WBGO Blog
  • Toots Thielemans Hangs Up His Harp

    March 18, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    NEA Jazz Master Toots Thielemans, who turns 92 in April, has decided it's time to retire. After seven decades, the harmonica player and composer of "Bluesette" - who is also a master whistler -  has decided to hang up his harp, at least on the concert stage,  his website says.

    Toots has been a soulful and constant companion to jazz lovers lover over the years, with an unquenchable reserve of musical talent and enthusiasm. He has been frequently featured on WBGO and NPR, as in March, 2011, when we recorded him for JazzSet at the Kennedy Center.

    Listen to Toots' JazzSet here

    After that, he was scheduled to perform at New York's Blue Note, but canceled some of those shows, citing fatigue.

    A year later in May of 2012, Toots was back: he made an multi-city tour of his home country, Belgium, to celebrate his 90th birthday.

    WBGO's Becca Pulliam was lucky enough to visit Dinant and Brussels to take part in Belgium's celebration of their national treasure.  In the bookstore at the museum of musical instruments, she saw this stack of commemorative books.

    Stack of Toots books

    Back in the US, she wrote this appreciation of The Harmonica-Playing Baron of Belgium and the Toots90 concert in Brussels for NPR's A Blog Supreme:

    ". . . four of Toots' first five tunes were recorded by Miles Davis in a short span: 'On Green Dolphin Street' (1958), 'All Blues' (early 1959), 'I Loves You, Porgy' and 'Summertime' (both 1958, for Porgy and Bess). 'Days of Wine and Roses' was the other number. . . .  [T]hough he's streamlined his playing, 30 years later he still sounds tuneful, optimistic, willing to soar.

    "When [pianist Kenny]Werner and [guitarist Oscar] Castro-Neves came to the stage — excitement! embraces! — they brought shades of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Hollywood as they played 'How High the Moon' (a samba, thanks to Castro-Neves), 'All the Way' (Werner on synthesizer, interpolating 'My Way'), and the theme to Midnight Cowboy, an eight-note melody that circles and haunts. Indeed, Thielemans played it on the soundtrack [to the movie]."

    Toots was back in New York later that year to perform at Jazz At Lincoln Center, with his Brazilian friends Oscar Castro-Neves, Eliane Elias and Dori Caymmi, as well as Herbie Hancock, Kenny Werner, and Marc Johnson.

    The center of attention, the heart of the matter - was this wonderfully resilient, determined, and most musical nonagenarian, Toots Thielemans.

    According to his manager, Toots now - on the cusp of his 92nd birthday - "wants to enjoy the rest he deserves."

    Deserved, indeed, and thank you, Toots!

  • Playdate With Matt Wilson Show #7: 3/18/14

    March 18, 2014. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

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    Playdate #7 delivers The Message! Tonight at 6:30 p.m., host Matt Wilson presents hard bop innovator Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers live at New York City's Jazz Forum, in a vivid broadcast first heard on WBGO in 1983.

    Terence Blanchard and Donald Harrison, Jr. play trumpet and alto on "One by One," written by former Messenger Wayne Shorter. The pianist is Johnny O'Neal, still a must-see these days at New York clubs like Smalls and Smoke.

    Also from the present day, Jazz Forum's proprietor, Mark Morganelli, gives Playdate a succinct, affectionate portrait of his friend Blakey who - Mark recalls - drove a Rolls Royce.

    Morganelli sent us this photo of Mr. Blakey behind Woody Shaw at the Jazz Forum, a loft near Bleecker and Broadway.

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    Born in Pittsburgh in 1919, Art Blakey emerged in the late 1940s playing drums with Thelonious Monk. He formed the Jazz Messengers in the middle 1950s.

    As host and drummer Matt Wilson says, "The Messengers were a jazz school before before there were jazz degrees from conservatories... an on-the-bandstand education."

    Over its thirty-plus years in existence, The Messengers produced more than ninety top-flight musicians, ranging from Wayne Shorter to Johnny Griffin, Wynton Kelly to Keith Jarrett, and Lee Morgan to Wynton Marsalis.

    Coincidentally, also from 1999 in this episode, we hear the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band play an exclusive arrangement of Monk's "Off Minor."

    We note with sadness the passing of drummer Ralph Penland earlier this week in California. Here on Playdate #7, Penland sounds great playing "Sky Dive" in Freddie Hubbard's sextet on New Year's Eve 1990.

    Guest tenor Ernie Watts joins the band, and the late keyboard man George Duke and bassist Stanley Clarke are in the audience at Catalina's for this set, first heard as part of New Year's Eve Coast to Coast, from WBGO and NPR.

    On the air, Freddie notes Penland's extraordinary drumming and says, "It's very seldom in Hollywood that I have a chance to play jazz... I haven't had this much fun for a long time!"

    And that's just to whet your appetite. Want more? Head to WBGO.ORG/PLAYDATE to stream all our shows and enjoy our web extras. Thanks for playing!

  • WBGO Says Farewell To Al Harewood

    March 17, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Add new comment | Filed under: RIP

    WBGO bids farewell to master drummer and friend Al Harewood, who passed away last week at age 90.

    The Brooklyn born-and-raised Harewood played a key role in ensembles with J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Curtis Fuller, Stanley Turrentine, and Lou Donaldson, among others, and can be heard on many Blue Note sessions from the 1950s and 1960s.

    Listen to Harewood's magisterial work with pianist Horace Parlan from the 1961 Blue Note release Up And Down:

    We can say goodbye to Al on Wednesday, Mar. 19th at Brooklyn's St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, 725 Belmont Ave between Elton & Linwood Streets, with viewing from 3 to 6:30 p.m. A musical tribute will be held from 5:45 to 6:30 p.m., followed by open tributes and a Funeral mass at 7 p.m.

    On Thursday, March 20, prayers will be held at St. Barnabas at 9:30 a.m., followed by burial at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Maspeth, New York.

    Farewell, Al, and thank you!

    Photo by Francis Wolff, courtesy of Mosaic Images
    Photo by Francis Wolff, copyright Mosaic Images