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.
Fred Hersch has been a friend of WBGO for at least twenty years. He was in Jane Ira Bloom's group when we recorded her at Citicorp Center for a series called Jazz at the Market (host was the Rev. John Garcia Gensel of St. Peter's Church). I remember that Fred and Jane had brought a piano tuner, but the Center didn't want their tuner to touch the piano. I was disappointed, and learning on the job. Fred was .. well, if not incensed, he was at least insulted.
Fred was part of a concert at Town Hall with MC Steve Allen (the TV personality, dating all the way back to the first Tonight Show). As Steve Allen was telling stories and getting into it, he turned to Fred and asked for "a little something underneath this;" on demand, Fred played the perfect "patter" music.
But Fred wasn't born for that role. From his earliest time in New York, he belonged in top groups. He was a sideman for leaders a generation or more his senior, such as Joe Henderson - from Ohio, like Fred.
At the Iowa City Jazz Festival in the 1990s, I remember Fred getting onstage and talking about funding cuts coming to the National Endowment for the Arts. He wanted me to do that with him, and I didn't. His political passion took me by surprise.
Fred studied with Sophia Rosoff (as did Barry Harris, a revered teacher in New York, who shows pianists how to produce sound through the keys by relaxing. Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus was one of Fred's many many students.
The 1986 group must have been one of his first. Dick Oatts was on sax, Randy Brecker on trumpet, although they stepped aside for the ballad "Con Alma."
WBGO staffers have big love for vibraphonist Milt Jackson. Among the monumental contributions to jazz music, "Bags" turned a set of percussive steel bars into a more versatile jazz instrument. His was an altogether different sound for the vibraharp, sonically more warm and mellow than his predecessors, Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo. Milt Jackson made the vibes sing.
It's no wonder that Milt Jackson was himself a singer, a teenaged tenor in a gospel group, The Evangelist Singers, in his Detroit hometown. He loved the sound of the voice, and he accompanied many singers throughout his career. One of his last records was Sa Va Bella (For Lady Legends), a tribute to the leading ladies of jazz that Milt Jackson loved so much - Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, and Etta Jones.
WBGO recorded Milt Jackson's Quartet in the summer of 1996. The concert was part of the Oris Spirit of Jazz concert series (of which we are still proudly associated). Mike LeDonne is the pianist, Peter Washington the bassist, and Mickey Roker the drummer.
Thad Jones and Mel Lewis created one of the most enduring rituals in New York. They started a big band in 1966, one that included some of the most gifted composers and improvisers in the city, many of whom were making their living as studio professionals or in Broadway pit bands. Max Gordon at the Village Vanguard booked them for three consecutive Monday evenings, and the rest is history. Both Jones and Lewis are gone, but the spirit of their music (as well as the original compositions and arrangements from their bands) continues with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.
Every February, the VJO plays a weeklong showcase at the Vanguard. On the thirty fourth anniversary of the band, WBGO recorded the group on Monday night, of couse. As it happened, that was Valentine's Day, 2000.
We'll feature "Samba Con Getchu," a composition from Bob Brookmeyer, one of the early members of the Thad Jones - Mel Lewis Orchestra. The VJO included Jay Brandford, Ralph Lalama, Dick Oatts, Rich Perry, Gary Smulyan, Saxophones / Glenn Drewes, Earl Gardner, Joe Mosello, Scott Wendholt, Trumpets / Luis Bonilla, Jason Jackson, John Mosca, Douglas Purviance, Trombones / Ted Rosenthal, Piano / Dennis Irwin, Bass / John Riley, Drums
When I listen to swing music these days, I love it with a sense of loss, a disconnect. Nearly all of the swing legends are gone. This music has the feeling of a time that no longer exists, not that it ever did for me. I had to find it. Twenty-six years ago, however, swing still had some traction in our culture.
I would like to put myself back in that time. I'd be the coolest eight year old in the world, digging the scene at Sweet Basil. Trombonist Al Grey and saxophonist Buddy Tate are playing "Undecided." I can't believe I'm hearing this.
Chances are, however, I was anticipating the release of Michael Jackson's Thriller, which came out in records stores the week after this recording was made.
As I listen to this performance from the WBGO Archives, I am reminded of the vitality of the swing era, and that the music still had resonance in 1982. Count Basie was still alive. So were a number of his associates. Tate was one of them. Grey another. Tate was the tenor player that had the unenviable task of replacing Herschel Evans in Basie's band. Al Grey joined Basie much later, but he had previous stints with Benny Carter and Lionel Hampton. These were swing men through and through.
So much seems different now. By the end of 1982, Time Magazine declared the computer as Man of the Year, the first-ever distinction for an object. These real men are gone, except for their music. Here I am in 2008, writing a blog entry on my laptop, trying to get closer to an analog era. How do I feel about it? Decidedly Undecided. All I know is that it's easy to get lost in ones and zeros, better to be found alive, and even greater to be swung....Tempus fugit, baby.
PS That amazing photo courtesy of Rein. Check out her photostream.
Saxophonist Jimmy Heath, drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath, and the late bassist/cellist Percy Heath were jazz family long before the Marsalis clan. Separately, the sum of their music making covers the totality of modern jazz - Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, the Modern Jazz Quartet. I could go on and on, but enough already! Together, the Heath Brothers were a cohesive jazz combo that brought their collective experience to the stage to form their own brand of brotherly jazz.
WBGO has recorded a number of Heath Brothers performances. They include a beautiful recording from New Jersey Performing Arts Center's Prudential Hall, as well as a club date at Iridium. And that's just during my seven year tenure at the station! In 1984, WBGO recorded The Heath Brothers on New Year's Eve. December 31, 1984 at Sweet Basil in New York. The pianist was Stanley Cowell.
PS While you're still here, watch this clip from Danny Sherr's award-winning video about the siblings, Brotherly Jazz.
The Village Vanguard is is one of my favorite places in New York. With that simple statement, it gives me great pleasure to introduce WBGO's newest adventure. We're starting a monthly concert series from the legendary jazz club. Our eventual plan is to air the shows live on WBGO, and stream them simultaneously on NPR's Music site. Last night, we took the first of many baby steps.
Guitarist Adam Rogers made his debut as a leader at the Vanguard, and we recorded our initial show for this series. An evening of "firsts," so to speak.
Here's the basic information:
Adam Rogers, guitar
Mark Turner, tenor
Edward Simon, piano
Scott Colley, bass
Jeff "Tain" Watts, drums
Long Ago and Far Away
We also recorded the second set. Someday you'll get to hear that, too! Stay tuned to the blog for more information about WBGO's new series, Live at the Village Vanguard.
The group Steps Ahead came together in 1979, but their debut album did not arrive until 1983. By that time, Steps had created a potent form of fusion. WBGO recorded an early version of the band in the summer of 1982, during the now-defunct Kool Jazz Festival. Vibraphonist Mike Maineri (photographed above) was the leader, and the lineup included some heavy hitters - drummer Peter Erskine, bassist Eddie Gomez, pianist Don Grolnick, and saxophonist Michael Brecker. Brecker was already a star, even though he had not yet recorded a solo effort (and would not for nearly five more years...strange but true...). Steps Ahead became a group that people in and out of jazz noticed, and a lot of young talent got an early lift from being in the band
(pianist Eliane Elias comes to mind).
Check out Steps Ahead playing "Islands," from the WBGO Archives.
Abbey Lincoln is proof that a rose by any other name smells as sweet. The reigning diva of jazz has had more than a few names over the years. She was born Anna Marie Wooldridge. Her earliest professional names include Gaby Wooldridge and Gaby Lee. For eight years, she was legally Mrs. Max Roach. The cultural minister of Zaire bestowed the name Aminata Moseka.
Abbey Lincoln has certainly earned the right of the great singers in our music, those who need only one name. Billie. Sarah. Ella. Carmen. Betty. Abbey.
For decades, Ms. Lincoln has also been the poet laureate of jazz. Her songs have expressed the essential components of a life unfolding, the sum of our strengths and vulnerabilities. That which makes us human. What's right and what's wrong with us. What we have done. What we can do better.
WBGO recorded Abbey Lincoln at Iridium in New York, October 1996. Marc Cary is the pianist, Michael Bowie the bassist, Aaron Walker the drummer.
It's a Memphis Monday, courtesy of Harold Mabern. WBGO has recorded pianist Harold Mabern as a member of George Coleman's quartet. We've also recorded Mabern's own quartet at American Museum of Natural History.
Check out this version of Harold Mabern's trio, recorded in 1984 at Citicorp Center in New York. Bassist Jamil Nasser (like Mabern, a Memphis native) and drummer Frank Gant, two veteran trio performers (check out those Ahmad Jamal records!) make the trio. They play "Ray's Idea," a song composed by bassist Ray Brown and Walter "Gil" Fuller during the heyday of Dizzy Gillespie's big band.