toast of the nation
The latest edition of JazzSet, produced by WBGO Senior Producer Becca Pulliam, features music from last year's Toast of the Nation extravaganza (which happened to be my first gig with the station, as an assistant producer.) Follow the link for the full hour of music and Becca's rundown of the evening.
Photograph by John Rogers
Circumstances could have been completely different. Charles Brown was a chemist. He attended college, earned a degree in chemistry, taught high school science, and landed a civil service job in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. That would have been a career track for most. Brown had other ideas. He bristled at the racism he encountered each day. He volunteered to serve in the second world war, but was deemed unfit due to asthma. So Charles Brown packed his bags and headed to California.
Thank goodness. Can you imagine a holiday season without "Merry Christmas Baby?" Or a world without "Drifting Blues?" And who played the piano behind a fellow Texan, Ivory Joe Hunter, on "Blues at Sunrise?" How about "Trouble Blues," or "Black Night?" Mind you, most of those songs were hits before Elvis Presley had ever set foot in Sun Studios.
How about one of my all-time favorite records, Sam Cooke's Night Beat? If you simply listen to the way Cooke sings on that record, you might reach the same conclusion I did - would that record exist were it not for Charles Brown?
Brown celebrated New Year's Eve with WBGO, part of the Toast of the Nation coast-to-coast live music party. He welcomed 1994 from the Sheraton Hotel in Tacoma, Washington. His cool, bluesy ballad style was especially poignant on a song popularized by Lucky Millinder.
Meet Paul Barbarin, one of the most important people in the history of New Orleans music, and the "how" we call jazz.
The Barbarin family constitutes one of the original lines of Creole musicians who were present at the creation of a new music. Paul's father, Isidore, played the alto horn in The Onward Brass Band, one of the early traditional brass bands in the city.
Before I moved to New York, I used to work at WWOZ in New Orleans. I started as a volunteer, operating the board for a woman named Betty Rankin. Every Saturday morning, while most people my age had hangovers from Friday night, I was in a tiny peach-colored building in Louis Armstrong Park, playing LPs, cassettes, and the occasional CD for a lady who wanted no business with those details. She spent her ninety minutes as "Big Mama," the host of "The Moldy Fig Jam." I was 22, and this was the most amazing radio I had ever heard in my life. She told stories about every jazz musician in the city who had ever picked up an instrument with the purpose of playing traditional New Orleans jazz.
As it happened, Big Mama was an associate curator of the Hogan Jazz Archive. She handled the extensive oral history of New Orleans' music, and she knew both the collection as well as the musicians' whose lives she had helped to document. On any given Saturday, she talked about Paul Barbarin as if he were in the studio with us. It was the beginning of my post-college, real world education. On one such occasion, it was the first time I had ever heard his song, "Bourbon Street Parade." She told her audience about the street parades, how Barbarin kept that tradition alive. In the 1960s, he revived the Onward Brass Band, the name of the group that his father played a part. In fact, Paul Barbarin died in a parade, leading the band. [While I'm no fan of death, that's a great way to shuffle off this mortal coil.]
Years later, on the cusp of 2002, I was the field producer for NPR's Toast of the Nation. We're at the Village Vanguard, with Michael White and The Original Liberty Jazz Band. Hear them play "Bourbon Street Parade" from that evening.
When I hear this song, I remember how I got this far into jazz. Because I live with music.
PS Watch the video of Paul Barbarin's funeral. The musicians are playing "Just a Closer Walk With Thee."
Watching that is knowing why New Orleans matters. Onward.
It has been amazing to know Dee Dee Bridgewater, and an honor to hear her read my name occasionally in the credits for JazzSet. And what an artistic career! Her latest recording, "Red Earth," a collaboration with Malian musicians, is just another reminder of how truly hip she is.
Long before she was the host of NPR's JazzSet (a program lovingly produced here at WBGO), Dee Dee Bridgewater was a part of our annual New Year's Eve coast-to-coast celebration, Toast of the Nation. From the ballroom at the Grand Hyatt in New York, Bridgewater greeted 1996 on the East Coast with music from her then recent recording, Love and Peace: A Tribute to Horace Silver.
If the dinner from Blue Smoke didn't get you salivating like Pavlov's dog, here's another menu highlight from Toast of the Nation, courtesy The Dakota in Minneapolis.
While you're hearing a stew of Cuban/Gospel/Earth Wind and Fire, you would no doubt enjoy the following special menu for tonight from Executive Chef Jack Riebel. For the record, the chef will be happy to discuss vegetarian/dietary options for you. And for those of you who could not stomach The Omnivore's Dilemma, The Dakota proudly supports locally owned, independently & sustainably operated farms. Their meat is all natural with no added hormones or antibiotics.
Carpaccio of Lamb - lamb’s lettuce, truffle pecorino, black radish
House Smoked Salmon brioche, quail egg, hollandaise (domestic caviar supplement)
Belgian Endive & Green Apple Salad with niman ranch bacon, gruyere cheese
Oyster Stew “Edna Lewis” - salsify, chive, common crackers
Seared Foie Gras - cipolinni onion, polenta, huckleberry
Peking Duck Breast - wild rice, scallion, fennel, truffle honey
“Surf & Turf” - ribeye of american kobe, tempura prawn, jalapeño ponzu
Crab Crusted Walleye - jumbo lump crab, honji menji mushroom, coconut broth
Lofton Ridge Venison Loin - parsnip hash, candied chestnut, pancetta
Cabbage Rolls - black bean, goat cheese, red pepper sauce
Hawiian Blue Marlin - kahlua pork, maui onion, mu-shu cake
Trifle - tropical fruit, candied macadamia nuts, strawberry sorbet
Baked Alaska - hot chocolate, rumpleminz
Egg Nog Trio - bread pudding, traditional, brûlé
Chocolate Souffle - valrhona chocolate, vanilla anglaise
Figgy Pudding -brandy caramel, rum raisin ice cream
Don't forget to save room for champage...
Since you may miss the litany of names at the end of the New York segment, meet the folks who bring you 2008. Remember that while you're binging on champagne, we usually drink ours at 12:15, when the show is over.
Becca Pulliam is our uber-producer. She coordinates each of the locations for Toast of The Nation (DC, Boston, NY, Minneapolis, Denver, and SF) into a mosaic of live music from coast to coast. Becca makes this whole party possible. Oh, and "listeners like you."
Michael Bourne is our host. You may remember him from such hit shows as - Afternoon Jazz on WBGO for the last 20+ years. Or 20+ years on Toast of the Nation. That's committment. Everything I can say about Michael, I've already said to him personally - usually while I'm helping him connect home audio devices, changing light bulbs in his apartment, or eating Cantonese specialties with him (too infrequently) at Phoenix Garden.
Steve Remote at Aurasonic is our guy for audio. He brings his 24 foot GMC truck, affectionately know as "The Breadmobile," to the gig. As you can imagine, jazz clubs in New York are short on space. That means you have to build a recording studio outside, and connect it to what's happening onstage. No small feat. Steve Remote and his band of merrymen do it with aplomb. Robert Carvell manages stage tech, and Jon D'Uva will assist the recording engineer in the truck. Jon is a vegetarian. I have no idea what he's planning to eat for dinner at the barbeque palace upstairs, Blue Smoke.
Jim Anderson is the Recording Engineer tonight. He possesses both sartorial splendor and golden ears. He will make tonight sound so good for listeners. In Jim's spare time, he's active in the New York chapter of the Audio Engineering Society. He's also the Chair of the Clive Davis School for Recorded Music at New York University. He gets some of the best drum sounds I've heard on jazz records. He also reads great books.
David Tallacksen is the Technical Director and Codec Jockey. He's the youngest member of the crew. He is responsible for the audio transmission via codec to NPR, among other things. We don't trust that job to just anyone. David also shows a tremendous amount of patience with Verizon, who installs our ISDN circuits to transmit that audio. David has tested these lines over and over and over. Two of the three circuits work, as of 12:30pm on the broadcast day. Verizon has assured us they will fix the problem with our backup transmission lines today. Fingers crossed.
Katie Simon is our Stage Manager. She makes sure the trains run on time, because I'm barking in her ear the entire show. Katie can blame her first job in public radio on WBGO. Now she's hooked. She's a producer for Storycorps, producer David Isay's oral history project for public radio. You may have heard the stories on Morning Edition every Friday. Guaranteed to make you a little teary-eyed., if you're just a wee sensitive. Michael Bourne nicknamed Katie "Supergirl" because she's just...super.
Martin Goodman is operating the house sound for Jazz Standard. He will be making sure that the artists have their sound on the stage and in the club. Martin also interfaces with our broadcast in a big way, because we share all the same microphones used on the stage.
I'm your humble field producer and director for the show. You can blame me if something goes wrong.
The Jazz Standard's address is 116 East 27th Street in Manhattan, between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue. The club seems to exist in some type of gray area, as far as Manhattan neighborhoods. The location is conceivably an eastern part of the Flatiron section of town, but more like a northern extension of the Gramercy area, since it's a full six blocks from the exclusive enclave of Gramercy Park.
Whatever. I'm glad we're spending New Year's at Jazz Standard.
Don't get me wrong. I've spent some quality time at clubs during the last six Toast of the Nation celebrations. Each one of them has contributed some special moments. And there are always some delightful stories when you work in the trenches to bring people across the country some live music. Here are the last six I've worked as field producer, in order:
The Village Vanguard - Michael White's Original Liberty Jazz Band 2001/02
Blue Note New York - Chick Corea New Trio with Gary Burton 2002/03
Blue Note New York - Herbie Hancock Quartet 2003/04
Yoshi's in Oakland for Joshua Redman's Elastic Band 2004/05
Tipitina's in New Orleans for Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, The Hot 8 Brass Band, and Galactic 2005/06
The now-defunct Tonic on the Lower East Side - Steven Bernstein's Millenial Territory Orchestra 2006/07
So this year, we're at Jazz Standard. Thanks to Seth Abramson, it's one of the most creatively booked jazz clubs in the city. And thanks to Danny Meyer, it has some rockin' barbeque (not bad, considering we're above the Mason-Dixon line).
Not so incidentally, WBGO broadcast Ben Allison's Medicine Wheel, with the kora player, Mamadou Diabate, live during the club's opening week celebration. It's been a long time since that show, but we're finally back at the club for another live shot. "Ain't that good news?"
Joe Lovano, that is.
It's Lovano's 55th birthday today, and he's celebrating it with a three-day run with his quintet at the Palazzo del Popolo in Orvieto, Italy. What a way to end a monumental year. Wish I could be there, since Italy's Umbria region is one of my favorite places to be, but I'll be spending my New Year's Eve at Jazz Standard, with Trio da Paz, Kenny Barron, and a great New York crew for NPR's Toast of the Nation (hope you'll be listening!).
Incidentally, Toast of the Nation is where Lovano's 2007 began, as a member of the McCoy Tyner Quartet (bassist Christian McBride and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts make four) at Yoshi's. You can hear the fruits of that week at Yoshi's on record.
It's been such a banner year for Joe. Check out the video below. And when you see him again, raise a glass of my favorite Umbrian wine, Paolo Bea's Sagrantino de Montefalco, in honor of him.
Happy birthday, Joe Lovano. You're a class act.