Jazz Appreciation Month

Roseanna Vitro & Mark Soskin Live At WBGO: Listen Now

Singer Roseanna Vitro and pianist Mark Soskin perform live at WBGO and are interviewed by Michael Bourne to celebrate International Jazz Day on April 30, 2015. Enjoy!

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WBGO's Felix Hernandez: Etta James, At Last

The new president and first lady dance as Beyonce sings. Meanwhile, I think about another singer - Etta James.

My third interview with Etta is long overdue, I think, as I watch the White House Inaugural Ball in 2009. Obama and Michelle's first dance will give us plenty to talk about. The tune Beyonce's singing is one that Etta long considered hers.

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Our first interview took place in the 80s. Johnny Otis, the late capo of West Coast R&B, introduced the two of us while I was on a national tour interviewing R&B stars of previous generations.

In Los Angeles, Johnny hooked me up with some of R&B's early heavyweights. I spoke with Big Joe Turner, in what would be his last interview; Joe Liggins, whose "Honeydripper" was one of the biggest R&B hits of the 40s; Pee Wee Crayton;  Richard Berry, who introduced the song "Louie Louie" to a world eager to cover it.

And Etta, or "Peaches," as Johnny liked to call her.

At the time, Etta was getting herself back on the map, taking advantage of the roots R&B revival.

Soon after our interview, she played a packed blues club in Manhattan, where she sang to an audience of young professionals as well as older people who had bought her 45s when they were on the charts.

The song that got the wildest ovation was "At Last," which she did as part of a medley that dated back to her early years at Chess Records.

By the time we met again in the mid-90s, Etta had released several acclaimed albums and co-written a book with biographer David Ritz.

I had moved my "Classic Soul" operation from Tribeca to a dilapidated Brooklyn brownstone, where I planned to build an interview studio.

The studio faced an enclosed garden. It was to be a place where my R&B, pop and jazz heroes would gather and talk freely - with food grilling, wine pouring, and tapes rolling.

Etta James was my first and only guest in the studio.

Destiny's Child, the group that launched Beyonce, was still unknown on the day a hired limo rolled up 8th Avenue in Brooklyn.

Several minutes after stopping at the house, two large men stepped out of either side, then Etta James. I ignored the bodyguards and waved Etta into the house and back into the studio.

There was small talk. We laughed a lot. Etta James liked to say she didn't "show her teeth" to just anyone, so I felt honored.

She mentioned Ruth Brown, one of her idols, wanting to know how she was doing. Years earlier, Ruth Brown and I had started working together. I watched Ruth emerge from obscurity to a revived singing and acting career.

That led Ruth to a Tony award for Black & Blue and a role as the fast-rappin' disk jockey "Motormouth Maybelle" in John Waters' original Hairspray movie.  She was also a national radio hostess and recording artist (again).

I suspected that Etta, who as a teenager, had modeled so much of her sound and look on the Ruth Brown of the 1950's, was studying Ruth's comeback moves.

I offered Etta and her men coffee or cold water and apologies for the lingering smell of fresh paint. Unpacked boxes with records and studio equipment were scattered around the floor. All Etta said was, "You should see some of the places I've played."

We spent most of the session talking about Rage to Survive, the book in which the co-authors tell the stories about the wild child Jamesetta Hawkins (Etta's original name), the drugs, the abuse, the cold-hearted, profit-obsessed music business.

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I ended up using about forty of the interview's tamest minutes for a public radio profile. (I tried to get a less trimmed-down version of the Etta interview on commercial radio, but they'd never heard of her.)

We talked a bit about "At Last," an afterthought now that Etta's career was back on track. Her recorded performance came about as a result of a friendship with Harvey Fuqua. Harvey had a singing group called the Moonglows, a popular R&B act of the 50s.

Etta and Harvey had cut some tracks together as Betty & Dupree. (Etta also did some studio work during this period, including a Chuck Berry session where she remembers singing backup harmonies with an up-and-coming youngster named Marvin Gaye.)

Harvey eventually helped get Etta on Chess, the company where the Moonglows recorded their hits. Etta and Harvey recorded some new duets at the label's Chicago studios in May of 1960.

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Harvey heard something in Etta's voice that transcended rock and roll, so he gave her a book to study. It contained 100 popular standards, including a 1942 Glenn Miller hit called "At Last." The tune had been revived in 1957 by Nat King Cole in a lush arrangement for Capitol Records. "At Last," as recorded by Etta James for Chess' Argo line in October 1960, became one of her best-selling hit singles and, eventually, her signature song.

Almost a half century later, it's the Obama inaugural ball and it's Beyonce, not Peaches, singing "At Last."

I learned from a few scattered reports that what I'd imagined turned out to be true: Etta was furious. As a result, she was "a little down."

I also knew that, for Etta, "a little down" could mean much more. But no one seemed to care, and it was Beyonce's version that the radio kept playing. Beyonce had portrayed Etta James in the film Cadillac Records, very loosely based on the Chess story.

Having been lucky enough to spend hours with Etta James in Los Angeles and Brooklyn, I knew that the wild child, the rowdy teenager who practiced in the high school bathroom and fought through some of life's toughest struggles, would one day laugh about it all, and sing "At Last" to an audience on its feet.

But first, Etta vowed to "whup that girl's ass."

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Photo by Roland Godefroy

WBGO's Sheila Anderson: Carmen's Time

We know many great singers by their first names: Ella, Sarah, Abbey and Carmen (McRae, that is).

Now we have another  Carmen - Lundy, that is!

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Photo by Mark Hanauer

Like Abbey, this Carmen is multitalented: a composer, arranger, and actress. She is also painter, whose artwork has been exhibited in New York and Los Angeles.

Soul to Soul, Carmen's latest album and her fourteenth,  features 13 songs, 11 of which she composed and arranged.

She plays guitar on all tracks, piano on “Kindred Spirits,” the electric Rhodes piano on “Don’t You Know How I Feel,” and the drums/percussion on “Sardegna” and also provides backing vocals on “Grace.”

My introduction to Carmen was twenty years ago, when I began hosting “Sunday Morning Harmony.” Her haunting rendition of Victor Lewis’s “Big Girls,” as well as "Moment to Moment" by Henry Mancini, the title track of her third album, grabbed me.

She has impeccable intonation, loves harmony that makes her very accessible, easy to listen to.

Carmen is not an imitator, but an innovator, who learned from her influences. From Ella she heard her scatting, range, diction and swing, from Billie, how to sing a lyric and emotion, telling a story and from Sarah, how she dealt with her vocal range.

We met in the late nineties, soon after she moved from New York to Los Angeles. She had come back to sing at the now defunct Sweet Basil nightclub.

The club was packed with loyal fans - one of whom I’d become.

Photo by James St. Laurent
Photo by James St. Laurent

What I love about Carmen is her toughness, single mindedness, fortitude, passion, humor and grace.

For over four decades, she has excelled at being one of the few who mostly sings and performs her own material, much of it autobiographical.

Her lauded album and DVD combo, Jazz and the New Songbook-Live at the Madrid, is another great body of work where she, with the help of incredible musicians, brilliantly presents her songs.  In this we can see that Carmen is, in the words of Marian McPartland, a luminous, hauntingly dramatic and an enchanting performer.

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In my opinion, Carmen Lundy is the “real deal,” deserving of wider recognition.  I believe, from soul to soul, that her star will continue to shine!

WBGO's Lezlie Harrison: "You Gotta Move!"

I learned a lot in the alto section of the young adult choir in my grandfather’s North Carolina church.

There, in the front row directly behind the pulpit, I witnessed the effect the choir’s selections, and the preacher’s sermon, had on the congregation.

Together, we were able to stir souls, and ease whatever troubles lay heavy on the mind.

As performers, we possessed the power to move the audience to “get happy,” do the “holy dance,” cry, shout and release. I loved that. That’s what I wanted to do.

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Singers, like preachers, are storytellers. We are responsible for giving our audience a true and deeply heartfelt experience in hopes of lifting someone’s spirit.

On my way to becoming a professional singer, I had the good fortune to spend many hours in the company - both on and off the stage - with singers who could really deliver lyrics.

Shirley Horn, Jimmy Scott, Carmen McRae, Phyllis Hyman, and Abbey Lincoln are the most memorable to me. Here’s Shirley:

These singers draw you in, hold your attention and make you feel their truth. The beautiful, the bad - even the ugly truth.

Telling tales of love, or the lack thereof. Tales of wars, winning and losing, with heartfelt delivery.

I call upon the spirit of these great storytellers and ask for guidance before each performance.

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On a recent tour through Russia with an all-Russian band, I played before audiences who understood about as much English as I did Russian - zilch!

After every performance, I was greeted by some with smiling faces, tears in their eyes, full of  appreciation for the music we’d just played.

Young, old, bankers, clergy, teachers – all just regular folks, groovin’ and swingin’ to the tales being sung.

I will continue to move the audience with the very best in song!. As we celebrate vocalists  during Jazz Appreciation Month at WBGO, I express my gratitude to all the great storytellers who inspired me to tell my own.

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- WBGO announcer Lezlie Harrison is also a vocalist, bandleader, and actor

Contact: Lezlie@lezlieharrison.net, Facebook, Follow MzLezlie on Twitter

WBGO JAM Live 2015: New School Jazz Ensemble

The New School Jazz Ensemble performs live at WBGO for Jazz Appreciation Month, with vocalist Brianna Thomas. Click below to hear this concert, and tune in to 88.3 FM to hear this group featured on air during the last week of April. A full set list is below.

Every week in April, WBGO-FM has showcased a different student ensemble with vocalists who performed live in our studios for Jazz Appreciation Month. All of these full sets are available online. Enjoy!

Click on the image below to see a slideshow from this live in-studio performance.

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March 25th, 2015
New School Jazz Ensemble - Live at WBGO

1) ‘Round Midnight (Thelonius Monk)

2) All Of Me (written by Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons)

3) Smile (music by Charlie Chaplin, lyrics by  John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons)

4) Bye Bye Blackbird (music by Ray Henderson lyrics by Mort Dixon)

All traditional arrangements.

Brianna Thomas, Vocals and Band Leader
Jochem Le Cointre, Piano
Alexander Claffy, Bass
Cory Cox, Drums

WBGO's Monifa Brown: "There's Something About Ella"

There’s something about Ella. “I sing like I feel,” she once confessed.

This candor and transparency are why Ella’s voice transcends age and race, and has earned followers around the world.

Photo by WIlliam P. Gottlieb / LOC
Photo by WIlliam P. Gottlieb / LOC

It’s close to twenty years since Ella left the physical realm, and nearly eighty since she first wowed audiences at the Apollo Theatre’s famed ‘Amateur Hour’ as a teenager in Harlem.

She entered the contest as a dancer - luckily for us, at the last minute, she decided to sing instead. But her irrepressible sense of swing probably came in part from the fact that she knew how to dance.

Ella’s voice embodies girlish charm and endearing wit. Her exuberance is contagious.

She was a tour-de-force on an up-tempo swinger, then could turn around and deliver a ballad with the same great sense of drive.

Few, for my money, can take a lyric, whether by Berlin, Porter, Arlen, or Rodgers and Hart, and make you hear it in a new light like Ella.

Even Ira Gershwin once declared, "I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.”

Photo by WIlliam P. Gottlieb / LOC
Photo by William P. Gottlieb / LOC

Ella had amazing chops. She could – and did - hang with the best of them: Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Flip Phillips, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.

She was also prolific – she recorded over 200 albums. From her early dates with Chick Webb to Jazz At The Philharmonic and her Pablo sessions with Joe Pass, she shows her ability to evolve as an artist, the true mark of a creative genius.

Pianist Jimmy Rowles, her accompanist and one of those who knew her best, spoke of her magical presence in this way.

"Music comes out of her,” he said. “When she walks down the street, she leaves notes.”

Her Grammy-winning album Mack The Knife is one of my favorites. It’s a classic example of her onstage brilliance, charisma and ingenuity.

The album was recorded live in Berlin, with pianist Paul Smith, guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Wilfred Middlebrooks and drummer Gus Johnson.

It showcases her technical proficiency, the agility of her instrument, and often-humorous approach to improvisations.

Her scatting on the title track, where she forgets the lyrics and doesn’t miss a beat, are priceless.

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As a kid in the 70s, I was star-struck when I first saw Ella in a Memorex commercial.

I used to borrow my dad’s Memorex cassettes to record my favorite songs off the radio and create my own mix tapes.

In the commercial, Ella’s voice shatters a crystal glass. I’d never seen that before. I thought she was some sort of super hero.

Rightfully dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” Ella’s ability to deliver a lyric without gimmicks, and with clarity and potency, is unrivaled.

Billy Strayhorn sums it up best. "Ella is the boss lady. That's all.”

WBGO JAM Live 2015: SUNY Purchase Johnny Hartman Ensemble

The SUNY Purchase Johnny Hartman/John Coltrane Ensemble performs live at WBGO for Jazz Appreciation Month, with vocalists Juno Arreglado. Click below to hear this concert, and tune in to 88.3 FM to hear this group featured on air during the third week of April. A full set list is below.

Every week in April, WBGO-FM will showcase a different student ensemble with vocalists who performed live in our studios for Jazz Appreciation Month. All of these full sets will be available online. Enjoy!

Click on the image below to see a slideshow from this live in-studio performance.

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SUNY Purchase Johnny Hartman/John Coltrane Ensemble

live at WBGO

March 16th, 2015

1) You Are Too Beautiful (Rodgers & Hart)
2) Autumn Serenade (DeRose)
3) My One and Only Love (Wood & Mellin)
4) Dedicated To You (Cahn-Chaplin-Zaret)
5) Lush Life (Stayhorn)
6) They Say It’s Wonderful (Berlin)

Juno Arreglado, Voice, from Rockland County, NY
Jaedon Alvira, Tenor Saxophone, from Brooklyn, NY
Ben Rice, Piano, from San Francisco, CA
Drummond Dominguez/Kincaid, Guitar, from Croton-on-Hudson, NY
Michael Roninson, Bass, from Latham, NY
Zach Berns, Drums, from Boulder, CO

WBGO Jam Live 2015: Berklee "Effortless Mastery" Ensemble

The Berklee College of Music's "Effortless Mastery" Ensemble, directed by pianist Kenny Werner,  performs live at WBGO for Jazz Appreciation Month. Click below to hear this concert.

Werner also spoke with Rhonda Hamilton about Berklee's new "Effortless Mastery" Institute, which teaches students holistic techniques for developing and maintaining healthy performance practices.

All month long in April, WBGO is showcasing student ensembles with vocalists who performed live in our studios for Jazz Appreciation Month. All of these full sets will be available online. Enjoy!

Click on the image below to see a slideshow from this live in-studio performance.

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Berklee College of Music "Effortless Mastery Ensemble

live at WBGO 4/20/15

Kenny Werner, piano, Long Island, NY
Vivienne Aerts, voice, Leiden, Netherlands
Edmar Colon, sax, Coamo, Puerto Rico
Mao Sone, trumpet, Chiba, Japan
Max Salinger-Ridley, bass, Boston, MA
Tiago Michelin, drums, Cambridge, MA

WBGO Jam Live 2015: William Paterson Vocal Ensemble

The William Paterson University Jazz Vocal Ensemble performs live at WBGO for Jazz Appreciation Month, with vocalists Ana Petrillo, Jamie Henry and Vuyo Sotashe. Click below to hear this concert, and tune in to 88.3 FM to hear this group featured on air during the second week of April. A full set list is below.

Every week in April, WBGO-FM will showcase a different student ensemble with vocalists who performed live in our studios for Jazz Appreciation Month. All of these full sets will be available online. Enjoy!

Click on the image below to see a slideshow from this live in-studio performance.

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William Paterson University Jazz Vocal Ensemble

Live at WBGO - March 11th, 2015
Nancy Marano, Instructor
Dave Demsey, Coordinator of Jazz Studies

1) "I’ll Be Seeing You" by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal

(Arranged by Darmon Meater, sung by Anna Petrillo, Jamie Henry, Vuyo Sotashe, and Megan Roy)

2) "Lush Life" by Billy Strayhorn

(Sung and arranged by Jamie Henry)

3) "Yesterdays" by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach

(Sung and arranged by Jamie Henry)

4) "On Green Dolphin Street" by Bronisław Kaper and Ned Washington

(Sung and arranged by Anna Petrillo)

5)  "Wee Small Hours" by Bob Hilliard and David Mann

(Sung and arranged by Anna Petrillo)

6) "Day By Day" by Stephen Schwartz

(Sung and arranged by Vuyo Sotashe)

7)  "Sophisticated Lady" by Duke Ellington and Mitchell Parish

(Sung and arranged by Vuyo Sotashe)

Anna Petrillo (senior, Bayonne, NJ), vocals
Jamie Henry (senior, Edmonton, Alberta), vocals
Vuyo Sotashe (masters, Fulbright Scholar, South Africa), vocals
Sam Javitch (senior, New York, NY), piano
Chris Sullivan (masters, San Francisco, CA), alto saxophone
Miguel Rodriguez (senior, Freehold, NJ), tenor saxophone
Vincent Dupont (junior, Hudson, NH), bass
Matt Niedbalski (junior, Gainesvoort, NY), drums

WBGO's Monifa Brown: My Sarah Vaughan

Monifa Brown tells us how  Sarah "Sassy" Vaughan first entered her life. Read on!

When I was a voice student at New York’s LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, I had this dream: I would meet Sarah Vaughan, and she would take me under her wing.

I would apprentice with one of the greatest voices to ever grace the planet.

Photo: William P. Gottlieb / LOC
Photo: William P. Gottlieb / LOC

Needless to say, that never happened. But to this day, Sarah’s emotive and highly textured, multi-octave contralto can move me to tears - in an instant.

Her voice is without rival. It is transformational.

With a single note, Sassy can create a state of euphoria: her spine-tingling vibrato and cascading turns of phrase can nestle you deep inside the bluesy harmonic crevices of a song.

“Music was my refuge,” Dr. Maya Angelou once said. “I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness."

I often wondered if she had Sarah Vaughan in mind when she wrote that.

Here’s Sarah, in her own words: “When I sing, trouble can sit right on my shoulder - and I don't even notice.”

Photo: William P. Gottlieb / LOC
Photo: William P. Gottlieb / LOC

I have always gravitated towards music and musicians that elicit a visceral reaction, or emotional and spiritual awakening. Those are the musicians who transcend their art.

They are the creative spirits who make you aware that artistry flows through them – it emanates from a higher source.

For me, 'The Divine One' is such an artist.  Her voice is the perfect balance of yin and yang; it is the ebb and flow of the cerebral and the visceral, the technical and emotional, of restraint and wild abandon. Sassy's instrument is the ultimate voice.

My parents played all of the great female vocalists when I was coming up. In addition to Sarah, they loved Billie, Nina, Ella, Betty, Abbey and Nancy.

But there was one particular day when I began to really appreciate what I was experiencing.

It started on a sunny afternoon in Brooklyn's Clinton Hill section, where I grew up: a few apartments away from John Ore, down the street from Lester Bowie and the Marsalises, and a few blocks away from Oliver Lake.

I ventured out on a warm Saturday afternoon to rummage through Pratt Institute's Street Fair. I was looking for vintage clothes, so I could make some sort of Denise Huxtable-Gordon Gartrell ensemble.

Don't laugh - yes, I liked to make my own crazy clothes back in the day!

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What I found was so much more. Somewhere between Dekalb and Willoughby Avenues, buried deep in a milk crate, I found a cassette of a Sarah’s 1954 Emarcy session with Clifford Brown.

For less than $2, I held in my hand what would spark my lifelong affinity for one of the world's greatest voices.

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I remember spending hours in my room that afternoon listening to that album, again and again.

In the days and weeks that followed, I was on a crusade to match Sassy’s impeccable and swinging solo on George Shearing's “Lullaby Of Birdland” note for note.

If you ever happen to hear me playing this track on air, know that as it is pumping through the speakers at WBGO, I am once again trying to scat those brilliant lines.

As a teenager, just beginning to understand heartache, disappointment and romance, Sarah's honey-drenched delivery of songs like “Jim” - which we hear above - spoke to me.

The cry in her voice spoke to my soul.

Sassy's flawless diction, irrepressible sense of swing and the sheer beauty of her instrument were undeniable - unlike anything I had ever heard.

They are still unlike anything I have ever heard.

In a word, Divine.

- Monifa Brown, host of Saturday Afternoon Jazz

Follow Monifa on Twitter: @globaljazzqueen