Sad news to report. On May 15th, vibraphonist Walt Dickerson died of cardiac arrest at his home in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. He was 80. Walt made a string of amazing records in the 1960s for Prestige that rarely receive much notice beyond the realm of the hardcore jazz fan. I highly recommend them - This is Walt Dickerson, A Sense of Direction, Relativity, and my favorite, To My Queen - a quartet date with bassist George Tucker, drummer Andrew Cyrille and pianist Andrew Hill. Walt also cut some stuff for SteepleChase Records, and he collaborated with Sun Ra. They made a few intriguing records together, including Impressions of a Patch of Blue, based on Jerry Goldsmith's music for the Academy Award winning film starring Sidney Poitier and Shelley Winters (you MUST watch this movie). Walt's music is not so easy to find, but very much worth the effort. He will be missed.
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.
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.