WBGO Blog
  • Wayne Horvitz: The Pianist And The Poet

    December 3, 2015

    The last time we went to Seattle, we met a piano player and bandleader named Wayne Horvitz. Among other things, he books a club called the Royal Room, teaches at Cornish College of the Arts, directs a high-school ensemble, and writes and performs many different sorts of music. Jazz and improvised music frames a lot of what he does, but as an artist, it's certainly not the only language he speaks.

    "I'm an American composer, not a jazz composer," he says. "My whole life, I've [never] thought of myself as a jazz composer. I've always been in this weird gray area where jazz musicians were the only people who don't consider me a jazz musician. Everybody else does."

    Ever since he moved westward from New York in 1988 — he's still remembered by some as the keyboardist in John Zorn's band Naked City — Horvitz has integrated himself deep into Seattle's music community. Fittingly, one of his latest projects was inspired by a Seattle-born poet named Richard Hugo, who wrote often about the American West (and the small-town bars he found therein). The songs based on the poems are collected in a new album called Some places are forever afternoon — a line taken from a poem about the working-class Seattle neighborhood of White Center.

    That music takes two of Horvitz's bands — a chamber-music group called the Gravitas Quartet and an Americana-tinged outfit called Sweeter That The Day — and melds them into a larger ensemble. Jazz Night In America recently went to the Earshot Jazz Festival in Seattle to catch a performance of this music, and to learn how exactly the poet triggered the pianist.

    Personnel

    Wayne Horvitz, piano; Ron Miles, cornet; Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon; Peggy Lee, cello; Tim Young, guitar; Keith Lowe, bass; Eric Eagle, drums.

    Copyright 2015 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/series/347139849/jazz-night-in-america.

  • Hendrix On A Horn: The World Of Robin Eubanks

    November 28, 2015. Posted by WBGO.

    There have been plenty of distinctions in Robin Eubanks' career. The award-winning musician, composer and educator has played with Stevie Wonder, Elvin Jones and Art Blakey; he's appeared on The Tonight Show, Saturday Night Live, the Grammys. He even plays electric trombone — the result of years of listening to rock and funk music and wanting to get in on the action.

    "I was a guest soloist with a band in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the sax player had a mic clipped on his bell," Eubanks explains. "During the intermission, I asked him if I could clip it on my bell. I plugged it into the guitar player's rig, and all kinds of bells and whistles went off in my head. I said, 'This is it.'"

    But for all his accolades and experiments, there's something Eubanks hasn't tried until now. His latest album, More Than Meets the Ear, is a collection of big-band arrangements.

    "It just offers so many possibilities, 'cause within a big band, you have solo, duo, trio — you have all the different combinations of small groups," he says. "Of course, it's like three times the size of a quintet, or more, so there's a lot more overhead. It's a challenging thing. ... But I just love the sound."

    Robin Eubanks spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about the making of More Than Meets the Ear and channeling his love of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin into jazz. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.

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

  • An Artist Grows Into His Talent: Revisiting Sinatra's Radio Years

    November 25, 2015. Posted by WBGO.

    Nancy Sinatra has said some of her best childhood memories are of listening to her father over the air. His radio shows, from the beginning of his career through the 1950s, brought him home in her mind while he was away singing in clubs and ballrooms. For the rest of the nation, however, those broadcasts went beyond sentimental: They're what made Frank Sinatra a star.

    In honor of Sinatra's 100th birthday next month, those rare radio appearances are now out in a box set entitled Frank Sinatra: A Voice on Air (1935-1955). NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg spoke with the set's producer to find out what it reveals about an artist growing into his talent — beginning with the days well before the screaming teenagers and the buttercream voice. Hear her report at the audio link.

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

  • Remembering Cynthia Robinson, Co-Founder Of Sly & The Family Stone

    November 24, 2015. Posted by WBGO.

    image
    Jerry Martini and Cynthia Robinson from The Family Stone performing in 2011. Robinson died Monday at age 69. (Image Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

    Groundbreaking trumpeter and singer Cynthia Robinson, a co-founder of the pivotal funk band Sly & The Family Stone, died Monday night at age 69. Her death was confirmed by her bandmate and friend Jerry Martini, another co-founder of the Family Stone.

    In October, Robinson disclosed that she was suffering from cancer, in an online fundraiser launched to help defray her medical bills.

    Robinson was an integral member of The Family Stone. It's her voice that urges fans to "Dance to the Music," and her horn that
    blazed through the band's sets, from hits like "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" to lesser-known gems like "Underdog."

    In a 2013 profile aired on Morning Edition, Robinson said that Sly Stone wanted the band to be a galvanizing social force. "He made things very simple: to stand for what you believe in," she said. "He knew how to touch upon subjects that meant something to masses of people."

    Born in 1946, Robinson joined Stone's band in 1966 — in an era when being a female trumpet player, and an African-American trumpeter in a major band, was a singular achievement. In an undated interview with WBGH, Robinson said that while she was growing up, other kids gave her a hard time about playing her instrument: "It left me with the impression that, you know, no guy in the world would let a girl play the trumpet in his group."

    Robinson had two daughters, Laura Marie and Sylvette Phunne Stone, the latter with Sly Stone. This July, Robinson and her daughter Phunne released the single "Do Yo Dance" with the Family Stone.

    After Sly Stone & The Family Band dispersed in the late 1970s (partly due to Stone's drug abuse), Robinson and bandmates including saxophonist Jerry Martini continued to play together as The Family Stone. Robinson also played with such artists as Prince and George Clinton's Funkadelic.

    In 1993, Sly and the Family Stone were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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

  • Sabertooth, Or The 23-Year Midnight Gig

    November 19, 2015. Posted by WBGO.

    In Chicago, one band holds down a midnight-to-5 a.m. gig on Saturday nights — or, technically, on Sunday mornings. It's a time slot which seems challenging enough to do once or twice. These guys have been doing it for 23 years.

    Sabertooth is a quirky band, currently an organ quartet led by saxophonists Pat Mallinger and Cameron Pfiffner. It swings hard (and a little off-kilter), mixing favorite standards and a repertoire of cleverly arranged tunes. Every week, Mallinger and Pfiffner play for curious newcomers, rowdy drunks, hardcore fans and musicians coming off their own gigs.

    "It's an after-hours jazz party," Mallinger says. "That's what it's labeled. ... It's not your average jazz gig."

    It all happens in a club called the Green Mill, which doesn't look to have changed much since its days as a Prohibition-era speakeasy. Inside, it seems a bit like a place removed from time — especially if you get to see the basement and the escape tunnels into which it leads.

    Here, Jazz Night In America follows Pat Mallinger and Cameron Pfiffner to the Green Mill, then stays up all night with Sabertooth.

    Personnel

    Pat Mallinger, saxophones; Cameron Pfiffner, saxophone and flute; Pete Benson, organ; Ted Sirota, drums.

    Copyright 2015 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/series/347139849/jazz-night-in-america.