RIP

Michael Lionstar / Knopf

An array of writers, musicians and friends will gather at The Center for Fiction on Wednesday, for “an evening of readings, music, reflection, and gratitude in celebration of the life and legacy of Toni Morrison.”

Morrison, who died on Aug. 5 at 88, was an American novelist of profound craft and penetrating vision, as well as a writer of oracular authority on the subjects of race and social justice.

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Bob Wilber, a saxophonist, clarinetist and bandleader who spearheaded a traditional jazz revival in the face of a postwar modernist boom, and kept the faith well into a new century, died on Aug. 4 in Chipping Campden, England. He was 91.

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A wave of shock and sadness moved through the jazz community on Sunday, with news of the death of Lawrence Lo Leathers, a drummer with a steadfast presence in the modern jazz mainstream.

Leathers was 37. He was killed on Sunday in the hallway of an apartment building on East 141st Street in the Bronx neighborhood of Mott Haven, according to Detective Martin Brown of the NYPD. The police have arrested a suspect in connection to the incident.

Ed Bickert, whose exceedingly modest way in conversation belied a nimble sense of humor, used to tell one story deserving of a permanent place in guitar lore. At a concert in Montreal, the host introduced the band by naming each player as well as the make of his equipment — for instance, “Bill Mays on a piano by Yamaha.”

When he homed in on the guitarist, the announcer said: “Ed Bickert on a guitar by Fisher-Price.”   

David Redfern / Redferns/Getty

Ira Gitler, a passionate critic and proponent of modern jazz during its rise, and a tireless chronicler of its history thereafter, died on Saturday at a nursing facility in New York City. 

He was 90. His death was confirmed by Fitz Gitler, his son.

Few writers on jazz have ever loomed as large as Ira Gitler, who opined prodigiously for more than 60 years, in publications like Metronome, JazzTimes and DownBeat, for which he served as New York editor for a time.

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The front page of today’s Baltimore Sun carries an excellent obituary for the singer Ethel Ennis, described in its headline as that city’s “First Lady of Jazz.” Which of course she was.

As a performer, a regional celebrity, a venue proprietor and a community builder, she bolstered Charm City’s underrated scene with a genial brand of strength and pride.

Courtesy of The Roy Hargrove Estate

This time each year, amidst the warmth of year-end highlights and holiday wishes, we pause to remember those we have lost.

But while it's an occasion for sadness, it's also an opportunity to celebrate their legacies in full. That's the spirit with which Jazz Night in America offers this In Memoriam episode, featuring testimonials by some of those who knew the artists best.

WBGO

Trumpeter and composer Roy Hargrove, who died tragically on Friday at 49,  is best known for his unflappable command in small-group settings, including his sterling quintet. But he was also a connoisseur of the big band — leading his own, on and off, through most of his career.

The Roy Hargrove Big Band released a single album, Emergence, in 2009. Around the time of the album’s release, he brought the 18-piece ensemble to WBGO for a session on Afternoon Jazz. Highlights from that session were later featured on The Checkout, then hosted by Josh Jackson.

Hamiet Bluiett was as much a soul singer as any broad-shouldered balladeer who recorded hit singles for the rhythm-and-blues labels of the 1950s and ‘60s.

The only difference was that he used a baritone saxophone to do the pleading, growling and shouting, in the experimental vein of progressive jazz.

Big Jay McNeely, a rhythm-and-blues legend known as “King of the Honkin’ Sax,” died on Sunday, according to multiple sources. He was 91. Bob Porter, the author of Soul Jazz, remembers him here.

Nick Michael / NPR

As we continue to remember pianist and composer Randy Weston, who died on Sept. 1, we’re reminded of his devotion to the motherland, Africa. But how many people know about his ties to Central America — and in particular, his deep connection to Panama?


Chester Higgins

Randy Weston, a pianist and composer who devoted more than half a century to the exploration of jazz’s deep connection with Africa, died on Saturday at his home in Brooklyn. He was 92.

His death was announced by his wife and business partner, Fatoumata Weston.

Aretha Franklin
NPR

Tributes continue to pour in from around the world following the death of legendary singer Aretha Franklin, who died in Detroit last Thursday at 76. The music and message of  The Queen of Soul touched so many in the jazz and blues community; some of their voices are captured in this edition of the WBGO Journal.

WBGO will rebroadcast our four-hour Aretha Franklin special on Friday, Aug. 24, from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Last Saturday on Rhythm Revue, Felix Hernandez celebrated the life and music of Aretha Franklin, who died on Aug. 16.

Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images

Aretha Franklin, who died on Thursday at 76, made an impression on all who heard her — but especially those who worked with her.


Caroline Forbes / ECM

Tomasz Stanko, who died this week at 76, was more than an important Polish trumpeter and composer, though he was certainly both of those things.

WBGO

Lorraine Gordon will always be remembered for her indefatigable stewardship of The Village Vanguard, where she maintained the highest of standards. She was also a terrific storyteller — and had more than a few terrific stories to tell.

Joan Powers

The Branford Marsalis Quartet had been rampaging at the Village Vanguard for over an hour — in full burnout mode, practically rattling the pictures on the walls — when its leader swerved unexpectedly into a softer mode. Channeling his best Ben Webster warble on the tenor saxophone, Branford closed the set with a songbook ballad, “Sweet Lorraine.” For those in the room who recognized its gladsome melody, the implicit dedication rang clear.

Bob Dorough, who died on Monday at 94, was a bebop piano player, a lifelong hipster, and a songwriter who made it all look easy (while always staying one step ahead of you).

He was also an irreplaceable singer — and an important figure in the life of WBGO's Michael Bourne, who offers this reminiscence alongside Dorough's last appearance on Singers Unlimited.

Peter Gannushkin / downtownmusic.net

It’s taken decades for Jason Moran to understand the artistry of Cecil Taylor, the brilliant American pianist who left us last Thursday, on April 5. A few years ago, The Checkout visited Moran’s New York studio to celebrate the visionary iconoclastic artist, just before paying homage at Harlem Stage.

 

On this very special Checkout podcast, Moran reflects on his hero in conversation, then honors him in performance. 

Ignatius Mokone

The trumpeter, scholar and freedom fighter Hugh Masekela died this morning in Johannesburg, at 78. The Checkout has periodically checked in over the years with this South African jazz master — though he'd be the first to say that he wasn’t a jazz artist, nor is jazz an American art form.


Ilene Cutler / Courtesy of Verna Gillis

Roswell Rudd, a trombonist whose jubilant blare and yawping wit made him a singular fixture in the jazz avant-garde — as a bandleader, a member of The New York Art Quartet and a frontline partner for titans like saxophonist Albert Ayler — died on Friday morning at his home in Kerhonkson, N.Y.

John Rogers for NPR / johnrogersnyc.com

Every year around this time, the jazz community takes the measure of its highlights and bright moments — along with a tally of its losses.

 

And while it's true that important jazz artists leave us every year, 2017 was tougher than most. We bade farewell to avant-garde pioneers like Muhal Richard Abrams and Sunny Murray, genre-blending synthesists like John Abercrombie and Larry Coryell, and behind-the-scenes giants like Nat Hentoff and George Avakian.

Kevin Mahogany, a big-voiced, broad-shouldered singer who dipped into the wellsprings of jazz, blues, pop and R&B during a career spanning three decades, died on Monday in Kansas City, Missouri. He was 59.

The news was announced by his niece, Lawrencia Mahogany, who confirmed his death to WBGO.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

Let's take a moment to remember the Chicago Jazz pianist Willie Pickens, who died last week at age 86.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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Sunny Murray, an improvising drummer who pioneered a radical and influential approach to rhythm, died on Thursday night in Paris. He was 81.

David Redfern / Getty Images

Jon Hendricks, a revered jazz singer who refined and popularized the art of vocalese, or putting lyrics to famous improvised solos, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 96.

His death was confirmed by his daughter Aria Hendricks.

William P. Gottlieb / Library of Congress

George Avakian, a producer, artist manager and writer who played a foundational role in jazz’s expression on record, died on Wednesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 98.

His death was confirmed by his daughter Anahid Avakian Gregg.

Tom Marcello / Flickr

Ben Riley, a subtle and versatile jazz drummer best known for his affiliation with Thelonious Monk in the 1960s and Kenny Barron, one of Monk’s pianistic heirs, in all the years since, died on Saturday at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, New York. He was 84.

Nancy Carter / Colson personal collection

The pioneering composer, pianist and educator Muhal Richard Abrams died on Oct. 29, at 87. Among the many artists who considered him a mentor are pianist Adegoke Steve Colson and vocalist Iqua Colson, who are spouses as well as musical partners, and coauthored this tribute. 

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