WBGO Blog
  • Albert 'Tootie' Heath, Drummer Extraordinaire, Turns The Tables

    March 14, 2015

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    Albert Heath (Image Credit: Michael Perez/Courtesy of the artist )

    Albert "Tootie" Heath is one of the most accomplished jazz drummers of the past 60 years. The 79-year-old has played with everyone from John Coltrane to Ethan Iverson, the piano player for The Bad Plus. Iverson and bassist Ben Street join Tootie Heath for his new album, Philadelphia Beat, named for the fertile jazz city of Heath's upbringing — where, as a young man starting out, he once piloted a group consisting only of the drums and two horns.

    "That's a real strange instrumentation. I mean, most people need the bass, and a lot of people like a piano in there or some melodic chordal instrument — and we didn't have any of that," Heath says. "But the place across the street from where I lived, some adult people were good enough to let us come in there and play in it. It must have been awful. And one guy came up and gave us 75 cents as a tip. He was drunk, of course, and he walked away — 'Oh, you kids are great.' And I realized: That's a quarter apiece. Hey man, we can get paid doing this!"

    NPR's Arun Rath had been dying to interview Heath for years. When he got the chance, it turned out the artist had some questions for him, as well. Hear their conversation, including stories about needling his band with tough arrangements and learning from the jazzmen in his own family, at the audio link.

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

  • Two Greats From Seattle, 'One Of The Most Important Jazz Cities'

    March 12, 2015

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    Ernestine Anderson performs at the Windsor Jazz Festival in 1966. (Image Credit: David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images)

    Jazz bassist and composer Christian McBride recently finished a week-long West Coast tour in Seattle. It reminded him of how great a town it was for jazz, both historically and presently.

    "There's always been a very powerful jazz community in Seattle," McBride says, citing the early careers of Ray Charles and Quincy Jones. "Quietly, it's been one of the most important jazz cities."

    All Things Considered's jazz correspondent (and the host of the public radio program Jazz Night In America) recently introduced host Audie Cornish to two more names from Seattle: trombonist Julian Priester and vocalist Ernestine Anderson.

    Ernestine Anderson, 'A Very Rare Living Example'

    Now 86, Anderson graduated high school in Seattle before launching her professional career.

    "Ernestine Anderson, kind of, was very similar to Dinah Washington in the sense that she crossed a lot of different genres," McBride says. "She was very well respected — is still very well respected — not just as a jazz singer, also as a pop singer, also as an R&B singer. She had a very, very strong following with the R&B crowd."

    McBride says that Anderson's early experience singing in church, from the time that "the basic rhythm of traditional gospel still was a swing rhythm," also affects how she phrases. He theorizes that a young Aretha Franklin (another musician with gospel roots) must have checked out Ernestine Anderson's records.

    "Leaving a lot of tension, that other kind of 'church' thing I talked about — I think Ernestine is a very rare living example of someone who can do that in the jazz language," McBride says. "Kind of, bring that sophisticated elegance of jazz to a more earthy and gritty soul singing.

    Julian Priester, 'Like A Great Sixth Man'

    Trombonist Julian Priester, 79, still lives in Seattle, where he teaches music at Cornish College of the Arts. McBride spotlighted the work Priester did in the early 1970s with Herbie Hancock's experimental band Mwandishi.

    "This period in music — not just in jazz, but all across the board — it seemed like everything was bleeding into one another," McBride says. "Everybody was experimenting with these other sounds. Everything was on the table."

    Of course, Priester's career extends well beyond that time. His credits include Muddy Waters, Dinah Washington, Max Roach, Bo Diddley and Lionel Hampton, not to mention his own work as a bandleader. In all those contexts, he stands out for both his quality and versatility, according to McBride.

    "I was thinking of a basketball phrase," McBride says. "He's like a utility player, like a great sixth man. If you need somebody to score you some three-pointers, you always know he's there. You always know you have one of the greatest players in your band — not because he's a virtuoso, but he's just really one of the greatest solid musicians on any instrument throughout the years."

    'The Mark Of A True Musician'

    That adaptability links the two musicians beyond their geographic roots.

    "I've always thought the mark of a true musician was being able to adapt to any style," McBride says. "Any changes that happen, you're able to ride with it but still maintain your musical integrity and identity, while still being flexible enough to change with the times."

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

  • Revive Big Band: Where Jazz Meets Hip-Hop

    March 5, 2015

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    Igmar Thomas and the Revive Big Band. (Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist)

    For trumpeter and composer Igmar Thomas, much in contemporary music is clearly evolved from improvised American music of eras past — jazz, in short. That insight led him to create the Revive Big Band, a large ensemble with a view to connecting the through-lines between hip-hop and its predecessors. With the Big Band, he might reconstruct how a jazz tune lent the sample for a modern classic, or unveil original works, or orchestrate special collaborations with soloists like tap dancer Savion Glover, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, or rapper Talib Kweli.

    It's made possible by connections he forged starting at Berklee College of Music — people like the emcee Raydar Ellis, who often appears with the band, or the concert producer Meghan Stabile, whose Revive Music agency helps the band get on stage. In December 2014, the Revive Big Band went back to Berklee and Boston for a series of performances where it all started. Jazz Night In America presents the story behind the band and its homecoming show, in conjunction with WBGO's The Checkout: Live.

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