Rhonda Hamilton

WBGO Says Goodbye to NEA Jazz Master Gunther Schuller

WBGO says farewell to NEA Jazz Master Gunther Schuller, who died today at age 89. The composer sought  to combine jazz and classical music in his seventy-year career, and coined the phrase "Third Stream" to describe this style.

In 2008, he was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, the nation's highest honor for jazz musicians and advocates. WBGO's Rhonda Hamilton was on hand for the occasion, and we'd like to share their memorable conversation with you again now.

Thank you, Gunther, and rest in peace!


Schuller began his career as a French horn player in the early forties, and recorded with trumpeter Miles Davis and other jazz musicians while also principal hornist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman were among the jazz artists whose works he championed at this time.

In 1959, he left performance to concentrate on scholarship and composition. He served as president of the New England Conservatory for twenty years, and as artistic director for the Tanglewood Music Center for fourteen. His two volumes on "Early Jazz" and "The Swing Era" are foundational texts of jazz musicology.

Guitarist Steve Khan on Sammy Cahn: Listen Now

Guitarist Steve Khan talks with Rhonda Hamilton about songs written by his father, Sammy Cahn. Cahn won four Academy Awards for his songs, which include many jazz standards and hits for Frank Sinatra, Broadway and Hollywood. Enjoy!


Paul Shaffer on Lew Soloff Legacy: Listen Now

Pianist Paul Shaffer, former leader of the Late Night With David Letterman band, talks with Rhonda Hamilton about a celebration of trumpeter Lew Soloff he hosted at the Manhattan School of Music on June 8. Soloff passed away March 8, 2015.

This free concert at the Manhattan School of Music's Borden Auditorium, featured dozens of Soloff's musical friends as special guests, including trumpeters Wynton Marsalis and Jon Faddis, and tenor saxophonist Chris Potter.

WBGO's Ang Santos attended the concert, and spoke with Shaffer as well as the event's producer, Noah Evans, and others who performed at the event to celebrate Soloff's legacy.


Relive WBGO's 2015 Trip To South Africa

Twenty-five WBGO members visited South Africa this March with Midday Jazz host Rhonda Hamilton and The Checkout's Simon Rentner.

In addition to soaking up the sights and sounds of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, they enjoyed the Rainbow Nation's wildlife, culture, heritage, historical sites, golf and vibrant urban communities in Johannesburg, Soweto and Cape Town.

Rhonda, Simon, and reporter Giovanni Russonnello share insights with us in a wonderful series of photo essays, news features and interviews. Click on the links below to share their Rainbow Nation experiences. Enjoy, and hope to see you there next year!


WBGO Dispatches from South Africa

Lesedi Cultural Village

Around Johannesburg

In Soweto

Elephants, Rhinos and Lions

Rhonda and Simon Tee Up!

Rhonda's FInal Thoughts

Mandela's Garden

In Cape Town

At The Cape Town Jazz Fest

The Checkout In South Africa

Hugh Masekela: The Checkout Interview

Thundercat: The Checkout Interview

Claude Cozens: "Jubilee Jam"

Benjamin Jephta: "The Homecoming"

Carlo Mombelli: "Stories"

Audio Features For WBGO News

Simon Rentner: Lesedi Cultural Village

Simon Rentner: The Apartheid Museum

Giovanni Russonnello: The Business Of The Cape Town Jazz Fest

Giovanni Russonnello: The Chimurenga Chronic

Pianist Kenny Werner on "Effortless Mastery": Listen Now

Pianist Kenny Werner talks with Rhonda Hamilton about the "Effortless Mastery" institute and ensemble he leads at the Berklee College of Music. The group performs at New York's Blue Note Monday, April 20th at 8 and 10:30 p.m. Enjoy!


Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt: Listen Now

Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt talks with Rhonda Hamilton about his CD "Tales, Musings And Other Reveries." Pelt performs with his quintet to celebrate the CD release at New York's Smoke April 17 to 19. Enjoy!

Photo by Tim Wilkins

WBGO in South Africa 8: In Cape Town

The culmination of our trip was the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, “Africa’s Grandest Gathering."

As the festival celebrated its 16th year, they chose to honor the 50th anniversary of the legendary South African mbaqanga singing group, the Mahotella Queens.

Photo credit: Esa Alexander/Sunday Times
Photo credit: Esa Alexander/Sunday Times

One of the original members, lead singer Hilda Tloubatla, is still with the group.

“We’ve got the spirit of the true musicians," she said, when asked what keeps the Mahotella Queens going strong. "We know how to go about a song - how to do a song.”

Well, you can believe that! From the first note, these ladies energized the crowd, which gave them a rousing reception.

Rounds of thunderous applause and loving shouts and screeches of approval echoed throughout the huge concert hall.

Photo credit: Ignatius Mokolone
Photo credit: Ignatius Mokone

The concert of South African musical icon Hugh Masekela was the one that moved me most. The trumpeter is internationally revered as one of our master musicians.

More than any other artist, he has introduced the world to the music and culture of South Africa.

To be in the midst of an adoring South African audience as Hugh Masekela performed was a thrill I will never forget. You could feel the love they have for him, and he for them, his brothers and sisters.

My soul stirred as soon as I heard the familiar introduction to “Coal Train” (Stimela), Masekela’s dedication to the men who work in South Africa’s mines.

I’ve heard this song many times before, but this time, I heard it with new ears and a new understanding.

There is a train that comes from Namibia and Malawi

There is a train that comes from Zambia and Zimbabwe,

There is a train that comes from Angola and Mozambique,

From Lesotho, from Botswana, from Swaziland,

From all the hinterland of Southern and Central Africa.

This train carries young and old, African men

Who are conscripted to come and work on contract

In the golden mineral mines of Johannesburg

And its surrounding metropolis, sixteen hours or more a day

For almost no pay.

Deep, deep, deep down in the belly of the earth

When they are digging and drilling

For that shiny mighty evasive stone,

Or when they dish that mish mesh mush food

into their iron plates with the iron shank.

Or when they sit in their stinky, funky, filthy,

Flea-ridden barracks and hostels.

They think about the loved ones they may never see again

Because they might have already been forcibly removed

From where they last left them

Or wantonly murdered in the dead of night

By roving and marauding gangs of no particular origin.

We are told they think about their land and their herds

That were taken away from them with a gun, and the bomb

and the teargas and the cannon.

And when they hear that Choo-Choo train

They always curse, curse the coal train,

The coal train that brought them to Johannesburg.

Rhonda and Masekela600

Thank you, South Africa. Thanks to our hosts Hema Shah of Immersion Journeys and Judy Pillay of South African Tourism, and their respective staffs.

In Hema’s words, you are “awesome!”

Thanks to my colleague Simon Rentner for your hard work and for facilitating this trip, and to the team at WBGO.

Most of all, thanks to all of the wonderful people who were part of our group, and with whom we shared this amazing journey.

WBGO in South Africa 7: Mandela's Garden

Cape Town, South Africa’s “Mother City,” is a photographer’s paradise.

It’s breathtakingly beautiful – from the top of Table Mountain, you can see miles of white sandy beaches that rim the coastline, and crystal clear ocean, in every shade of blue.


More spectacular vistas can be seen from the Upper Lighthouse at the Cape Of Good Hope.


Looking out from Table Mountain, you see a small land mass in the ocean.

That’s Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and hundreds of other political prisoners were incarcerated under Apartheid.


I always assumed the island was named after a person, but “Robben” is the Dutch word for seal. Today, it's home to over 20 species of mammals and is a bird sanctuary with a large African penguin population.


We were privileged to have a former inmate, Jama Mbatyoti, as one of our guides.

He was arrested in 1976 for planning a march in his hometown of Port Elizabeth, and was confined for five years.

Robben Island Guide600

You could hear the pain in his words, and see it permanently etched in his face, as he spoke of the indignities he and his fellow prisoners suffered.

s Cell600

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for twenty-seven years. He spent eighteen on Robben Island.

Mandela’s cell was in section B, where the leaders of political organizations were held, in isolation from the rest of the prison community.


Mr. Mbatyoti told us that Mandela liked to garden, and worked this small patch of land whenever he had the opportunity.

s Garden600

WBGO in South Africa 5: Tee Up!

Yes, WBGO golfs. And when we found out we were just minutes from one of the best courses in the world - Sun City's Gary Player Country Club - the golfers on our trip couldn't pass up the opportunity to play. We were in for a few surprises, to say the least!

Look how excited Simon and I are to tee off!


We’re used to seeing deer on the fairway in New Jersey. In South Africa, that's not a deer - it's an impala.


The animal that rules the green in South Africa is the mongoose - they are too cute!


This is strictly a walking course. Since no golf carts are allowed, each of us is assigned a caddie. My caddie, London, turns out to be a jazz fan who listens to a weekly South African jazz radio show.

Lucky for me, he is also an excellent reader of the greens. Here he is, helping me avoid an ibis!


The resort has a second Gary Player-designed 18-hole course, the Lost City. It's famous for the 38 crocodiles in the water at its 13th hole.

I'm pleased to say we didn't play anywhere near those beasts.

But... playing golf in South Africa! I kept having to pinch myself.


WBGO in South Africa 4: Elephants, Rhinos, and Lions!

When it comes to the wild kingdom in South Africa, everyone talks about The Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and buffalo.

On our overnight visit to Pilanesburg National Park, we got up close to them – four times!


The highlight of our first safari drive was meeting this elephant, who became quite agitated as we drew close.

Everyone held their breath, waiting to see if he was going to charge at us. Elephants have been known to tip over safari vehicles.

After what seemed like an eternity - but was really only  fifteen minutes - he decided to walk away.

They say elephants never forget, and I suspect all of us will be retelling the story of our elephant adventure for the rest of our days.


This lion family wasn’t particularly impressed by us - but we were enthralled, especially when they crossed the road right in front of our vehicle!


Rhinos like to sleep in the middle of the road. When they do, you just have to live with their decision, and wait until they decide to make a move.

Hey - check out the giraffe in the background!


We took a break for biscuits and hot chocolate at one of the highest points in the park. They don’t have rest stops like this in New Jersey.

The man in the picture is one of our wonderful guides, François.

In the end I never saw a buffalo. But who’s complaining, when you’ve got a dazzle of zebras?