WBGO Blog
  • Good Gracious! Words Of Wisdom And Soulful Reflection From 'Sweet Papa' Lou Donaldson

    June 20, 2019

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    Host Christian McBride and Saxophonist Lou Donaldson in Florida. (Image Credit: Katie Simon/WBGO)

    Lou Donaldson, the alto saxophonist fondly known as "Sweet Papa," tends to characterize his colorfully sprawling life in jazz as the pursuit of a fundamental aim. "I always had my music geared to the people," he says. "'Cause when I played, I listened to what they were giving me the applause for."

    During a career spanning more than six decades, Donaldson met that standard with style to spare — in the earliest hard-bop bands, alongside Art Blakey and Clifford Brown; with a winning series of 1960s Blue Note albums, like Alligator Bogaloo, that would come to epitomize soul jazz; as a blues-and-bebop legacy artist, recognized as an NEA Jazz Master; and as a core sample source for hip-hop artists like Pete Rock and De La Soul.

    Donaldson, 92, has lately been enjoying a retiree's easy pace in Florida, but he's no less garrulous and mischievous than he ever was, as we'll hear in this episode of Jazz Night in America. Our host, Christian McBride, visited Donaldson at home, and their conversation is an unguarded and salty treat. ("The only jazz I hear," quips Sweet Papa Lou, "is when some old people play it.")

    We'll also hear plenty of music, pulled not only from Donaldson's storied catalog but also a 2009 date at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, with his longtime organ quartet. We'll hear Don Was, the president of Blue Note, explain why Donaldson has been key to the label's legacy. And we'll hear Pete Rock break down the magic of those tracks from a hip-hop point of view. "To me, Lou was special," Rock reflects — a sentiment we all share at Jazz Night, in a vibrant present tense.

    Musicians

    Lou Donaldson, alto saxophone, vocals; Randy Johnston, guitar; Akiko Tsuruga, organ; Fukishi Tainaka, drums

    Credits

    Host: Christian McBride; Producers: Trevor Smith with Alex Ariff; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Recording Engineer: Rob Macomber; Executive Producers: Amy Niles, Gabrielle Armand, Anya Grundman; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey; Production Assistant: Sarah Kerson; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Special thanks to Hannah Harris Green, Sam Turken, Roberta Magrini, Belviana Todmann, Cem Kurosman, and Colin Moreshead

    Copyright 2019 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Turtle Island Quartet Joins Cyrus Chestnut With Global Gospel Offering

    June 6, 2019. Posted by Alex Ariff.

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    Turtle Island String Quartet with Cyrus Chestnut (Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist)

    "I don't believe America was founded to be one dimensional," pianist Cyrus Chestnut asserts. "It's various different people coming together, quote unquote, to develop something hip."

    Chestnut is referring, in part, to a conversation between jazz, gospel and classical music that has been ongoing for well over a century. But he's also describing Carry Me Home,his decade-long collaboration with the Turtle Island Quartet, the subject of this episode of Jazz Night in America.

    Now approaching its 35th year, Turtle Island — violinists David Balakrishnan and Gabriel Terracciano, violist Benjamin Von Gutzeit and cellist Malcolm Parson — stands apart from most other string quartets in its capacity to improvise and truly swing.

    Jazz Night caught the fourth-ever concert performance of Carry Me Home, at the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre in the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech. The program — ranging from gospel spirituals to Senegalese chants to jazz standards — illustrates what Balakrishnan calls "a blend kind of mentality." He was using that phrase to describe Chestnut, but on some level he could have been talking about the American experiment, which can only ever be a work in progress.

    Set List

    • "Subconscious-Lee" (Lee Konitz, arr. B. von Gutzeit)
    • "Wade In The Water" (trad, arr. Cyrus Chestnut)
    • "Down In The Depths" (Wayne Shorter, arr. B. von Gutzeit)
    • "Chant Mouride" (Diame Beniot, arr. M. Parson)
    • "Jeannine" (Duke Pearson, arr. D. Balakrishnan)
    • "Come Sunday" (Duke Ellington, arr. Cyrus Chestnut)
    • "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" (Charles Gabriel, arr. Cyrus Chestnut)
    • "Lean On Me" (Bill Withers, arr. Cyrus Chestnut)

    Musicians

    Turtle Island Quartet with Cyrus Chestnut: David Balakrishnan, violin, leader; Benni von Gutzeit, viola; Gabe Terracciano, violin; Malcolm Parson, cello; Cyrus Chestnut, piano

    Credits

    Producers: Alex Ariff; Production Assistant: Sarah Kerson; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey; Executive Producers: Amy Niles, Gabrielle Armand, Anya Grundman; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Recording Engineer: Robert Gainer, mixed by David Tallacksen

    Copyright 2019 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • ECM At Big Ears: A Boundless Label Meets A Broadminded Festival

    May 24, 2019

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    Carla Bley Trio (Image Credit: Eli Johnson/Courtesy of Big Ears Festival)

    At one point during the final stretch of this year's Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tenn., you could have pried yourself away from a distortion-jacked Sun of Goldfinger show to join a clutch of fans hurrying over to see The Art Ensemble of Chicago. In making that calculation (a typical one, for Big Ears), you'd have been weighing two wildly different experiences with one notable thing in common: Both groups have an affiliation with the sonically adventurous label ECM Records.

    ECM is observing its 50th anniversary this year and its largest celebration took place at Big Ears, where artists from its roster played some 20 concerts. Jazz Night in America's intrepid team caught about half of these — including a gorgeous solo bass recital by Larry Grenadier and a coolly mesmerizing dual-piano concert by Craig Taborn and Vijay Iyer.

    In this episode of our show, we bring you along to three of the very best performance we heard, each illuminating a different facet of ECM. We'll begin with composer, pianist and NEA Jazz Master Carla Bley, leading her chamber-like trio with bassist Steve Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard. Next up is an agile post-bop quartet led by Israeli-born trumpeter Avishai Cohen. And we end by locking into the matrix of Nik Bärtsch's Ronin, whose leader is a Swiss pianist and composer specializing in what he calls "zen-funk."

    Each of these compelling artists has insights on the broadminded legacy of ECM, and the meticulous vision of its founder, Manfred Eicher. We'll hear from them — and from the brain behind Big Ears, producer Ashley Capps, who says there has always been an ECM presence in Knoxville, if you just knew where to look.

    Set List

    • "Utviklingssang" (Carla Bley)
    • "Sex with Birds" (Carla Bley)
    • "Life and Death" (Avishai Cohen)
    • "Will I Die Miss? Will I Die?" (Avishai Cohen)
    • "Module 46" (Nik Bärtsch)
    • "Module 36" (Nik Bärtsch)

    Musicians

    • Carla Bley Trio: Carla Bley, piano; Steve Swallow, bass; Andy Sheppard, saxophone
    • Avishai Cohen Quartet: Avishai Cohen, trumpet; Marcus Gilmore, drums; Barak Mori, bass; Fabian Almazan, piano
    • Nik Bartsch's Ronin: Nik Bärtsch, piano; Sha, bass/contrabass clarinet; Kaspar Rast, drums; Thomy Jordi, bass

    Credits

    Producers: Sarah Geledi and Nate Chinen; Production Assistant: Sarah Kerson; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey; Executive Producers: Amy Niles, Gabrielle Armand, Anya Grundman; Recording Engineer: Rob Macomber

    Copyright 2019 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Cleveland's Joe Lovano Comes Home

    May 16, 2019. Posted by Alex Ariff.

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    Joe Lovano. (Image Credit: Craig Lovell/Courtesy of the artist)

    If you're even a casually observant jazz fan, you might think you know a thing or two about Joe Lovano. A tenor saxophonist with dozens of albums to his name, most of them made during a roughly 25-year tenure on Blue Note Records, Lovano is one of the most instantly identifiable musicians on the jazz landscape and on the New York scene. But he didn't come from nowhere.

    With that in mind, Jazz Night in America joins the amiable saxophonist on one of his customary visits to Cleveland, where he came up under the wing of his father, Tony, a tenorman known "Big T." We'll stop by his Uncle Sandy and Aunt Rose's house, where he spent countless childhood hours, and hear family lore from his brothers Anthony and Patrick, and sister Laura-Jo.

    And, of course, we'll hear some terrific music — Lovano on the bandstand at The Bop Stop, a Cleveland fixture, with close friends like vibraphonist Ronzo Smith and drummer Carmen Castaldi.

    "There were five generations of musicians in my life from Cleveland that I presented in those two nights," Lovano muses. "I didn't realize it 'til afterwards, either. You know, it was just people I wanted to play with."

    You'll want to be there, so to speak, when he does.

    Set List

    • "Sounds of Joy" (Lovano)
    • "On This Day" (Lovano)
    • "Body and Soul" (Johnny Green)
    • "T Was To Me" (Lovano/Ronzo Smith)
    • "Spiritual" (John Coltrane)
    • "Good Bait" (Tadd Dameron)

    Musicians

    Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, taragato; Anthony Fuoco, piano; Bobby Ferrazza, guitar; Ronzo Smith, vibraphone; Eddie Baccus, organ, Aidan Plank, bass; Carmen Castaldi, drums; Greg Bandy, drums; Anthony Lovano, drums; Jamey Haddad, percussion; Patrick Lovano, spoken word.

    Credits

    Producer: Alex Ariff with Sarah Geledi; Production Assistant: Sarah Kerson; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey; Executive Producers: Amy Niles, Gabrielle Armand, Anya Grundman; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Recording Engineer: Regis Sedlock; Mixed by David Talleckson

    Copyright 2019 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Women To Watch: 3 Young Jazz Artists You Need To Know

    May 2, 2019

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    Melanie Charles, Lakecia Benjamin and María Grand (Image Credit: Weird Hours / Elizabeth Leitzell / Dimitri Louis/Courtesy of the artists)

    One question we often hear at Jazz Night in America is, 'Who are the young musicians to look out for?' There are many contenders, of course, and we try to do our part in featuring their efforts. To that end, this episode of Jazz Night spotlights three bright women coming into their own as artists: Vocalist and flutist Melanie Charles, and saxophonists Lakecia Benjamin and María Grand. Each woman has a unique story to tell, as we'll hear in this show, which also features a healthy dose of their music, recorded on the bandstand at Dizzy's Club in New York.

    SET LIST

    • "Spiral" (John Coltrane)
    • "Liberia" (John Coltrane)
    • "West" (María Grand)
    • "Damballah Wedo" (Traditional - Arrangement: Eddy Bourjolly)
    • "Symphony" (Melanie Charles)
    • "Billie's Blues" (Billie Holiday)

    MUSICIANS

    Lakecia Benjamin Quartet: Lakecia Benjamin, alto saxophone; Yeisson Villamar, piano; Lonnie Plaxico, bass; Darrell Green, drums.

    María Grand Quartet: María Grand, tenor saxophone and vocals; Faye Victor, vocals; Savannah Harris, drums; Kanoa Mendonhall, drums.

    Melanie Charles and Make Jazz Trill Again: Melanie Charles, flute and vocals; Jonathan Michel, bass; Luke Carlos O'Reilly, piano; Charles Haynes, drums; Godwin Louis, soprano saxophone; Rogerst Charles, alto saxophone.

    CREDITS

    Producer: Sarah Kerson; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey; Executive Producers: Amy Niles, Gabrielle Armand, Anya Grundman; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Recording Engineer: Rob Macomber.

    Copyright 2019 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.