Celebrate historic dates in the music

WBGO Celebrates 100 Years of Robert Johnson

robertjohnsonMay 8th, 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of Robert Johnson's birth. According to legend, Johnson met the Devil at the crossroads of Routes 61 and 49, and promised him his soul in exchange for supernatural abilities on the guitar. The Devil got the best of him, though--during his lifetime, Johnson never did achieve fame outside the Mississippi Delta. Yet 100 years later, Robert Johnson's name is virtually synonymous with the blues. In a cruel twist of fate, his publishers, who own the rights to the 29 songs he recorded during his lifetime, have since earned millions of dollars re-releasing his material. The moral of the story, of course, is that the Devil is evil (except for the D).

Take a listen to today's very special Blues Hour, which features Gary Walker, Bob Porter, and Michael Bourne discussing the life, legacy, and mythology of Robert Johnson.

Mary Lou Williams Centennial Celebrations Rise Again!

Mary Lou Williams Centennial CelebrationI'm just back from the Mary Lou Williams Centennial Celebration in Madison, WI (where I lived from 1969-82). Mary Lou was briefly an Artist-in-Residence at UW Madison in 1976. Meeting/interviewing her then and immersing myself in her residency put me on my track. Thirty-some years later, it was my honor to participate in this celebration. Madison, by the way, remains one of the all-time hospitable cities - centered on an isthmus between two beautiful lakes - and the home of a dedicated jazz community.

From Fri through Sun, Howard Landsman and his committee hosted events around town, featuring the UW Hiphop Ensemble, The Music of Mary Lou Wms from 1929-78 presented by her mgr and the Director of the MLW Foundation - Fr Peter O'Brien, and a symposium with Profs Sherrie Tucker, Guy Ramsey, Ted Buehrer and Farrah Griffin. Both MLW biographers - Linda Dahl and Dr. Tammy Kernodle - were in town. On Saturday night at the Capitol Theater, the MLW Collective featuring Madison Poet Laureate Fabu, the magnificent Geri Allen on piano, Kenny Davis on bass, Kassa Overall (the nephew of the current WI Gov and his wife!) on drums, and guest vocalist Carmen Lundy. Everyone was great and all hail Geri. In the first half they presented MLW's Zodiac Suite from the 1940s, but what I loved most was "Peter's Blues" in the second half, animated by Geri's elbows.

On Sunday morning 8am at Mt Zion Baptist Church, the awesome Leotha Stanley (a committee member) conducted Mary Lou's Mass - a Catholic mass in a Baptist church. After briefly noting that slight mismatch, Stanley launched the choir into an excellent performance, not one bit less stunning than the celebratory May 2010 pfmnces at St. Francis Xavier in Greenwich Village and The Kennedy Center. WOW. Carmen Lundy's singing of the Lazarus story makes time stop for me. Professor George Shirley from the U of MI was the baritone soloist. Sitting in the balcony of this med sized, straightforward sanctuary and facing the choir and a single, modern stained glass window behind it, I had a slightly elevated perspective and felt the joy rising.

Prof Jimmy Cheatham of the UW Experimental Black Music Ensemble (1972-77) brought MLW to campus in '76. He has passed away, but his wife Jeannie Cheatham came from San Diego to enjoy and be honored by the City of Madison. On Sat night, some of the musicians (older now, like me) gathered to jam in Jimmy and Jeannie's honor. (That link leads you to the Jimmy & Jeannie Cheatham Collection, now online from the Marr Sound Archive at  Univ of Missouri in Kansas City.) It was small with a lot of love. You could not ask for more.

Today is the 100th anniv of Milt Hinton's birth .. we celebrated his 80th

Clark Terry was an MC. Ray Brown was the lead-off bass player, with youngster John Clayton. Sylvia Sims sang. Joe Williams sang. Doc Cheatham played duets with newcomer Wynton Marsalis. NY Mayor Dinkins sent a proclamation that June 23, 1990, was "Milt Hinton Day." A choir of first-call bassists canceled whatever to come together and celebrate.

Bassists, from left: Lynn Seaton, Lonnie Plaxico, Charnett Moffit, Jack Lesberg, Bob Haggart, Milt Hinton, John Clayton, Eddie Gomez, Dick Hyman, Richard David, Bill Crow, Major Holley, Ron Carter and Rufus Reid perform "The Judge Meets the Section" at MH 80th Birthday Concert at Town Hall on June 23, 1990.  Photo by Tad Hershorn
Bassists, from left: Lynn Seaton, Lonnie Plaxico, Charnett Moffett, Jack Lesberg, Bob Haggart, Milt Hinton, John Clayton, Eddie Gomez, Richard Davis, Bill Crow, Major Holley, Ron Carter and Rufus Reid perform at the MH 80th Birthday Concert at Town Hall on June 23, 1990. Photo by Tad Hershorn

As host Michael Bourne noted on the two-hour broadcast, the young-at-heart elder statesman had played on more than 600 albums. He and wife Mona Hinton were loved. Milt closed the concert with some solo slap bass, then honored a request to sing "Old Man Time." Dick Hyman on piano, Bob Rosengarden on drums. Please listen.

Tony Bennett helps Michael Bourne Celebrate 25 years at WBGO

Tony Bennett stopped by for a visit with Afternoon Jazz and Singers Unlimited Host Michael Bourne. The two are good friends that share a long history. Listen to the full interview here:

Michael Bourne's Desert Island Blues Hour

Michael Bourne celebrated the blues hour on his 25th Anniversary by selecting his Desert Island Blues tunes. Here are his selections:

1  Little Milton -- A Nickel and A Nail
2  Paul Butterfield -- Born In Chicago
3  Howlin’ Wolf – Smokestack Lightnin’
4  Sugar Blue – Back Door Man
5  Rico McFarland – Blues Falling Down Like Rain
6  Johnny Adams – Blinded By Love
7  Muddy Waters – Got My Mojo Workin’
8  Susan Tedeschi – Rock Me Right
9  Curtis Salgado – 20 Years of BB King
10  BB Bking – Into The Night
11  BB King & Bobby Bland – That’s The Way Love Is
12  Taj Mahal – The Diving Duck Blues
13  Max Weinberg – Jam Up

What are your Desert Island Blues selections? Let us know in the comments!

Michael Bourne celebrates 25 years with Hilary Kole

Twenty five years ago today, Michael Bourne did his first shift at WBGO, filling in for Rhonda Hamilton on New Year's Eve. Today he invited vocalist Hilary Kole to join him in celebrating. View photos and listen to the show below.

30th anniv of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Tuesday night, Dizzy's at Jazz @ Lincoln Center was packed, and pianists spottable in all directions. With one long break, the celebration ran past midnight. Marian listened from her dressing room as Bill Charlap opened with “While We’re Young,” a tip of the hat to her long friendship with composer Alec Wilder, who hosted the forerunner of Marian’s celebrated series, Piano Jazz. Bill made that melody sing. He’s with the Blue Note 7 at Birdland for the rest of the week. Be there.

Renee Rosnes joined Bill – they were married at Dizzy’s – for the first two-piano presentation of the night. Fun! Then Renee continued with “Chelsea Bridge” (Strayhorn) – love the harmony. Grady Tate sang two with pianist John Di Martino. JoAnne Brackeen stepped up to play her own composition, then Taylor Eigsti put her feet to the fire on a two-piano “Giant Steps.” I really enjoyed that duo, am sure it was their first time together. Marian played “Easy to Remember (and so hard to forget),” and she seemed in synch with every note. Karrin Allyson sang “Twilight Time” with Marian, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, just right.

The Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller two-piano closer was the apotheosis of the evening. <!--more-->It was the return of the Bradley’s aesthetic (long-running New York piano bar) but with the gloss and glass window-wall of Dizzy’s to class and clatter it up. Who’s playing what? I couldn’t separate the two. I came to New York in 1984 to hear jazz piano, and this in-command style is the top of the heap. Pure joy.

The era of the dominance of the Detroit pianists (Hank Jones, Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, Sir Roland Hanna) is over, but Kenny and Mulgrew are related to that style. I once asked Bill Charlap, what is it that the Detroit pianists were doing? I loved them as pianists and as people, but didn’t have the analysis. Bill’s answer was something like “extending Bud Powell,” and there is a lot to think about in that answer.

Set two featured Dena DeRose, who scatted and played “East of the Sun.” The woman next to me said “her scat matches her hair” (spiky), a good observation. Darryl Sherman played one for Dave McKenna and one for Blossom Dearie, two of Marian’s most “quirky” (as Darryl put it) guests. Cedar Walton played two Strayhorn pieces – so incisive. Cyrus Chestnut softened the tone (Cyrus later told me Betty Carter had taught him the value of contrast) with a quiet “Blame It on My Youth.”  Arturo O’Farrill played a composition for his wife, a pianist (“isn’t everyone?”), and then a ringing “Siboney” by Ernest Lecuona. The Cuban connection.

John Bunch started the day before 10am playing Benny Goodman small group music in the WBGO performance studio, and he was closing down Dizzy’s last night. John’s only a few years younger than Marian, so their choice of “Don’t Get Around Much Any More” was funny. Geri Allen played an extravagant and abstract beauty that contained kernels of “Just One of Those Things.” Randy Weston played a request from Marian – his waltz, “Little Niles.” He took it apart thoughtfully. By now it felt as though the pianists were playing straight from the heart. Instead of music, I was hearing souls. As MC Todd Barkan said, Marian is one of the best souls in jazz. Producer Shari Hutchinson and her assistant David Lyon booked a fantastic show, and Duke Markos recorded it for later editions of Piano Jazz, so stay with WBGO and you’ll hear it in the season to come. Thank you, Ms. McPartland. Congratulations.

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz turns 30

Marian McPartland
Since April 1979, legendary pianist Marian McPartland has welcomed a stellar line-up of jazz artists for one hour of conversation and improvisation on her Peabody Award-winning program. Each week, McPartland, with her engaging personality and improvisational savvy, hosts a variety of performers in her radio living room. You can hear Piano Jazz on WBGO Thursdays at 6:30pm.

Like WBGO, Piano Jazz is turning 30 this April. To celebrate the anniversary, Ms. McPartland returns to Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola on April 14th. "The Grande Dame of Jazz" will be joined by some of the music world's most radiant performers. Musical guests will include Kenny Barron, Joanne Brackeen, Bill Charlap, Cyrus Chestnut, Kurt Elling, Mulgrew Miller, Arturo O'Farrill, and Randy Weston.  That's the short list.

Additionally, Marian McPartland will be honored with a lifetime achievement award from the "Worshipful Company of Musicians" of England during the evening's festivities. The award will be presented by fellow "WM of M" honoree, pianist John Escreet. For more information, check out
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For event information, visit Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola

Marian McPartland's PIANO JAZZ website

Dr. King 40 Years Later



Today marks 40 years since one of the greatest civil rights leaders and humanitarians was gunned down and taken away from us.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot on the balcony of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a march of sanitation workers protesting against low wages and poor working conditions.

I wasn't even born when Dr. King was assassinated, but I can only imagine the heartbreak that people felt upon first getting that worst piece of news.
It breaks my heart to think about it as I write this post. Time flies, and many people I talk to can hardly believe its been 40 years.

For me, it's important to really think about and help others to realize that King was not a man who was a dreamer as the media loves to portray. Yes, he was a man of unparalleled vision, and hope. But he was also a leader through action, and the hardest of hard workers. I would ask that on this day, you would read or listen to Dr. King speak about opposition to war, or why it is important to vote, for example. Not only was he ahead of his time but he is timeless. Take the time to really dig into King - the man, not just the dream.

It was 20 years ago today ...

As we roll into the meat of the primary season, I was overtaken by a sense of nostalgia for the bygone day when one journalist (Dan Rather) inserted himself into the 1988 presidential primary by going mano a mano with the leading Republican candidate (George H. W. Bush).


It was on this date two decades ago that this TV confrontation between Rather and Bush over the Iran/Contra scandal (and what G.W. knew or didn't know about it) became part of presidential political lore, and perhaps got George W. thinking about how he could pay Dan-O back, which he kinda did now that I think of it. (see Rather's report on the president's Vietnam service and the fallout thereafter.) It seems tame when compared to today's shock jock aesthetic, but it still probably makes the current George Bush mad as hell. Enjoy! - David Cruz