WBGO Blog
  • Jazz Lives At Duke Ellington's Resting Place

    July 2, 2015

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    Members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra play an Exquisite Corpse at Woodlawn Cemetery as part of Make Music New York on June 21, 2015. (Image Credit: Polina Yamshchikov/NPR)

    Each June 21, the one-day Make Music New York festival (MMNY) celebrates not just sound but community. It's a summer solstice gathering of the tribes for music makers and music lovers alike, with more than 1200 outdoor concerts across the five boroughs running from morning till night.

    For the 2015 edition, the festival's organizers invited musicians to six different burial grounds across the city to riff on the idea of "exquisite corpse," a surrealist parlor game popularized by artists and poets in the 1920s. In the game, someone writes a phrase (or draws part of a figure or scene), folds that part of the page over, and then passes it to the next player, who then does the same. The game ends when everyone has had a turn. That game is a natural bridge to the art of improvisation, and to jazz.

    The idea of community was very much on the mind of a group of musicians who play regularly at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, one of the venues within Jazz at Lincoln Center, when they gathered at Woodlawn Cemetery for this year's edition of MMNY for their own spin on the exquisite corpse idea.

    Woodlawn Cemetery is a mecca for the jazz world — it's the final resting ground of royalty like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and many others, including Ornette Coleman now as well. So as a tribute to their musical forerunners, the group — singers Michael Mwenso and Vuyo Sotashe, trumpeters Alphonso Horne and Bruce Harris, saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, pianist Chris Pattishall, bassist Russell Hall, drummer Evan Sherman and tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman — took as their point of departure W.C. Handy's 1914 tune "St. Louis Blues," a tune essential to jazz's DNA. But they made it their own via surprising and turns that saunter through many textures, colors and rhythms.

    Handy himself is buried at Woodlawn. This community remembers its roots, and continues to thrive — on this summer afternoon under the shade of Ellington's adopted tree.

    Set List

    • "St. Louis Blues" (Handy)

    Credits

    Producers: Colin Marshall, Anastasia Tsioulcas; Videographers: Colin Marshall, Chris Parks, Adam Wolffbrandt; Audio Engineers: Brian Jarboe, Drew Sher; Audio Mix: Neil Tevault; Special Thanks: Jazz at Lincoln Center, Make Music New York, Woodlawn Conservancy; Funded in part by: The Argus Fund, Doris Duke Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Wyncote Foundation; Executive Producer: Anya Grundmann

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

  • Montreal Jazzfest 2015, Day 5

    July 1, 2015. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Add new comment | Filed under: FIJM, FIJM 2015

    A Montreal Jazzfest Haiku:

    Sun breaks through the clouds
    Fountains gush at the jazzfest
    Kids dance in the street

    Place des Arts is the biggest performing arts center in Canada, and, like the jazz festival, gets bigger every year.   Also better.

    credit: Benoit Rousseau
    credit: Benoit Rousseau

    They've not only terraformed a street, a hill, and empty buildings into the Quartier des Spectacles and year-round Maison du Festival, they're now reconstructing the abandoned buildings next to the jazzfest "house" into what will be centers as impressive for film and ballet.  I'm architecturally amazed how they somehow squeezed an enormous Symphonic Hall where there used to be festival eats and a playland for kids.  And at the center of Place des Arts, although mostly seen from above, there's also a massive rebuilding on the roof over the promenade to the halls and shops below.  Don't know what that's for.

    Along with the landscaping and streetwork, installing the fountains and erecting the light poles, two very nice restaurants were opened in the Quartier des Spectacles, one French, one Portuguese.  I opted for the latter's lunch, the cholesterol special, steak with a fried egg on top.

    Folks everywhere in red, white, and blue ... shorts, shirts, sneakers, make-up.   Especially on young women.  So much is happening in Montreal, jazzfest, clownfest, I didn't realize the Women's World Cup was being played at The Big O, the erstwhile Olympic stadium that became the Expos baseball stadium where today Germany and the US are playing  futbol. I've been where the jazzfests (and entire cities) have shut down for the final game.  Istanbul.  Vienna.  Perugia.   I've been in Montreal when the final game was being played.  However loud was the music around Place des Arts, the honking and hooting of soccer fans driving around was louder.  Today, not as much soccer noise for the women as for the men many times -- even though the American women beat Germany.

    Drizzle continues at FIJM/credit: Victor Diaz Lamich
    Drizzle continues at FIJM/credit: Victor Diaz Lamich

    Drizzle came again, and we wetly judged a couple of bands.  Between the judgings, Kurt Rosenwinkel was playing solo at the Gesu.  Solo but technologically surrounded.  A computer.  A synthesizer.  A footbank of doohickeys amplifying, echoing, playing an electronic beat.  All, again, playing melodies going every which way.

    I wondered if the heavier rain might shut down the Grande Evenement tonight: the folk-ish, classical-ish, jazz-ish, pop-ish Barr Brothers.  I was indoors anyway for a farewell to the festival.  Vic Vogel is an icon of Canadian jazz, as a composer, as a pianist, as a big band leader, and as a beloved-but-grouchy character.  He's the only musician who's played FIJM year after year from the jump, and, at 80, tonight's concert was to be his last with his band.  Sadly, he was too sick to be on stage at the Maisonneuve.  Happily, he was videotaped welcoming everyone and introducing his band.

    Vic Vogel tribute concert/credit: Benoit Rousseau
    Vic Vogel tribute concert/credit: Benoit Rousseau

    I first encountered Vic Vogel twenty years ago when the Jazz Journalists Association gathered in Montreal for a conference during the jazzfest.  Vic came in and grumped at all of us, wanting to know why we American critics don't write much (if at all) about Canadian musicians.   We didn't have an answer, but we deserved his wrath.  Most of us didn't know who he was -- or, really, much at all about jazz above the 49th parallel.  I got to hear his band during the festival's 25th anniversary.  Some of us, along with governmental movers and shakers, were boated to an island in the river.  There, in a concrete arena leftover from the Olympics decades ago, Vogel's band swung heartily.   I've heard him since through the years and especially remember a concert when he celebrated Dizzy.

    Some of the cats have played with Vogel for many years, including two of his best soloists, alto saxist Dave Turner and tenor saxist Andre Leroux.   Filling in for Vogel was a who's who of Montreal piano, including Lorraine Desmarais and Oliver Jones.  Together, they played highlights from Vogel's bandbook, including several of his arrangements of jazz classics -- "Con Alma," "Strollin'," "Giant Steps"  -- and a ferocious "Georgia on My Mind" with blues singer Martin Deschamps.

    The Barr Brothers/credit: Victor Diaz Lamich
    The Barr Brothers/credit: Victor Diaz Lamich

    Rain was done when I came out.   A harpist (from the Barr Brothers) was loudly plucking.   I walked back to the Gesu for an exquisite concert of accordionist Richard Galliano and guitarist Sylvain Luc playing songs of Edith Piaf.  I could almost hear the hearts of all the folks who'd grown up loving Piaf's records.  And at the last, they heartfully sang-along.

  • Jimmy Greene Remembers A 'Beautiful Life'

    June 30, 2015

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    Jimmy Greene. (Image Credit: Jimmy Katz/Courtesy of the artist)

    Saxophonist Jimmy Greene's newest album, Beautiful Life, is dedicated to the memory of his 6-year-old daughter. Ana Márquez-Greene was killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Greene paid tribute to his daughter by composing and arranging a genre-spanning album to reflect the way she lived. A portion of the proceeds of the album will go to selected charities and a scholarship in Ana's name.

    Jazz Night in America captured Greene's quartet presenting this music live at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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