• How Grover Washington Jr. Defined And Transcended 'Smooth Jazz'

    November 17, 2017

    Grover Washington Jr. performs on stage during the "One Night With Blue Note" concert in New York on Feb. 22, 1985. (Image Credit: Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)

    One way or another, you've heard Grover Washington Jr.'s saxophone. Perhaps on "Mister Magic" or another of his instrumental hits, like "Winelight." Or on "Just the Two of Us," the smash hit featuring Bill Withers. What Washington's sound represents is soul, plain and simple, though it's often been associated with another word: "smooth." A lot of musicians have some choice words to say about that, starting with Washington himself.

    Jazz Night in America recently partnered with WRTI, in Grover Washington's adopted hometown of Philadelphia, to present a tribute concert at the Temple Performing Arts Center. In this episode of the radio show, we'll put you in that room with a wildly enthusiastic crowd, to hear a reunion of Grover Washington band members, like bassist Gerald Veasley and keyboardist Bill Jolly, as well as two saxophonic inheritors, Gerald Albright and Najee. We'll also hear from musicians like David Sanborn, a near-contemporary of Washington's, about the legacy and presumptions surrounding "smooth jazz," and the ways in which Washington both defined and transcended it.


    Najee (tenor and soprano saxophone), Gerald Albright (alto saxophone), Bill Jolly (keyboards, vocals), Donald Robinson (keyboards), Richard Lee Steacker (guitar), Gerald Veasley (bass), Pablo Batista (percussion), Steven Wolf (drums), Carl Cox Jr. (tenor saxophone), Michael Jarosz (trumpet), Brent White (trombone), La' Trese Jones (vocals), Suzanne Burgess (vocals)


    Recorded by Weston Sound; Location engineers: Joe Hannigan, Clark Conner; Audio produced, arranged and mixed by Bill Jolly; Presented by The Philadelphia Jazz Project, WXPN, Temple Performing Arts Center, PhillyCAM, WRTI

    Copyright 2017 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Louis Hayes Celebrates His 80th Birthday In A Packed Jazz Club

    November 3, 2017

    (Image Credit: Frank Stewart)

    Louis Hayes spent his youth creating the pulse of hard-bop, as a top-shelf drummer with artists like Cannonball Adderley and Horace Silver. He turned 80 this year, marking the occasion with his own Blue Note Records debut as a leader, Serenade for Horace. As the title implies, it's a tribute to his old mentor and bandleader – but it's also a testament to the beat that endures in Hayes' playing.

    This episode of Jazz Night in America will take you into a packed room at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, where Hayes celebrated his birthday and the album's release, leading a band with fiery younger talent like trumpeter Josh Evans and saxophonist Abraham Burton. We'll hear host Christian McBride talking with Hayes about some favorite sessions and fond memories. And we'll hear testimonials from Don Was, Blue Note's president (and, like Hayes, a Detroit native) and Maxine Gordon, Hayes' road manager (and the widow of Dexter Gordon, another of his illustrious associates).

    Copyright 2017 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Talent And Tourism Keep Blues Alive In Clarksdale, Mississippi

    October 27, 2017. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    The blues have traveled far and wide over the last century — exerting a vast cultural influence worldwide, yielding myriad offshoots, and generating fortunes for some of the biggest musical acts of our time. But it's also still the product of local conditions, and bound by hardscrabble local concerns.

    On this episode of Jazz Night in America, we'll go to Clarksdale, Miss., to get a temperature reading at ground level, where struggling musicians are finally beginning to reap the benefits of a recent wave of blues tourism.

    We'll speak to some of the key players responsible for this, including Roger Stolle, founder of The Juke Joint Blues Festival; Bill Luckett, Clarksdale's mayor, and the co-owner (with actor Morgan Freeman) of the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale; and, of course some of the incredible talent keeping the blues alive, like Terry "Harmonica" Bean, Anthony "Big A" Sherrod, and 18-year-old blues prodigy Christone "Kingfish" Ingram.

    Copyright 2017 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • At Ojai Music Festival, Vijay Iyer Showcases Improvisation

    October 20, 2017

    (Image Credit: Barbara Rigon/Ojai Music Festival)

    In this century, few artists in or around jazz have been closer to the whirling center of the action than Vijay Iyer. A pianist, composer, bandleader and educator — with accolades to show for each of those — Iyer is also an inspired consolidator, someone who brings divergent strands of theory and practice into dialogue. He does it all the time, but he really brought the idea into focus this past June, over four busy days in Southern California's ruggedly beautiful Ojai Valley.

    This was in Iyer's capacity as music director of the Ojai Music Festival, whose distinguished history stretches back more than 70 years. Ojai, as everyone calls it, has a reputation for boundary-pushing classical music: the provenance of Aaron Copland, Pierre Boulez and Igor Stravinsky, each of whom served multiple terms as music director.

    Before Iyer, though, there had never been a curatorial presence at Ojai so steeped in the art and science of improvisation. His appointment qualified as a landmark, and he was determined to make the moment count. (The Los Angeles Times assigned critics from both classical and jazz disciplines. Chris Barton, the jazz reviewer, did a fine job of capturing the enlightened sprawl.)

    Iyer wasn't interested in "jazzing up Ojai," whatever that might mean. ("Jazz," as a prescriptive label, generally holds no more water for him than "classical" — or any other term of genre, for that matter.) What he was seeking, instead, was a colloquy between artists firmly rooted in orchestral or chamber traditions and others, like him, who combine that language with more spontaneous protocols.

    His festival program felt righteous, boundless, often supercharged. Repertoire by Bach and Stravinsky shared airspace with new chamber works by flutist Nicole Mitchell. Iyer performed a riveting duo set with one of his mentors, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. The trio, comprising three additional mentors — pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell and trombonist/electronic artist George Lewis, all elder statesmen in the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians — performed an hourlong concert free of any premeditated impulse, let alone a written score.

    During a rare pocket of daylight in his festival schedule, Iyer said he'd been inspired to include "all these people that I respect and admire and have learned from... people who are generous and listen to the world — you hear that reflected in the work they do."

    Crucially, that invitation extended to artists in Iyer's immediate orbit, like the percussionist and composer Tyshawn Sorey, who incidentally just became a MacArthur Fellow, joining a rarefied circle that also includes Iyer and Lewis. (If you followed Sorey at Ojai, leading a Butch Morris-style "conduction" one moment and commandeering an orchestral percussion rig the next, you couldn't have been surprised by that turn of events.)

    Another irrepressible creative force, Jen Shyu, presented Solo Rites: Seven Breaths, a transfixing performance piece featuring her pliable voice, a series of choreographic movements, and a small array of folk instruments. And I'll not soon forget the pressurized quiet that followed the final moments of Yet Unheard, a searing orchestral piece by Courtney Bryan that you might characterize — imprecisely, but with reason — as a Black Lives Matter oratorio.

    Iyer presented a great deal of his own music at Ojai, too — including the world premiere of Trouble, a violin concerto composed for Jennifer Koh. It shared a concert program with Emergence, a suite for orchestra and improvising trio (Iyer, Sorey and bassist Stephan Crump). Iyer also performed brilliantly with the Brentano Quartet and, as a climax and valedictory capstone, with his own combustible sextet.

    Jazz Night in America caught almost every head-spinning set at Ojai, submitting to the flow and logic of the music on its own terms. In this episode of our radio show, we'll take you there. Along with Iyer's sextet — giving the first public preview of its justly acclaimed new album, Far From Over — this episode spotlights Trouble, taking a look at the challenges and questions that went into its creation.

    Iyer and Koh share their abundant insights, as do Lewis and violinist Mark Steinberg, of the Brentano Quartet. And flutist Claire Chase, founder of the International Contemporary Ensemble (and yet another MacArthur "genius"), helps us understand why the energies of a festival like this present a necessary corrective to the classical orthodoxy. They're a shot in the arm for the jazz establishment, too. The music, in its articulate urgency, holds all the evidence we need.

  • Abdullah Ibrahim: How Improvisation Saved My Life

    October 13, 2017

    The music of pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim conveys an extraordinary depth in stillness. More than perhaps any other improvising artist, he knows how to turn the solitary act of introspection into a communal experience that's both transporting and immersive.

    There's a history behind that sorcery, which you could say was hard-won. Ibrahim grew up in apartheid-era South Africa under the name Dollar Brand, one of the most prominent members of that country's first generation of jazz musicians. With a band called The Jazz Epistles (which featured trumpeter Hugh Masekela and trombonist Jonas Gwangwa), he made an album called Verse +1 that had an enormous impact on South African jazz, even though it was printed in a small edition and quickly censored and buried.

    Jazz Night caught up with Ibrahim during his visit to New York this spring, when he headlined Town Hall in a concert for South Africa Freedom Day. In this episode, we'll hear his band, Ekaya, playing music from that concert — songs from The Jazz Epistles repertoire, as well as more recent Ibrahim compositions like "Dream Time." We'll also hear insight from some scholars on the development of South African jazz, and wisdom from the maestro himself, on the path that led him here and what freedom means to him today.

    Copyright 2017 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.