The Town Hall was built in the 1920's for orators, and musicians also discovered that the acoustics are superb. None of today's audio tech existed back then, but no mics are ever needed there. "Broadway Unplugged" is an annual concert that gathers some of Broadway's best singers performing without mics and sounding that much more real. I've attended the last two years and I've been thrilled hearing (and feeling) all these beautiful voices, not amplified through speakers, but directly from the throats (and the hearts) of the singers.
Scott Siegel is the producer and host. In this interview, we talked about the upcoming 5th annual "Broadway Unplugged" -- Monday the 17th at 8 at Town Hall -- for tonight's WBGO Journal. And we kept on talking, including listening to highlights from last year's show: Max von Essen and Sarah Jane McMahon singing "Tonight" from West Side Story, Lorinda Lisitza singing a heartbreaking "Surabaya Johnny" from Happy End, Marc Kudisch singing "I'm Still Here" from The Glorious Ones, and Bill Daugherty singing a show-stopping "Sit Down, You're Rocking The Boat" from Guys and Dolls.
A preeminent violinist stopped by our studios yesterday. The breadth of Mark O'Connor's work is nothing short of astonishing, yet one wonders how he remains so humble and approachable. He leaps from one idiom to another in effortless fashion, as you will encounter after listening to his interview with WBGO's Bill O'Donnell. He's one of the original cross-over musicians, equally adept at playing in classical, country, world, or jazz styles. He talks about his new orchestral work "Americana" being recorded this month by The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra with Marin Alsop, his fondness of for bluegrass fiddler Benny Thomasson, and his upcoming performance with his "Hot Swing Trio" at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival this Labor Day Weekend. - Simon Rentner
Notice anything unusual about this bass?
Take another look at the fretboard. You'll see five strings on the Jean Auray bass, a French-made instrument. But that's not the only difference. This bass is played by Renaud Garcia-Fons, who plays the instrument and makes it sound like a cello, a drum, a Brazilian berimbau, even a flamenco guitar. His pizzicato, or plucking style, sounds most like flamenco. Renaud uses the tips of his fingers, rather than the sides (like most jazz players). He has a flawless bowing technique, no doubt developed under the tutelage of the master of the contrebasse, Francois Rabbath. Garcia-Fons can execute a sequence on the double bass that would send most musicians back to the woodshed. He looks like he's doing these pyrotechnics with little effort.
But enough about technique. What makes Renaud Garcia-Fons so interesting is that he plays some amazing music. In Montreal, he performed with a trio (guitar, percussion) at the Salle de Gesu.
I typically steer clear of superlatives when I write about musicians. My opinion is no less valid than any listener's opinion. That's one reason why I would never consider myself a critic. Just an advocate, really. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let me tell you that Roy Haynes is the greatest living jazz drummer. There. I said it. And I'm not just basing this on his accumulated career - you know, the 50+ years of playing with every major innovator since the late 1940s. Truth be told, Roy Haynes is eternally youthful, and he's still a badass. In July 1987, when Roy was a cool 62 years old (retirement age for the lucky few), he brought his quartet to Riverside Park in New York. WBGO recorded it for posterity, including this lovely jam on "All Blues." Donald Harrison is the saxophonist, Dave Kikoski played piano, Ed Howard is the bassist.
And the leader...Roy...(tap tap tap)...Haynes...
Click here to listen.
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.
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.
I am a city dweller, plagued by the New Yorker bias. That is, I very rarely go to New Jersey for anything other than to work at WBGO. However, I am not so entrenched that I won't shake my preconceptions for the right set of circumstances. So last night, I ventured to SOPAC for a performance from the SF Jazz Collective, a pride of eight musicians of the highest caliber.
Each year, the collective features original commissions, as well as arrangements of a noted modern jazz composer. This season, the band turns their all-seeing eye on composer and saxophonist (and Newark native) Wayne Shorter.
The end of time was the beginning of the set. Saxophonist Miguel Zenon's arrangement of Shorter's "Armegeddon" set us on the trailhead.
Here's what followed:
This That and the Other - a Joe Lovano original
The Angel's Share - penned by Matt Penman, a New Zealand import
Diana - from Shorter's Native Dancer, arranged by Renee Rosnes
Go - Stefon Harris arranged this Shorter composition with some backbeat boom bap. Great way to end the first half.
The second set pushed ahead into the abstract, modern aesthetic that makes the collective such a great band to hear. Drummer Eric Harland's "The Year 2008" set the tone, a composition built around a recorded vocal chant, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and a reading of the Declaration of Independence. Rosnes' "Aurora Borealis" followed. Trumpeter Dave Douglas contributed "Secrets of the Code," an original work that used snippets of Wayne Shorter's music as source code embedded as a thread throughout the composition. Great stuff. The newest member of the collective, trombonist Robin Eubanks, ended the evening with his arrangement of Shorter's "Black Nile."
Only two complaints. The piano monitor levels in the house made the trombone articulation inaudible. That's just the music nerd in me. The other issue is this: I could not hear all of the band's repertoire in a single night. The SF Jazz Collective had more music in the kitty, but I'll have to see them again to hear the rest. Will do.
People who know me will tell you I always have jazz on the brain. Guilty as charged. Recently, scientists studied improvising musicians, hoping to unlock the underlying neurological functions of high and low level musical improvisation. A summation of the study is here.
Turns out all you have to do is turn off your prefrontal cortex (can an Idiot's Guide to Turning Off Your Prefrontal Cortex be far behind?).
This study reminds me of a conversation I had with the New Orleans writer, performer, and creator Kalamu Ya Salaam. One night on Rampart Street, at a club called The Funky Butt, I watched in awe as Kalamu performed an original poem in a style similar to the way that pianist Cecil Taylor played his music. Kalamu and I worked together at WWOZ in New Orleans. One night, during his Thursday evening Kitchen Sink show, I asked him how he could do such things.
He said, "There's an invisible button located on your forehead. It controls the part of your brain that says you cannot do something. Turn it off."
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:
Hope is the thing with feathers. That's what Emily Dickinson wrote. Then again, Emily never left her bedroom, which sounds pretty hopeless. She never saw a moor, nor the sea. And she would not have gone to an Esperanza Spalding show, like I did this morning.
I always ask musicians I know for the scoop on who's coming up. Joe Lovano told me about Esperanza. I checked out her MySpace page, but I had not seen her live.
Her quartet featured Otis Brown Jr. on drums, Leonardo Genovese on piano and Fender Rhodes, and Jamie Haddad on percussion. Esperanza plays bass, and she sings.
Here are two songs about lost love, from two very different times and attitudes.
Esperanza Spalding has a new recording coming out in May on Heads Up Records. - Josh