• Prolific Author And Jazz Writer Nat Hentoff Dies At 91

    January 8, 2017. Posted by David Tallacksen.

    Nat Hentoff during the annual "A Great Night in Harlem" Benefit Concert at The Apollo Theater in New York City. (Image Credit: Stephen Lovekin/FilmMagic via Getty Images)

    Nat Hentoff, the author of dozens of books and decades of columns, has died at 91.

    His son Nick Hentoff confirmed his father's death on Twitter Saturday night.

    Hentoff was a writer for the Village Voice for 50 years. He also wrote for many publications over his lengthy career, including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, United Media syndicate and Down Beat magazine.

    He frequently wrote about issues surrounding civil liberties — the Voice describes him as a "civil libertarian." His 1982 novel The Day They Came to Arrest the Book tells the story of a high school that seeks to remove the book Huckleberry Finn from the school curriculum and library over racism and other issues. A student from the school newspaper fights the effort — an allegory on censorship.

    He also was a lover and frequent writer on jazz music. From age 11, he was hooked on the genre after hearing the song "Nightmare" by Artie Shaw coming through an open door at a record store.

    "It just reached inside me," Hentoff told NPR's Guy Raz in 2010. "I rushed into the store, 'What was that?' "

    Over the six decades he spent covering jazz, he attended plenty of performances and met many musicians.

    He "got to be very good friends" with jazz great Dizzy Gillespie. At one point, he sat in on a recording session featuring Abbey Lincoln, Coleman Hawkins and Max Roach. "The music just became part of you as you heard it," Hentoff said of the experience.

    His most memorable show he attended was Duke Ellington "with his full orchestra" at Symphony Hall in Boston, playing the jazz work "Black, Brown and Beige."

    "It was the history of black people in the United States from slavery to the present," Hentoff told NPR in 2010. "And it was so extraordinary. At the end ... people were so moved they could barely applaud until they gave a standing ovation."

    Hentoff started writing for the Village Voice in 1958 until he was "excessed" in 2008 by new managers. A few days after his firing, he told NPR that condolences he received from readers afterward were "like reading one's obituary while you're still alive." But he vowed to keep writing.

    In his final column for the Voice in 2009, he recalled advice he received from one of his mentors in journalism, the muckraker I.F. Stone:

    "If you're in this business because you want to change the world, get another day job. If you are able to make a difference, it will come incrementally, and you might not even know about it. You have to get the story and keep on it because it has to be told."

    Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • The Top 30 Live Jazz Performances of All Time

    December 31, 2016. Posted by Steve Williams.

    WBGO announcers made a list of their favorite concert performances and we're playing them for you this weekend as an appetizer for Toast of the Nation, our all night coast to coast feast of jazz concerts, airing tonight at 8. Here are a few picks from the list.


    superband live

    As remnants of Hurricane Hugo swirled outside New York City's Town Hall on a blustery night in 1989, inside an all-star cast including Ray Brown, Herb Ellis, James Moody, Frank Wess, Harry “Sweets” Edison and Johnny Coles was telling Hugo to sit down!

    Featured out front were the charged voices of Ernestine Anderson and Ernie Andrews. With Gene Harris at the piano, the evening took off on a “Surrey with the Fringe on Top", visiting Erroll Garner, The Gershwins, Ellington and Armstrong, with some “Serious Grease” to make any soul get in touch.

    For me it represents a template by which I measure other live performances. Thanks to the insight of Concord Records, it remains a wonderful, engaging listen.


    concerts by the sea

    Only 33 at the time, Erroll Garner was already recognized as a piano giant. But the venue was considered to be less than acoustically perfect and the piano was not the best Erroll had ever laid his talented hands on (some actually claim it was slightly out of tune!).

    This event, part of the "Sunset Series" and a precursor to the Monterey Jazz Festival (which would debut 3 years later in 1958) was not officially recorded by the event's promoter or Erroll's label, Columbia Records. But a jazz fan from the Armed Forces Radio Network captured the music on open reel for his own personal enjoyment.

    Long story short: Erroll, with bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Denzil Best kill. Erroll's manager Martha Glaser grabs the tape, gets it into producer George Avakian's hands and "Erroll Garner's Concert by the Sea" is released the following year. To this day it is considered one of the great concert recordings in jazz history.

    Of course in radio, with it's time constraints and formats that must be adhered to, we're only able to play one (or if we "accidentally" let the album track to another) cut from the album at a time. However, this is a performance that begs to be listened to from beginning to end – on vinyl if possible. My advise to you: Put 41 minutes aside and give this album listen.

  • Toast Of The Nation 2017

    December 30, 2016

    The Fred Hersch Trio performs at Blue Note Beijing on Oct. 28, 2016. (Image Credit: Zhang Dongdong)

    The New Year holiday tradition continues with the Toast of the Nation jazz party. Spirited, improvised and swinging, each hour was recorded live at Blue Note venues throughout the country and the world.

    With a new format this year, there are no countdowns to midnight. Instead, you can enjoy six solid hours of music, right for any time of the day or night — complete with festive Happy New Year messages throughout. Hosted by Christian McBride, this is the perfect complement to your holiday festivities.

    Hear Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau from Blue Note Tokyo, Buika from B.B. King Blues in Times Square, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band from Blue Note Hawaii, the sultry Dee Dee Bridgewater from Blue Note Napa, the Ron Carter Quartet from Blue Note New York and pianist Fred Hersch from Blue Note Beijing.

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  • Looking Back To Move Forward: Celebrating Jazz Artists We Lost in 2016

    December 28, 2016. Posted by Katie Simon.

    Toots Thielemans. (Image Credit: Jos Knaepen)

    2016 brought a lot of loss to the music community: Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, David Bowie and Prince, just to name a few. Jazz also lost great players from Paul Bley to Gato Barbieri to the three we're profiling this hour on Jazz Night in America — vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, harmonica player Toots Thielemans and bassist Victor Bailey.

    JNIA host Christian McBride interviews Hutcherson's son, Teddy, about his dad; talks to Thielemans' pianist, Kenny Werner; and pays a personal tribute to Bailey. Rare live recordings of Thielemans and Hutcherson come from the Jazz at Lincoln Center archives.

    Copyright 2016 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Why The 2016 Jazz Critics Poll Belongs To The Avant Gentry

    December 21, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

    Jazz critic Francis Davis says two 2016 projects from Wadada Leo Smith are are must-listens: his solo record, America's National Parks, and his collaboration with Vijay Iyer, A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke. (Image Credit: Scott Groller/Courtesy of the artist)

    The results of this year's Jazz Critics Poll — NPR's fourth annual and my 11th, counting from its 2006 inception in the Village Voice — slightly resemble those of the last two. Henry Threadgill, Jack DeJohnette, Mary Halvorson and Vijay Iyer all are repeaters from last year's Top 10, and Steve Lehman and Wadada Leo Smith are back from 2014's, when they finished No. 1 and No. 2. With Smith, Threadgill and DeJohnette all over 70, and Charlie Haden 76 when he died two years ago, the average age of the musicians in this year's Top 10 might be the oldest since '06, when Nels Cline (No. 7 this year and 10 years older) was the baby at 50.

    That's the troubling news, if you choose to see it as a sign of jazz's dwindling life expectancy. I don't. The 2016 honor roll also includes Halvorson and Lehman, both in their 30s, and two-time winner Iyer, who isn't significantly older. And slightly further down the list, in the Top 20, are Darcy James Argue, Tyshawn Sorey and Jonathan Finlayson, all past winners in Debut (the poll's equivalent of Rookie of the Year). Gregory Porter, who made the Top 50, and Noah Preminger, who just missed, are also previous winners in this category. Besides, watching the polls as long as I have has taught me the folly of drawing conclusions about the state of jazz's creative health from just one year's standings.

    Over the last 11 years, the poll has shown critical consensus forming behind the above-named musicians, plus others including JD Allen (No. 13 this year) and Cecile McLorin Salvant. And if you go by magazine covers and White House invitations, 2016's breakout jazz star was Joey Alexander, a 13-year-old piano prodigy about whom this poll's voters seem to be wisely playing wait-and-see (some of us overheard mumbling about child labor laws).

    But the year belonged to what I think of as avant elders, or better yet, the avant gentry — musicians who have remained in the jazz vanguard for three to five decades now. Threadgill made his recording debut in 1970, on a date by Muhal Richard Abrams that teamed him with Wadada Leo Smith on the front line; both went on to become guiding lights in the Chicago AACM and its New York diaspora. Haden and Carla Bley (who deserves a career retrospective as well as co-leader billing on Time/Lines) were there for the birth of free jazz, as was No. 19 Andrew Cyrille. No. 14 David Murray and the individual members of Smith's rhythm section on America's National Parks (Anthony Davis, John Lindberg and Pheeroan akLaff) were among those who reenergized the avant-garde in the late 1970s and early-1980s. And DeJohnette, though most associated these days with '70s Miles and Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio, has had one foot in the avant-garde since his apprenticeship in Chicago, as an AACM fellow traveler — witness his frequent reunions with Smith. Though they'd be entitled, these musicians aren't riffing on their laurels. Smith and Threadgill, in particular, are making perhaps the most adventurous music of their careers, and this year's poll reflects that.

    My own album choices require explanation. I asserted pollmaster's privilege in splitting some of my votes between different albums. But in each case, in compliance with the rules I set for my colleagues, only one album — indicated by an asterisk — received points and appears on my actual ballot.

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