• WBGO's Monifa Brown: My Sarah Vaughan

    April 10, 2015. Posted by Monifa Brown.

    Monifa Brown tells us how  Sarah "Sassy" Vaughan first entered her life. Read on!

    When I was a voice student at New York’s LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, I had this dream: I would meet Sarah Vaughan, and she would take me under her wing.

    I would apprentice with one of the greatest voices to ever grace the planet.

    Photo: William P. Gottlieb / LOC
    Photo: William P. Gottlieb / LOC

    Needless to say, that never happened. But to this day, Sarah’s emotive and highly textured, multi-octave contralto can move me to tears - in an instant.

    Her voice is without rival. It is transformational.

    With a single note, Sassy can create a state of euphoria: her spine-tingling vibrato and cascading turns of phrase can nestle you deep inside the bluesy harmonic crevices of a song.

    “Music was my refuge,” Dr. Maya Angelou once said. “I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness."

    I often wondered if she had Sarah Vaughan in mind when she wrote that.

    Here’s Sarah, in her own words: “When I sing, trouble can sit right on my shoulder - and I don't even notice.”

    Photo: William P. Gottlieb / LOC
    Photo: William P. Gottlieb / LOC

    I have always gravitated towards music and musicians that elicit a visceral reaction, or emotional and spiritual awakening. Those are the musicians who transcend their art.

    They are the creative spirits who make you aware that artistry flows through them – it emanates from a higher source.

    For me, 'The Divine One' is such an artist.  Her voice is the perfect balance of yin and yang; it is the ebb and flow of the cerebral and the visceral, the technical and emotional, of restraint and wild abandon. Sassy's instrument is the ultimate voice.

    My parents played all of the great female vocalists when I was coming up. In addition to Sarah, they loved Billie, Nina, Ella, Betty, Abbey and Nancy.

    But there was one particular day when I began to really appreciate what I was experiencing.

    It started on a sunny afternoon in Brooklyn's Clinton Hill section, where I grew up: a few apartments away from John Ore, down the street from Lester Bowie and the Marsalises, and a few blocks away from Oliver Lake.

    I ventured out on a warm Saturday afternoon to rummage through Pratt Institute's Street Fair. I was looking for vintage clothes, so I could make some sort of Denise Huxtable-Gordon Gartrell ensemble.

    Don't laugh - yes, I liked to make my own crazy clothes back in the day!


    What I found was so much more. Somewhere between Dekalb and Willoughby Avenues, buried deep in a milk crate, I found a cassette of a Sarah’s 1954 Emarcy session with Clifford Brown.

    For less than $2, I held in my hand what would spark my lifelong affinity for one of the world's greatest voices.


    I remember spending hours in my room that afternoon listening to that album, again and again.

    In the days and weeks that followed, I was on a crusade to match Sassy’s impeccable and swinging solo on George Shearing's “Lullaby Of Birdland” note for note.

    If you ever happen to hear me playing this track on air, know that as it is pumping through the speakers at WBGO, I am once again trying to scat those brilliant lines.

    As a teenager, just beginning to understand heartache, disappointment and romance, Sarah's honey-drenched delivery of songs like “Jim” - which we hear above - spoke to me.

    The cry in her voice spoke to my soul.

    Sassy's flawless diction, irrepressible sense of swing and the sheer beauty of her instrument were undeniable - unlike anything I had ever heard.

    They are still unlike anything I have ever heard.

    In a word, Divine.

    - Monifa Brown, host of Saturday Afternoon Jazz

    Follow Monifa on Twitter: @globaljazzqueen

  • Singer Molly Johnson on "Because Of Billie": Listen Now

    April 9, 2015. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Singer Molly Johnson talks with Gary Walker about her CD "Because Of Billie" and concerts at New York's Jazz At Lincoln Center which celebrate the centennial of Bilie Holiday. Johnson performs at JALC April 10 and 11. Enjoy!


  • Home Cooking: The Philadelphia Jazz Organ Tradition In Concert

    April 9, 2015

    Sonny Keaton performs during the Home Cooking concert. (Image Credit: WXPN)

    The Hammond electronic organ was developed with churches in mind, as a lower-cost alternative to pipe organs. But in Philadelphia, a keyboard player named Jimmy Smith was inspired by early jazz experiments on the instrument, and found a devastating way to adapt the new bebop style to the Hammond B-3. It seeded a new tradition of organ players in Philadelphia — major figures like "Groove" Holmes, Jimmy McGriff, Papa John and Joey DeFrancesco, and Trudy Pitts — and kickstarted a new sound in jazz at large.

    Jazz Night In America visits Philadelphia for a history lesson and dance party: a tribute to organ masters Smith, Shirley Scott and Charles Earland with six local organists, multiple bands and three guest vocalists. With WXPN, WRTI and the Philadelphia Jazz Project, Jazz Night visits World Cafe Live for a B-3 jam featuring many of the city's finest musicians.

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