Music and culture news

Woodwind Master Bud Shank Dies at 82

Photo: Elizabeth Becker
Elizabeth Becker

Saxophonist and flutist Clifford Everett "Bud" Shank died at his home in Tuscon, Arizona yesterday.  The cause was pulmonary failure.  As a young upstart in the late 1940s, Shank gained prominence as a reed player in both the Charlie Barnet and Stan Kenton big bands.  He was most closely associated with the West Coast jazz scene in its heyday, notably as a member of Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars, where he further developed a cool but evocative alto swing that was his calling card.  Shank also recorded in small chamber jazz ensembles, and is credited as a co-leader on Brazilliance, some of the first sessions of jazz and bossa nova in the United States, long before the cross-cultural pollination became a national phenomenon.

Shank was also a tremendous flutist, though he swore off the instrument later in his career.  Many of his best reed dates were recorded for World Pacific records in the 50s and 60s.  He also cast himself as a solid studio musician in Los Angeles, where he joined other jazz players looking for steady work [you can hear his flute solo on "California Dreamin'" from the Mamas and the Papas]. Shank eventually teamed up with his studio mates - bassist Ray Brown, drummer Jeff Hamilton, and his longtime associate from the Kenton band, guitarist Laurindo Almeida - and formed the popular LA Four band.  In more than six decades of performance, Bud Shank contributed a wide angle shot of improvised music.  He will be missed.

Feel free to share some of your favorite Bud Shank recordings in the comments section.  I love his teamwork with fellow Kenton bandmate Laurindo Almeida on Brazilliance, Shank's work with trumpeter Shorty Rogers, as well as the Improvisations record with sitar master, Ravi Shankar.  And that's just scratching the surface of a very long career.

The Return of Salsa Meets Jazz

Bobby Sanabria
Last month, Salsa Meets Jazz returned to Greenwich Village. The show was held at Le Poisson Rouge, located at the site of the old Village Gate, at Bleecker and Thompson, where Salsa Meets Jazz originated in the 1980's.Bobby Sanabria's nineteen piece juggernaut roared through two sets. The first set included new power arrangements of Latin jazz classics "Manteca" and "Tin Tin Deo." Selections from the band's latest album Big Band Urban Folktales included trombonist Chris Washburne's composition "Pink," which Sanabria described as a song that captures the sights in the city every summer. Trumpet great John Faddis' muscular virtuosity in "Tin Tin Deo" set the bar for the ozone-piercing trumpet work of the four regular section members. The defining rhythms of legendary guest artist, conguero Candido Camero, demonstrated that he continues, at the age of 87, to be a grand master who delights in connecting with the audience. Original Village Gate impresario Art D'Lugoff, who serves as a consultant to Salsa Meets Jazz and other productions, was on hand. WBGO's Awilda Rivera was the host for the evening.

On December 1, Salsa Meets Jazz returns to Le Poisson Rouge. Latin Jazz icon Larry Harlow and his orchestra will be joined by guest artist, the renowned baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber.

Johnny Griffin: April 24, 1928 - July 25, 2008

Saxophonist Johnny Griffin
WBGO bids farewell to Johnny Griffin, a master jazz musician. Many jazz people referred to Griffin as "The Little Giant," no doubt because of his dimunitive stature (he was a shade below 5 and a half feet tall). The consensus, however, was that Griffin's true stature loomed large in the music. Johnny Griffin could easily fall under the category of "hard bop saxophonist," but to do so would be an injustice. When you listen to the raw muscular sound of early Johnny Griffin records, you can hear a combination of saxophone legend Coleman Hawkins, the rough-and-tumble rhythm and blues of Griffin's Chicago hometown, and some definitive gospel wails. It was a big, combustible sound. One that will be missed.

Read the New York Times obit.

If you're looking for good music from Griffin, you have plenty of options.
Some suggestions after the jump.
Blue Note's A Blowin' Session is probably the most popular Griffin recording, due to the appearance of John Coltrane. I'm partial to The Congregation, the second of his three recordings for Blue Note. Check out the cover drawing from a then-unknown Andy Warhol, and then hear some fantastic music from Griffin with pianist Sonny Clark.
Thelonious Monk was another of Griffin's collaborators. I'm fond of the Art Blakey Jazz Messengers Atlantic recording with both Monk and Griffin.
Monk also helped Johnny Griffin land a record deal with Riverside Records. That's where the saxophonist made big band recordings like the Billie Holiday themed White Gardenia, featuring string arrangements from Melba Liston. The Big Soul Band is loaded with fire, and Griffin lays the brimstone over Norman Simmons' arranging. A small band sleeper from Riverside is The Kerry Dancers, if for no other reason than to listen to "Hush-a-Bye."
Pick any of the "tough tenor" sax dates with Johnny Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. They fail to disappoint.
One last record to dig - Johnny Griffin's sideman role on Clark Terry's Serenade to a Bus Seat, a really swinging quintet date.
Feel free to comment with your favorites. I know I'm omitting some good ones.



Excuse me, but I am about to step up on my soapbox.

I was at a dinner party the other night, and I said that I don't really get out much, My days are long between WBGO and my kids. But then someone at the table mentioned a performer who I had just seen, and then another one and yet another one. . . OK, maybe I get out more than I realized. How lucky am I to live in NY. I just pulled out a list of the events that our marketing crew will be attending this summer- I started to hyperventilate looking over the schedule. Add that to all of the ones that we had to pass on because we simply didn't have enough staff,  it is mindboggling. So many great artists- and so much of it is FREE. Simone and Regina Carter FREE thanks to Lincoln Center Out of Doors, James Moody, Cyrus Chestnut, TS Monk FREE at Lincoln Park, Felix Hernandez and Rhythm Revue FREE in Prospect Park as part of a partnership with the Park, Heart of Brooklyn and us here at WBGO on September 27th. The list goes on. Do I take it for granted?

Sound of me climbing onto my soapbox- I write this from a weekend away in another time zone where people whiz by in cars and I seem to go to the movies everytime I visit because that is what art is. That's not a dig to my movie loving/making friends, its just a statement about the lack of choices available here. We metro area NY/NJers sometimes forget just how arts rich are lives are. Even though I work in the arts, I forget too.This is my thank you to all of us who make it our business to insure that the arts are supported. The corporations who despite stock prices tumbling still find room in the budget to underwrite a concert that they know will introduce kids to great music. And that's where WBGO fits into the picture- we make as much of this accessible to those outside of the area with the live broadcasts and interviews that we do, and the blogging too.

So one big group hug- to all who produce, present, and support this great art of live performance- and for those of you who can attend, keep doing your part and  support these events.And for those of you in Japan, and California, and Montreal and Korea and London and Texas who read this blog and listen to WBGO- keep your radio on and keep supporting the arts.

Thanks for listening.


A Baseball Fan Finds Nirvana

DHL FanFest
Sadly, I will not be attending next week's All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. But I did get to experience the DHL All-Star FanFest the day before it opened, and it was sweet. I mean let' be serious - with exhibits including Hall of Fame artifacts, batting cages (some being virtual), and the world's largest baseball, what more could a baseball fan ask for? How about being an arm's length away from the World Series Trophy?
World Series Trophy
Yes, and to be honest, it's a lot smaller than what George Costanza dragged in the parking lot. If you are a baseball fan, visit the Jacob Javits Center before Tuesday. You can thank me afterward.
-Chris Federici

FIJM: Long Live the Queen

Aretha at FIJM

My birthday gifts started last night when I went to a concert by Aretha Franklin here at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Backed by a big band, four singers, and two tambourine players (that's right), the Queen of Soul opened dramatically with a salute to Sly Stone. First it was the classic "I Want to Take you Higher" then "Dance to the Music". We were all on our feet.

Next came a string of Aretha hits: "Natural Woman," "Think," "Chain of Fools." She introduced her son Teddy, featured on guitar at the beginning of "Chain of Fools." She finished the first half of her show with "Ain't No Way" and the soul and feminist anthem, "Respect".

The second half of the show opened with Montreal Jazz Festival co-founder Andre Menard, who presented Aretha with the festival's prestigious Ella Fitzgerald Award, "in recognition of the range, versatility, originality of improvisation and quality of repertoire of an internationally recognized jazz singer."

Aretha accepted the award with a version of an Ella favorite, "Somewhere Beyond the Sea".

When she sat at the piano, Aretha moved the Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel hit "Bridge Over Troubled Water" to the church with a spirited call and response that moved us into another of her hits, "Spirit in the Dark".

Aretha talked to the audience during her show and said she hoped she had given us everything we wanted to hear. Then she treated us to a new gospel tinged ballad. I was not able to hear the name of the song, but the way she "SANG" made me think it might be her next hit. As the applause died down, someone in the crowd shouted "Long Live the Queen!" Aretha returned the gesture with her finale ... "Believe (in yourself)" ... from the musical "The Wiz".
-Thurston Briscoe

Charles Lloyd @ JVC Jazz

Charles Lloyd and Reuben Rogers

On the final evening of the JVC-New York Festival, I sauntered down to the
Charles Lloyd Quartet performance at The Society for Ethical Culture. This
seems like the perfect place to see Lloyd perform, on principle alone. His
unabashed jazz ethos and spiritual bent create an immediate and humane
environment. The hall acoustics, however, are a total non-starter for the
sound of live jazz.  A massive wash of drums and indistinct piano notes.
The opening act was our nation's poet laureate, Charles Simic.
Charles Simic

"Club Midnight" is some pretty powerful verse:
Are you the sole owner of a seedy night club?
Are you its sole customer, sole bartender,
Sole waiter prowling around the empty tables?
Do you put on wee-hour girlie shows
With dead stars of black and white films?
Is your office upstairs over the neon lights,
Or down deep in the dank rat cellar?
Are bearded Russian thinkers your silent partners?
Do you have a doorman by the name of Dostoyevsky?
Is Fu Manchu coming tonight? Is Miss Emily Dickinson?
Do you happen to have an immortal soul?
Do you have a sneaky suspicion that you have none?...
Eric Harland

The quartet started behind Simic, and proceeded to play with the musicality
that jazz fans have come to expect from Lloyd's ensembles. Jason Moran is
the pianist, Reuben Rogers the bassist, and Eric Harland the drummer. Their
trip through Lloyd classics like "Requiem" and "Monk's Dance" were well
received, as was the newer material from the quartet's recent release, Rabo
de Nube
.  I had to really work hard to hear the music, but the payoff was
rewarding nonetheless.

Pianist Esbjorn Svensson Dies

Esbjorn Svensson

Reuters has reported that pianist Esbjorn Svensson died yesterday, during a
scuba diving excursion. He was 44 years old.

In 2001, I had the opportunity to interview the members of EST in New York,
just as the Swedish trio was gaining some recognition in the US. I say that
because they were already huge stars in their native Sweden. The show,
Introducing EST, coincided with the release of Somewhere Else Before.

Listen to it here. It includes some sections of that interview with Esbjorn,
Dan Berglund, and Magnus Ostrom, as well as a live in-studio performance.
You can also listen to EST from North Sea Jazz, courtesy JazzSet and Radio

Tuesday Night - Sweet Rhythm

Map to Sweet Rhythm

On the way home from the Jazz Gallery, walking up Seventh Avenue,
used-to-be WBGO night man James Browne pulled me into his club Sweet
Rhythm to see Lezlie Harrison sing. A long time ago, Lezlie hosted the
jazz party on Saturday evenings on WBGO. She's never stopped using that
fine voice, and moved me with her singing and the solos by Luca Tozzi on
guitar and Greg Lewis on organ on "A Lover is Forever," once recorded by
Etta James. I'm going to download Etta right now. Lezlie's drummer is
Luca Santaniello. As I was leaving, Greg was rolling his Hammond out the
door. Musicians work hard and give much! Wish I had photos.

Tuesday Night - Jazz Gallery

Map to Jazz Gallery, NYC

When you get to your folding chair at the Jazz Gallery on Hudson St.,
there's a personal cardboard fan on your seat, and you think what a nice
souvenir. But by the end of the Roy Hargrove Big Band set, you are using
that fan! You ARE a fan! With 18 guys and a woman -- hallelujah Tanya
Darby on trumpet -- crammed into one end of the oblong loft, and the
audience filling the rest, from the back wall to sax players' feet, you
FEEL this band and it feels GOOD! I love that there's only one mic, for
Roy to speak and, briefly, sing. I love that he has about a square yard
in which to conduct, then turn 180 and play. I love it all. He's
expanding his small group music, and his writing is fresh and old school
at the same time, all accents and syncopation, and the band is playing
almost flawlessly. Gerald Clayton's on piano! The set's not too long.
The Roy Hargrove Big Band plays the Jazz Gallery once more this summer
on June 10. Then after that, your next opp to see them is June 15 at the
Hollywood Bowl, so opt for the great vibes at the Gallery where the
band, the sound and the audience are one and the same. And thanks to Zan
Stewart for his motivating review in the Star Ledger.
-Becca Pulliam