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Digging on Dexter

It's the birthday of saxophonist Dexter Gordon, who holds a special place in the hearts of many people at WBGO. Perhaps no one here knew him better than our station mother, Dorthaan Kirk. Here's a story she just told me:

I met Dexter when I was touring Europe with Rahsaan Roland Kirk's band. Rahsaan loved Dexter, so I knew the name and the music before I ever met him. Anyway, we had some time off, so we went to Copenhagen. We saw an early concert at Tivoli Gardens with the Basie Band, then we joined some of Basie's guys and headed for the Club Montmartre. Copenhagen was Dexter's home, and he played that club all the time.
I remember so much about that evening. Dexter was wearing a blue jean suit. It was definitely the 70s! At the end of the night, it's 3 or 4am, and all of the musicians are at the bar. I'm keeping to myself, mostly, while all the guys are carrying on. Long, tall, and handsome as can be, Dexter walks out of the kitchen, comes right up to me, and says, "Who are you?" I was practically speechless, which you know never happens...
From that night on, Dexter always called me "Miss Rahsaan." I sure do miss him.

Here's Dexter playing Sonny Stitt's "Loose Walk" in Amsterdam, with a Swiss trio - George Gruntz piano, Guy Pederson bass and drummer Daniel Humair:

 

SportsJam - Trumpeter Jon Faddis

Doug Doyle and Trumpeter Jon Faddis

I had a blast interviewing trumpeter Jon Faddis for SportsJam, WBGO's new sports podcast/on-demand feature. Jon is a real sports fan who loves the old-timers from several different sports. I asked him to put together his all-time jazz band made up of sports stars. He selected Tiger Woods to be the saxophone of John Coltrane. Find out who else he picked, his thoughts on why he thinks jazz and sports are related and hear about his special sports relationship with his dad. Listen now.
-Doug Doyle

Notes From the House Geek

I wear the title proudly. I wear a lot of hats here at WBGO- but this is my favorite one. While I am overseeing a number of the activities here at WBGO, I am sitting in my cold dark office ( no, they don't keep me in the fruit cellar!) and pouring over stats. Man, I love this stuff. Trying to understand more about our listeners and what they like ( don't ever be shy about telling us). Finding stats for our dynamic underwriting duo to use with potential sponsors ( they are one of the components along with your membership that keeps this station on the air and on the web). Just loving the fact that this station has grown from a signal in the Newark Public Schools and has expanded to include YOU- where ever you are in the world!

I thought that I would share my new fascination:

WHERE ARE YOU?

We have all kinds of tools that tell us and I am obsessed with this stuff!

Don't worry, we don't know exactly where you are. We are not going to come and visit like the Publishers Clearinghouse guys ( sorry to disappoint you!). We can only tell kinda sorta where you are- the country, state and city. Nothing creepy. We could speak in just about any language and someone in our audience would understand the words that we were saying- but you ALL understand the music.

Did you know that the majority of you who listen online are in our terrestrial listening area?

4 of you were listening from Botswana yesterday. And 4 from the Virgin Islands.

5.1% of our US online audience yesterday was from California. And 2.6% came from Florida.

OK, so now guess. Number one place outside of the US where people were listening-

Japan.

Who are all of you? Are you expats? How did you find WBGO? Are you members ( ok, so shoot me, I had to ask!)? Share something with the rest of us about what turns you on about this music. I am going to Japan in March- where should I go to hear jazz in Tokyo?

Bottom line, you are a part of a great community, a party that goes where ever you do, whenever you want us. Thanks for joining us! And if you ever find yourself in Newark, feel free to come and visit us- we love having you.

Amy- The House Geek

Davell Crawford at Baryshnikov Arts Center

Gary Walker at BAC

WBGO and the Jazz Foundation of America partnered with Baryshnikov Arts Center to present another night of free live music. Gary Walker hosted the evening, which featured a concert an interview session with the New Orleans pianist and wunderkind, Davell Crawford.

Listen to the concert here.

Davell Crawford at Baryshnikov Arts Center

And if you missed the Henry Butler show at BAC,
You can still hear it here.

-Josh

Sez Me ... Mohonk

Mohonk

I've never seen a ghost.

Walking along the corridors, the Mohonk Mountain House looks (and feels spooky) like "The Shining" -- and I've heard that Stephen King was inspired (or spooked) by the hotel. I've been a regular at the "Jazz on the Mountain" festival every (Martin Luther) King weekend since 2000, first as a storyteller, then as a host and performer, now as an artistic consultant -- or something to that effect. Next weekend, the 18th-21st, will be my 9th jazzfest.
Until they invited me, I never knew about the jazzfest. I only knew about the murders...

When I came to New York for real in 1984, I happened to be staying up the block from Murder Ink, the mystery bookstore, back then on West 86th. I'd become friends with the owner, Carol Brener. I'd been a long-time customer, back when I addictively read detective novels. One afternoon, when she needed someone to man the store while she ran errands, Carol called me. I was not busy, and I knew the books enough to answers questions from the customers. I was not working full-time at WBGO yet, and I said okay when she asked me to come work part-time at the store.

Murder Ink was one of the first business supporters to offer discounts to WBGO members. Sy Oliver, the great composer and arranger for Lunceford and Goodman, was a mystery reader. I also got to meet some of my favorite mystery authors, especially Ed McBain and Donald Westlake. I've read more than 60 books by both of them by now. Elmore Leonard, Robert Parker, and Gahan Wilson also came for book signings. I was especially amused meeting Sara Caudwell, a British barrister and author of a series of novels about an amateur sleuth, a British barrister named Hilary whose gender is never apparent. I remember many arguments in the store about Hilary's sex. I felt that she was a lesbian. Sara herself seemed somewhat asexual and smoked a pipe. Sara also was the daughter of the real-life singer in Berlin who inspired the character of Sally Bowles in the Isherwood stories that became the musical "Cabaret" -- or so Carol said.

My favorite customer was a woman who said "I'm going on a scientific project in Antarctica. Could you pick six months worth of mystery books for me?" I could, and I enjoyed doing so, but working in a bookstore was not why I came to New York. There were weeks when I'd jock an overnight shift at WBGO, get back in time to sleep 2-3 hours, then be at the store, and then go back to Newark. I quit working at Murder Ink only when I started working much more on the radio.

I'd only heard of Mohonk back then when someone called the store, at least once a week, wanting to know about the Mohonk mystery weekend. Murder Ink was not involved, but the original owner of the store was one of the mystery lovers who started the weekend. Virtually a live game of Clue, someone gets "murdered" and everyone becomes detectives looking for evidence and interviewing suspects until one of them unmasks whodunit at the climax.

They still have the mystery weekend, upcoming March 14-16 at the hotel, which is on a lake up the mountain from New Paltz. They also have weekends about ice skating, swing dancing, Latin dancing, being Scottish, yoga and meditation, theatre readings, and, among plenty of other delights during the year, an entire weekend about eating chocolate. Andrew Meyer, please note that the latter will be happening February 22-24.

I was first invited to come talk about jazz in January 1999, but I couldn't come until the following year. Since it was soon after Y2K, I was asked to answer the question "Where is jazz going in the Millenium?" My immediate conclusion was "I don't know, but wherever jazz goes is cool." Then I started telling jazz stories, mostly about Dizzy Gillespie, especially about smoking reefer with Dizzy while watching a soap opera. I was apparently a hit and was asked back the next year.

Being on stage like that, getting laughs again from an audience, awakened the dormant actor in me, and rather than talk about the music, I came back to tell stories about my jazz travels. The first year I performed something like a monologue about all the weirdness that happened to me on a WBGO trip to Brazil, including almost drowning in a riptide at Ipanema and getting exorcised by a candomble priest in Bahia. The second year I talked about being there as the world changed in quantum leaps over four years during the jazzfest in Berlin, first going through the Wall and feeling as if I were in a spy novel. Then came glasnost. Then, a few days after we could hear a million people in the streets on the other side of the Wall shouting "Freiheit!" -- "Freedom!" -- the Wall fell, and I still have a chunk of it. Then, one more year later, it was as if the Wall never existed. All the while, the music played on at the jazzfest.

Getting so turned on performing again, I wanted to do something I'd never done. I didn't even know what it could be, but I knew that I wanted to do it with Michael Carvin. He's way more than a great drummer. He's a life force. I called him and said "I have this idea of doing --" and he said "I'm in!" I said "I don't know what it --" and he said "I'm in!" We created what I usually call Duets for Actor and Drummer. I performed songs of Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim but like an actor, not actually singing, although often in tempo with Michael's drums. Songs also from the musical "Kismet" and of Jacques Brel, poems of Stephen Crane, even some Shakespeare. Andrew Meyer and his wife Page came up to see us, and, after all these years of my being a critic on the WBGO Journal, I was finally reviewed myself, by Andrew, on the WBGO website, and a good notice it was. We called our act M2 (Michael Squared) -- which became M2+H when we were joined for several pieces by one of my favorite singers, Hilary Kole, including our performing a scene of Bogart & Bacall.

Hilary and Michael both played several of the jazzfests. I've always booked artists that I like, and I've always brought back artists who've been hits with the audience. One of my favorite years featured all singers, including Roseanna Vitro, Catherine Dupuis, Giacomo Gates, and Mark Murphy. Others who've come over the years have included Eric Reed, Bill Mays, Tom Lellis, Marion Cowings, Renee Manning and Earl McIntyre, Chris Brubeck, Randy Sandke, Sheryl Bailey, and The Drummonds.

Returning this year is Steven Bernstein with the Millenial Territory Orchestra. He's one of the most imaginative musicians I know, and the MTO is always fun. Erik Lawrence plays baritone sax in the MTO and also fronts a group called Hipmotism, which includes Steven playing trumpet. Marya Lawrence will sing with Erik again this year. They're kids of saxophonist Arnie Lawrence and are way talented like their father. I've known them most of their lives, since Marya was 2. Arnie was like a brother to me, so Marya and Erik are my virtual niece and nephew.

We'll also have again this year Dena DeRose and some first-timers, singer Kendra Shank and guitarist Frank Vignola. I booked vibraharpist Joe Locke several years ago, but he came, he played, and he couldn't stay. We like when the artists bring the family and enjoy the whole weekend at Mohonk. This year he'll have his own group and I'll have him also perform with other groups all weekend. We'll end the jazzfest on Monday morning with what I call Parlor Games. All the gigs happen in a parlor, and on the farewell morning I like to mix and match musicians.

We'll kick off the festival Friday evening with The Brazilian Trio (Helio Alves, Nilson Matta, Duduka da Fonseca) and singer Maucha Adnet. I kicked off 2008 with Nilson, Duduka, and Maucha live at The Jazz Standard on the WBGO/NPR New Year's Eve Toast of the Nation. I don't know what the weather will be like over the weekend, but usually it's cold on the mountain. I thought that since it's summer in Rio, opening the festival with musical sunlight from Brazil was ideal.

Being freezing most of the years I've been there, I don't like going outside during the jazzfest. Mohonk is a beautiful castle-like hotel, built in the 19th Century by the same Quaker family that owns it all today. I brought a sketchbook one year and drew it all -- until the ink froze. I much prefer looking outside from the inside. If you have a room facing the lake, you see mostly the mountain, with a little castle at the top. Except for the skating rink, you see pretty much no other signs of civilization. And since the rooms don't have TVs, you really get the feeling of an escape. They also didn't have a bar until a year or so ago, unheard of at a jazz festival, so there's usually some BYOB among the jazzers.

While they have a new spa and oodles of activities beyond the jazzfest, when I'm not listening to music or eating, I'm damn near a pyromaniac. I've never lived anywhere with a fireplace, and I love building the firewood into downright artistic sculptures, then watching everything blaze.
-- MBourne

There's No Debate

Soundtrack Album Cover

I haven't seen Denzel Washington's film, The Great Debaters. But I'm already hooked on the soundtrack with Sharon Jones, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Among others, they collaborate on the opening track, a ring shout called "My Soul is a Witness."

A ring shout is one of the most infectious and powerful types of music you'll ever hear. It's basically a religious song using traditional African dance patterns, with a counter-rhythm that can start easy but get extremely complex, depending on how intensely the performers get possessed by the spirit. Shouts were common ritual during slavery, and you might even find traces of the style in rural church services in the South, the Georgia coastal islands and the Tidewater region of Maryland and Delaware.

For The Great Debaters, "My Soul is a Witness" is recreated from the original field recording by Alan Lomax. In 1934, Lomax spent six weeks in Louisiana. In one of the Acadian (Cajun) towns, Lomax recorded a series of ring shouts by Austin Coleman, with Joe Washington Brown and Samson Brown.

Hear the original version of "My Soul is a Witness," as performed by Austin Coleman.

I spoke with G. Marq Roswell, the Music Supervisor for The Great Debaters, about the music he selected music for the movie. You can hear that on The WBGO Journal. Or listen below. - Josh

WBGO Journal - The Great Debaters

A Few of My Favorite Things

As the General Manager of WBGO, I am a jazz fan and listen to the station quite a bit. While I work at the station, and had an above-average knowledge of jazz prior to moving back to Newark to assume this gig, I'm not all knowing and actually learn quite a bit about jazz and what I like from the station. Thank you, WBGO announcers!!!! In this short post, I want to share with you SOME of the things that I like about jazz.

I lust for the sound of a driving rhythm section. There's nothing better than being able to peck out the rhythm with one's neck (thank you Cecil Brooks III) while driving down a wide open road with jazz blasting from the radio. Drummers are among my favorites--Art Blakey, Max Roach, and Roy Haynes.

I like the melodic sound of the vibraphone played so beautifully or pretty , as Michael Bourne says, that you have to stop to listen to it. I like Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Locke and Stefon Harris. There are others but those three stand out. I love Cal Tjader and regret that I didn't go to see him when I lived out West and he was still with us!

I adore the big sound of the Hammond B-3 played by someone who knows how to get every ounce of funk and bass from this king of instruments. Add a great guitarist and drummer and you have listening heaven. The sound overwhelms you. I don't know anyone who can sit still while a good organ trio is doing its thing. I loved Charles Earland. Jimmy Smith was great but didn't move me the way the Earland did. (Yes, I realize that I've just trangressed against an icon of the B3!!!) Joey D., McGriff, Radam, they're good but nobody fills the shoes left by the Mighty One.

I like the sound of lyrical pianists who play effortlessly and take those compositions and make them sing. Horace Silver and Cyrus Chestnut are two of my favorites! I also love jazz pianists who sound like they are playing percussion. Michel Camilo, Don Pullen and Danny Mixon are examples. And, then, there are those pianists who command the instrument to perform--Harold Mabern and McCoy Tyner.

I like uncommon instruments played well. Andy Narell on steel pans; the late Roland Kirk playing nose flute, manzello and stritch; Steve Turre with his shells; Regina Carter playing lots of violin; and Toots Thielemann's whistling. Paquito D'Rivera's Tango Band includes a guest bandoneon player. I love the sound of that accordion-like instrument.

I love Latin and Brazilian jazz. Again, so rhythmic and full of fun.

There are so many great saxophonists who swing. The late great Jackie Mac, James Carter, Eric Alexander, Joe Lovano, and countless others.

I love the young guys who are working hard to develop their chops on various instruments and who value the music historically and practically.

I truly appreciate the knowledge of jazz and love of music that the WBGO announcers bring to the table each day and the fact that the station's Board of Trustees are committed to the 24/7 presentation of this music.

I value your interest in music as demonstrated by your review of this very modest post and your attention to all that WBGO does for you and other music fans. I also appreciate the opportunity to share a bit of myself with you through this blog.

Each staff person at WBGO is a fan of the music. If you come to our events or talk with us on the phone or elsewhere, you'll learn that for yourself. Many of us work in WBGO's back room. That is, the second floor of our office building where some WBGO staff members think it's too quiet and too far from the jazz action. It isn't and, best of all, we have radios and computers that bring the sound to us just fine!!!! Thanks for allowing us to do this for you and for us.

These are a few of my favorite things--some of life's simple and all-too-often unspoken pleasures. I hope that you have some and will share them with family and friends. Record parties and word-of-mouth comments work well to introduce people to this music and to whet the appetites of those unfamiliar with our favorite things.

Cephas Bowles

WBGO General Manager

It's What I Do

"It's what I do ..."
I never know what to say when I get a compliment. I've always been amazed that people actually like me and like what I do -- and that I get paid to do what I do. I've sometimes felt that if I say "thank you" I feel as if I'm acknowledging that whatever nice thing someone is saying to me is true.
"I love your interviews!"
"It's what I do ..."
"You got so many pledges that last hour!"
"It's what I do ..."
I've been "doing" for 35 years on the radio, and it was only after 25 years that I felt that apparently I'm good at this, good at ... what I do.

New Year's Eve was my 21st coast-to-coast broadcast and my 23rd anniversary as a jock on WBGO. My first shift was filling for Rhonda in the afternoon, December 31, 1984. January 1st is the birthday of Milt Jackson, and so I played a day-before birthday tribute. Phone rang, and the voice said "This is Bags. Thanks." And in that moment I knew that I was a jazz jock in the jazz capitol of the world.
Even though we broadcast from Newark, and there's considerable Jersey pride at WBGO, I usually tell people elsewhere in the world that I'm from the jazz station in New York. We apparently, last I heard any numbers, have more listeners and more members in New York than in New Jersey -- although, really, I say New York mostly because I live in New York.
I only recently realized that I'm a commuter.
Back before the various large edifices that have gone up in Newark since I first came to the station -- law school, arts center, FBI, and now the Rock -- the walk on Raymond Blvd twixt train station and radio station was darker. I never felt especially in danger. I've always been quite grizzly, and I've seen folks on the street fear me. What was weird in the 80's was when folks in New York asked me if I carried a gun to protect myself in Newark.
Tempus fugit ...
23 years ...
I knocked the station off the air 20 minutes before I first came on the air. I was expected to record myself on a cassette. Remember them? Various plugs and wires were involved, and I somehow plugged the entire on-air signal into the cassette recorder. Nobody knew what was happening and the phones started ringing about the dead air. I didn't know what was happening, but I thought maybe I should un-plug the cassette recorder, and at once WBGO was resounding loudly again.
I'm still the clumsiest jock on WBGO. I'm not kidding when I get crabby about "too many buttons!" I've pushed the wrong buttons and played the wrong CDs countlessly. We didn't have CDs when I came to the station. We played music from a wall of LPs. Remember them? I remember when the first CD player came in. There was what looked like a spice rack in the studio with four CDs. One was "Glenn Miller in a Digital Mood" -- which I never played even once. I was afraid that if I endeavored to play a CD I'd blow the station off the air again.
I'm proud to say that since that first clumsiness, I have knocked the station off the air only one other time. Readings said our power was too high for the FCC max, so I pushed the button that lowers the power and the power lowered to zero. After a scramble of engineers like the code blue for a heart attack, we came back.
We now have an all-new computerized system for on-air spots, calendars, produced programs, and IDs. It's been working for almost a month now, and I've only screwed up a half dozen times. I once said to Josh Jackson, who's a whiz at working all this new tech and was so quickly and seeming effortlessly editing a special we were producing on a machine with a screen full of multi-colored squiggles, "I feel like a baboon looking at a rocket ship ..."
I'm much more technologically adept than I used to be. I'm helpless about the squiggles, but I sometimes can get through an entire shift without pushing a wrong button. Even a monkey can learn how to ride a bike.
I've actually never learned how to ride a bike -- but that's another story. Now comes ... blogging.
E-mail, I can do.
Googling, I can do.
Porn, any baboon can do.
I've owned a computer for two years, and by now I'm not as cyber-challenged as I first was.
I've actually been able to listen to baseball on my computer.
I've finally been able -- without help -- to buy stuff on my computer.
Now comes ... blogging.
I've been asked and encouraged to blather about ... whatever.
Baseball. Batman. Musicals. Traveling. Why I think of myself as Dutch. Why I've lately become obsessive about "Pride and Prejudice" and Jane Austen. And other things I love. And also ... love.
When I was initially asked to blog about what I think about, my immediate answer was "Who cares?" I'm blogging now only because my loved ones have insisted that listeners who like me might like to know ... what I do when I'm not doing what I do on WBGO. And also how I do what I do. I've been requested to explain how I program Singers Unlimited -- which will involve confessing a variety of eccentricities I've heretofore never talked about -- when the easiest answer is nonetheless
"It's what I do ..."

I'm Michael Bourne.

Toast of the Nation New York - The Crew

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.