Gerald Wilson, who was also a trumpet player, wrote the arrangements for such greats as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles. He died Monday at 96 years old. He spoke with Terry Gross in 2006.
Photo- The New York Times/ Getty Images
Tenor saxophonist Mark Turner records often, as member of the trio Fly or as a sideman. But his new album, Lathe of Heaven, is his first under his own name in over a decade. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Turner’s a thinking person’s improviser.
"Mark Turner’s “Lathe of Heaven” takes its title from Ursula K. LeGuin’s novel where the nature of reality keeps shifting. Turner says he thinks of this music as unfolding like a narrative, and you can hear the parallels. The music doesn’t give up its secrets too fast, as he parcels out his themes and sub-themes, establishing mood through the slow accumulation of details. His slinky melodies map out the terrain, foreshadowing the improvised action and interaction. That lets Mark Turner get a novelistic unity of effect. His clean plotting makes a cooler brand of jazz cool all over again."
Photo: Brian Harkin for the New York Times
[Jazz violinist] Jean-Luc Ponty’s long rococo lines helped set the style for jazz rock fusion, via his work with Frank Zappa, who wrote him the album “King Kong,” and then the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Ponty drew inspiration from horn players, but he shares one failing with some other jazz violinists: he rarely pauses to take a breath. Even Groucho put the cigar down/took the cigar out once in awhile.
- Kevin Whitehead
Photo: Jean-Luc Ponty in 1971
Two new trio albums by tenor saxophonists who won the Thelonious Monk jazz competition share a conspicuous influence — vintage Sonny Rollins. Fresh Air critic Kevin Whitehead reviews Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio by last year’s winner, 25-year old Chile-born New Yorker Melissa Aldana, and Trios Live by Joshua Redman, who took the prize in 1991.
It can be tricky, paying tribute to a grand master; you don’t want to invite a direct comparison. Melissa Aldana heads that off by not trying to sound too much like her hero. Her tone has body, but it’s a bit lighter and smoother than vintage Sonny Rollins, more alto-like in the upper register. Aldana was mentored by saxophonists Greg Osby and George Coleman, and you can also hear traces of Osby’s floating sense of time and Coleman’s smeary blues abstractions. That’s one way to transcend your key influences—mix ’em together, along with what you’ve figured out for yourself.
Jazz pianist Jaki Byard played in the bands of Charles Mingus, Rahsaan, Roland Kirk and Booker Ervin. Then he began making solo and small-band records under his own name. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says, Byard had a rare ability to sound archaic and ahead of his time.
Dave Douglas and Uri Caine's new album of jazz duets, Present Joys, features songs known for their simplicity. It includes several hymns from the Sacred Harp Songbook, a collection of songs notated for congregations and other gatherings of people who don’t read music. The songs are meant to be sung in harmony, a capella. This tradition, also known as a shape note singing, dates back to the early 1800s.
Caine and Douglas are known for their versatility, playing jazz that ranges from avant garde, to music derived from folk traditions. Caine has also re-interpreted the works of several classical composers. He composed a piece for orchestra and gospel choir that was given its world premiere this earlier summer by the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Photo by John Cronin
-Charlie Haden, jazz bass player 1937 - 2014
In remembrance of Haden we put together some of his best interview moments. He spoke to Terry five times, beginning in 1983. You can listen to the show and read more quotes here.
Photo: Charlie Haden, bass, performs at the BIM Huis on May 18, 1989 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. by Frans Schellekens/Redferns
Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews ‘Wish The Children Would Come On Home' by The Westerlies, a quartet of young New York brass players playing the music of composer and improviser Wayne Horvitz:
"There are a few such echoes here of riffing minimalism, another music built on the cumulative power of simple riffs. It’s part of the mix alongside jazz, chamber music, small-town brass bands and garage rock. The Westerlies represent a breed of musicians rare when [composer] Wayne Horvitz was coming up: skilled interpreters who are also adept improvisers. With such versatile and well-equipped performers around, composers can expand their reach—and they may all wind up in places they might not’ve found on their own."
Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead remembers jazz pianist Horace Silver, who passed away this week:
"Horace Silver could handle bebop’s high-speed chases, but he favored more relaxed tempos and stronger echoes of blues and gospel—what came to be called hard bop. He started leading his own two-horn quintets featuring no end of original tunes with infectious, built-in grooves—and maybe little extensions or riffing interludes to spur the players on. On his mid-’50s hit “The Preacher,” adapted from an old drinking song, you can practically see the congregation swaying in the pews. Whole bands, whole movements would take off from that sound.”
Today Fresh Air remembers jazz singer Jimmy Scott, who died Thursday at the age of 88. He was popular in the 1950’s and influenced both male and female singers, including Nancy Wilson and Frankie Lyman. Early in his career, some of his listeners who knew him only from recordings, thought he was a woman. That was a result of a rare genetic condition that prevented his body from undergoing the complete process of puberty. Contractual problems helped stall his career, and he didn’t make any records between 1975 and 1992. But that 1992 album started a comeback, which included singing at President Clinton’s 1993 inaugural ball and being named a Living Jazz Legend by the Kennedy Center. When Terry spoke with him in 1992, they started with the title track from the album he’d just released, All the Way, which led to his comeback.
Photo via itvs
Ted Rosenthal, an early winner of the Thelonious Monk jazz piano competition, has played George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” solo and with symphonic and jazz orchestras. Now he’s recorded a version for jazz trio, as part of an all-Gershwin album. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says, Rosenthal has a feel for the material.
As familiar as “Rhapsody in Blue” is, you can overlook how radical it sounded—this slick symphonic jazz laced with blues feeling—back in 1924 when jazz rhythm could still be rickety. “Rhapsody”’s riffing themes are readymade for improvised variations, and many jazz bands have recorded abridgements that zoom in on the best bits. Bucking that trend, Ted Rosenthal’s trio plays the whole 17-minute thing. It’s a showcase for the pianist and bassist Martin Wind, who divvy up the melodies. Drummer Tim Horner sometimes sounds hemmed in by his written parts.
In June 1970, Miles Davis played four nights at New York’s rock palace Fillmore East—following earlier appearances that year, there and at San Francisco’s Fillmore West. Four sets of that June music are now out in full for the first time. Jazz Critic Kevin Whitehead says, the jazz trumpeter had gone to the Fillmore in search of a new audience:
It messed jazz people up, the music Miles Davis made in 1970, like the four sets recorded that June now issued complete on “Miles at the Fillmore.” Two years earlier he’d been leading one of the most beloved jazz bands ever—the one with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. Then he went electric. Instead of playing jazz clubs, now he was playing tokids who came out to hear the rock bands he split bills with. As one of those rock kids who saw Miles at the Fillmore in 1970, I gotta admit, the music was too weird for me. But later I could not stop thinking about it.
Drummer Billy Hart has recorded hundreds of albums, backing, among many others, pianist Herbie Hancock. But he sometimes records under his own name too, especially now that he has a well-seasoned quartet. Our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review of Billy Hart’s new quartet CD, One is the Other:
"On drummer Billy Hart’s new quartet CD One Is the Other, Hart’s tune “Yard” paraphrases Charlie Yardbird Parker’s line “Cheryl.” In a way that’s typical Hart; he knows his history but puts his own wobble on it. The band too: saxophonist Mark Turner’s “Lennie Groove” updates Lennie Tristano’s long snaky melodies. Pianist Ethan Iverson’s tune “Maraschino” owes something to Thelonious Monk’s halting ballads, and to the late drummer Paul Motian’s tunes built on catchy little phrases.
Hart’s band first assembled in 2003 as the Ethan Iverson/Mark Turner Quartet. But the drummer loved playing in it so much, his younger comrades handed him the keys: Now we’ll be your band.”
Photograph by Nathea Lee
Kevin Whitehead reviews a new collection of performances by jazz pianist Bud Powell recorded at Birdland in 1953 —
"Bud Powell had played Birdland before he opened there on Feb. 5, 1953, but this return engagement was a big deal. That very day, he’d been discharged from a state psychiatric hospital, after being committed for a year and a half following a drug bust. (Powell’s mental troubles stemmed partly from a 1945 police beating in Philadelphia.) He was painfully uncommunicative face to face. But when he sat at the keys, it was a whole other story."
Photo via Metronome/Getty Images
Jazz composer Marty Ehrlich conducts his Large Ensemble for his first album devoted to orchestral music, A Trumpet in the Morning.
photo by Bryan Murray