Dyke Parks. The delivery is generally elegant, as expected, with little mess around the edges, and taken alone the acoustic politeness could grow frustrating from a central architect of R&B and funk. (Toussaint's digressive, legato reading of "Big Chief" stands out.) But dapper and refined were his personal aesthetic guidelines in life as in music; this is his tribute, after all.

    Toward the end, Toussaint selects "Southern Nights," a signature song and also a 1977 hit for country singer Glen Campbell. It's one of the few songs Toussaint ever wrote specifically for himself to perform (apparently inspired by fellow behind-the-scenester Van Dyke Parks' directive to "consider that you were going to die in two weeks"), and he initially saw little commercial potential for the languid pentatonic melody. He would play it toward the end of concerts, taking a long time to tell the story behind it, and the imagery of his unhurried porch-sits felt transportive. But here, it's just a florid instrumental, and only the penultimate song Toussaint chose. The record actually ends on a spare arrangement of Paul Simon's "American Tune," a poetic sketch of world-weariness and hoping against hope. Is that another cheeky wink? The bridge, after all, does include these lines:

    And I dreamed I was dying
    And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
    And looking back down at me
    Smiled reassuringly

    Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
  • Leroy Jones' New Orleans Strut

    May 20, 2016

    Trumpeter Leroy Jones was playing in New Orleans back when Bourbon Street was lined with jazz clubs. The city has changed since then — Bourbon Street is a prime example — and Jones has evolved with it. From second lines with the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band and the Hurricane Brass Band, club gigs with modern combos and tours with Harry Connick Jr., he's been a part of many jazz scenes.

    Jazz Night In America takes in a set with Jones' sextet at the Dew Drop Social & Benevolent Jazz Hall in Mandeville, La., across the lake from New Orleans. We hear the story of the venue, a small wooden room which has hosted jazz performances for more than a century, and the stories of Jones, a well-loved presence in his hometown.

    Copyright 2016 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Catherine Russell: Sunny Side Of The Street

    May 12, 2016

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    Catherine Russell. (Image Credit: Marv Goldschmitt/Courtesy of the artist)

    Catherine Russell has been a backup singer with Steely Dan and David Bowie, but she's better known as an interpreter of blues and early jazz. At Jazz At Lincoln Center, Russell recently assembled a vocal trio (with Carolyn Leonhart and La Tanya Hall, her partners on tour with Steely Dan) to unearth a book of charts by arranger Sy Oliver. She's only performed this music once before, more than 30 years ago. But back then, Russell got to sing it with her own mother — the multi-instrumentalist Carline Ray — and with Lillian Clark, who was also Oliver's wife.

    Jazz Night In America takes you to the Jazz At Lincoln Center concert, featuring Russell's working band, and host Christian McBride speaks with Russell about the origins of these charts.

    Copyright 2016 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Celebrating Joe Temperley In Concert

    May 12, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

    The great Joe Temperley died at the age of 86 Wednesday. One of the most respected jazz saxophonists in the world, Temperley grew up in Scotland before leaving for London in the 1950s and moving to North America in the 1960s. Temperley, who started playing the sax when he was 14, took the baritone chair in the Duke Ellington Orchestra. In recent years he had been a long-serving member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, under Wynton Marsalis. A year ago we featured Temperley in Concert - check it out below.

    For 25 years, the baritone saxophone chair of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has been held by a one Joe Temperley. The Scottish musician, now 85, carries tons of credits to his C.V., especially with big bands: Thad Jones-Mel Lewis, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Clark Terry and — most notably — the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

    Jazz Night In America visits Jazz at Lincoln Center as the JLCO salutes its elder statesman, featuring Temperley on his favorite Ellington tunes and a new concerto that managing and artistic director Wynton Marsalis dedicated to his longtime colleague.

    Copyright 2016 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.