WBGO Blog
  • Al Foster Quartet: Live at the Village Vanguard

    May 21, 2008. Posted by WBGO.

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    Al Foster performing live at the Village Vanguard. (Image Credit: John Rogers for NPR/johnrogersnyc.com)

    Master percussionist Al Foster, longtime drummer for Miles Davis, brought his own quartet to New York's legendary Village Vanguard, for a performance broadcast live on air by WBGO and online at NPR Music.

    To start the second night of a week-long residency at the West Village club, Foster called a mix of trusted jazz classics and savory, groove-happy originals. The quartet opened and closed with tunes penned by Foster's former employer Miles Davis, spinning a cymbal-happy take on the famous "So What" and ending with an acoustic version of "Jean Pierre," which Foster recorded with Davis live in 1981. In all, it was an affair decidedly more hard-bop-oriented than the electric funk that Foster created with Miles, but one no less full of subtly masterful performances from all hands on deck.

    Raised in New York, Foster was only 19 when he made his first recording, backing trumpeter Blue Mitchell on the classic Blue Note LP The Thing To Do. Foster soon became a "first call" drummer for many of jazz's leading lights, playing with musicians like Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk.

    Foster got his biggest break while playing a date at the Cellar Club on 95th Street in Manhattan. Miles Davis was in the crowd that night, and was awed enough to hire him on the spot: "[Foster] knocked me out because he had such a groove and he would just lay it right in there," Davis wrote in his autobiography. "That was the kind of thing I was looking for. Al could set it up for everybody else to play off and just keep the groove going forever." Davis would count Al Foster as his drummer for 20 years — spanning the trumpeter's wildest electric experiments — and as a friend for life.

    Foster's own group included bassist Doug Weiss, who has served as Foster's "straw boss" since 1996; saxophonist Eli DeGibri, who joined the quartet in 1998 after a stint with Herbie Hancock, and the newest member Gary Versace, whose skills on organ, keyboard, accordion and acoustic piano make him one of the most in-demand sidemen in New York.

    The quartet headlined a live webcast of WBGO and NPR Music's concert series from the Village Vanguard. For Foster, it also marks a return to the storied club where he recorded with saxophonist Joe Henderson, with pianist McCoy Tyner, and recently with his own group on the new Love, Peace and Jazz. "That's all we need to get along," he says.

  • Ben Sidran & Mike Mainieri Talking Jazz

    May 20, 2008. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    Add new comment | Filed under: Jazz Alive

    Why had I never heard Mike Mainieri up close? What a pleasure to finally do so! At Jazz Standard last night, the New York vibist joined Ben Sidran & his trio, and the music & talk were totally absorbing. In the first set, we learned that boy-Mainieri's mom went to work to buy him a set of vibes, boy-wonder-Mainieri worked with Paul Whiteman, youth-Mainieri joined legendary Buddy Rich. They spent three weeks in Kabul (JFK's State Dept sponsored this), then went on to India, where Rich split suddenly, leaving behind his drums and young band behind to finish the tour. Years later, in the US, an Indian man came up to Mainieri and said "I was living in New Delhi, and I knew you were not Buddy Rich." Ben is truly onto something, to feature his peers and those slightly ahead of him telling stories that -- up til now -- Ben has enjoyed privately. I love this format. Thank you! Come back soon!! By the way, Ben says Talking Jazz is radio, narrowcasting to the room. I hope he can extend its reach.

  • Studio Session - Berklee Blue Note Ensemble

    May 20, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    Berklee Blue Note Ensemble

    Whenever you hear young performers from Berklee College of Music, you are hearing the future of music. WBGO presented the Berklee Blue Note Ensemble on Midday Jazz today. For a decade, Berklee students with strong jazz creds make an annual trek to the Blue Note in Note in New York. Bill Pierce has been a Berklee faculty member for more than three decades. He directs the student ensemble. They are:

    Melissa Aldana - saxophone (Santiago, Chile)
    Jeonglim Yang - bass (South Korea)
    Michael Palma - piano (Dallas, Texas)
    Dan Pugach - drums (Raanana, Israel)
    Jeremy Sinclair - trumpet (Dallas, Texas)
    Nadia Washington - vocals (Dallas, Texas)

    Listen to the session. Remember the names.
    -Josh

  • Al Foster Interview

    May 20, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    Al Foster at the Village Vanguard

    I was pleasantly surprised that this interview actually happened, but I know
    all to well that persistence pays off in the long run. I say this because Al
    Foster
    is famously dodgy about giving interviews to press. Probably because
    everyone in the world wants to know about Al's relationship with Miles Davis.
    Sure, he played with Miles for more than a decade, and was a dear friend, even
    during Davis' self-imposed exile from the music scene in the late 1970s. Get
    beyond that, and you realize that Al Foster has had an extraordinary musical
    life. In this interview, Foster talks about growing up in Harlem, where he met
    many of the legendary jazz musicians who shaped his career. And Miles too.
    But did you know that Al Foster raised four daughters as a single father? One
    more reason this guy deserves a medal. At the end of it all, you start to realize
    why so many people regard Al Foster as one of the great messengers of our music.
    -Josh

    The Al Foster Quartet plays the Village Vanguard this week. You can hear them
    live on WBGO, tomorrow night at 9. I'll be your host. Stay tuned.

  • Vibraphonist Walt Dickerson 4/16/28-5/15/08

    May 18, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    Walt Dickerson

    Sad news to report. On May 15th, vibraphonist Walt Dickerson died of cardiac arrest at his home in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. He was 80. Walt made a string of amazing records in the 1960s for Prestige that rarely receive much notice beyond the realm of the hardcore jazz fan. I highly recommend them - This is Walt Dickerson, A Sense of Direction, Relativity, and my favorite, To My Queen - a quartet date with bassist George Tucker, drummer Andrew Cyrille and pianist Andrew Hill. Walt also cut some stuff for SteepleChase Records, and he collaborated with Sun Ra. They made a few intriguing records together, including Impressions of a Patch of Blue, based on Jerry Goldsmith's music for the Academy Award winning film starring Sidney Poitier and Shelley Winters (you MUST watch this movie). Walt's music is not so easy to find, but very much worth the effort. He will be missed.

    -Josh