Stream of WBGO/Yamaha Concert Series to feature Dayramir Gonzalez
On Thursday, November 3, WBGO presented a streamed concert by the Cuban jazz pianist Dayramir Gonzalez, who performed a set at the Yamaha Studios in New York City, as part of the Yamaha Concert Series, now in its seventh season. Gonzalez was joined by Dean Torrey (bass), Juan Chiavassa (drums) and Keisel Jimenez (percussion), a band that won the DC JazzPrix Competition in 2021. The event was hosted by WBGO's own Bobby Sanabria.
Bonnie Barrett, director of Yamaha Artist Services New York, says that the series, now in its seventh year, originated organically out of her professional friendship with John Newcott of WBGO. Both were longtime colleagues in the record industry, John with PolyGram and Bonnie with Columbia, BMG and other labels. “We had very parallel careers in the record business so he’s somebody that I have known and admired for many years,” she explains. “We set up a meeting in New York and the team from WBGO came by the Yamaha space and we just kind of started brainstorming about ways that we might be able to forge a closer collaboration together. It just seemed like a natural fit to be able to use our space in midtown Manhattan to further the reach of both Yamaha and WBGO. Since their headquarters are in Newark, having access to our space there gave the station a nice footprint in Manhattan. And with the commitment we have to artists and to the jazz community, it made a lot of sense because there’s a lot of synergy.”
Although Barrett says that the series has been a great opportunity for Yamaha to highlight its artists, brand and space, the performers in the series are not exclusively Yamaha artists. “We decided from the beginning that we wanted to keep this sort of an equal opportunity option [in order] to include as many artists as we possible could,” she says. “I would say that the majority of the events we’ve produced have involved Yamaha artists. But that’s not a prerequisite. We don’t limit it that way at all. And it’s actually been oftentimes very advantageous for us in a way because we may then work with an artist who we might never have worked with before or an artist who’s not necessarily familiar with Yamaha instruments and resources. All of a sudden they’re coming into our space and they get a sense of our commitment to excellence with our instruments and basically with our resources.”
Barrett is careful to point out that the space used for the series is not a public performance space. “It’s an artist's studio more than anything where artists can come in and really explore their craft and their art form,” Barrett says. “They can rehearse, they can record, they can experiment…really take time to hone and develop their own unique voice.”
Barrett says that at the beginning, the concerts were live broadcasts, though that later morphed into a taped performance. But they’ve always had a live audience, which she considers an essential component of the production. “Inviting that live audience, a fairly small audience of 50-60 people, it becomes like an exclusive behind-the-scenes experience that one wouldn’t normally have in other kinds of venues. It’s an informal and intimate experience.”
The very first performance featured Billy Childs doing material from his album, Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro, that would go on to win a Grammy for his arrangements. Handling the vocals in that concert were Becca Stevens and Alicia Olatuja. The second concert featured Paquito D’Rivera reading from his book Letters to Yayito and performing in a duo with pianist Alex Brown. The series started as a quarterly event, but eventually progressed to 5-6 per year.
Given that the series has presented more than 100 artists in 24 concerts, it’s understandable that Barrett would have difficulty picking out a favorite. “I think perhaps one of the most bittersweet was our tribute to Chick Corea,” she recalls. “His passing during the pandemic was so shocking to all of us and the very last recording that he made was at our Yamaha studios was Eliane Elias. So it was fitting and appropriate that the first event that we did together with WBGO right after the pandemic lifted last year was the tribute to Chick Corea. We had videotaped tributes from Makoto Ozone and Hiromi. Then we had Eliane in the studio that evening because she had been so closely associated with Chick for many years. That one was especially memorable.”
She also has fond memories of the tribute they did to Oscar Peterson which utilized their Bosendorfer piano, because of his lifelong devotion to that instrument. Celebrating the pianist’s 90th birthday were Bill Charlap, Justin Kauflin and Renee Rosnes, with Oscar’s widow Kelly Peterson in attendance. Erroll Garner was the subject of another tribute, which included performances by pianists Christian Sands, Michael Wolff and Andy Milne, along with a multi-media presentation by Susan Rosenberg of The Erroll Garner Jazz Project.
As the series’ host for the first four years, the late Michael Bourne had an important role in its success. “It really was an honor for us to have Michael Bourne be the host,” explains Barrett. “He just had the perfect elegance and the knowledge and respect that he brought just gave the series amazing credibility and legitimacy. He helped us put it on the map so that was really special. Without any prompting from any of us at Yamaha, Michael was always complimentary on air about how beautiful our instruments sound. So we were always grateful and appreciative of his involvement and his input and his grace.” On Wednesday, December 14 at an exclusive by-invitation-only event at the Yamaha Studios, multiple vocal artists (led by Bourne’s longtime friend Janis Siegel) and WBGO hosts will pay tribute to Bourne in a special “Singers Unlimited” presentation. This event will be captured on video & audio and shared with all WBGO listeners a week to 10 days after the session.
“We choose amazingly talented, innovative artists and I think both John and I have endeavored to curate a variety of programming to make each experience very unique and very different,” Barrett says. “Sometimes we kind of laugh because we think, ‘Oh my gosh, how are we going to top what we did last time?’ And yet, somehow, I think just because of the amazing talent and innovation of the artists that we’re so privileged to work with, we’re able to come up with something unique every single time. From the beginning it has felt like such a natural fit and pleasure working with John and the team at WBGO. A wonderful collaboration [of] kindred spirits. It’s been a joy... something in my long professional career that I’m particularly proud of and I look forward to continuing this collaboration and many more wonderful evenings together at Yamaha in New York and elsewhere.”