Archive for May, 2010

NPR Jazz Notes

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Music Interviews

100 Years Of Jazz Clarinetist Artie Shaw

In the 1930s and ’40s, Artie Shaw’s band ranked with the Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey and Glenn Miller bands in popularity. But he largely rejected pop tunes and stuck with music by composers such as George Gershwin and Irving Berlin. Fresh Air remembers one of jazz’s greatest clarinetists and big-band leaders with excerpts from a 1985 interview.

Take Five: A Jazz Sampler

Get To Know Clarinetist Artie Shaw

Shaw displayed an impossibly round, mellow tone from the top to the bottom of the clarinet. He employed loop-de-loop breaks that were hard to finger, and equally hard to figure out. Explore Shaw’s swinging musical persona of the late 1930s in five songs.

Studio Sessions

Regina Carter: Translating African Folk To The Jazz Violin

Carter’s new album marks a new direction for the jazz violinist: The record interprets African folk songs, both traditional and contemporary. Carter and members of her band recently visited NPR to explain and perform songs from Reverse Thread.

Music News

Legendary Jazz Pianist Hank Jones Dies At 91

Hank Jones was the last of a musical dynasty, as well as a linchpin in the history of jazz. Jones played with everyone from Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw to Charlie Parker and Marilyn Monroe. Jones died Sunday night after a brief illness. He was 91.

A Blog Supreme

The Late Pianist Hank Jones On NPR

A musician whose career spanned the majority of jazz history and whose playing reflected the lion’s share of it, died Sunday, May 16. He was 91. Hear recent interviews, performances and features with the elegant pianist.

NCCU Centennial Resolution

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

A resolution (H.Res.1361) recognizing the Centennial of North Carolina Central University will be considered on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives today. Representatives, including resolution sponsor Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), will speak in support of the resolution. Click here to read the resolution.

Co-sponsors of the resolution include: Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D- N.C.), Rep. Cathy Castor (D- Fla.), Rep. William Lacy Clay (D- Mo.), Rep. Howard Coble (R- N.C.), Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), Rep. Danny Davis (D- Ill.), Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.), Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Rep. Hank Johnson (D- Ga.), Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.), Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.).

Hank Jones, Versatile Jazz Pianist, Dies at 91

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Hank Jones, whose self-effacing nature belied his stature as one of the most respected jazz pianists of the postwar era, died on Sunday in the Bronx. He was 91.

His death, at Calvary Hospital Hospice, was announced by his longtime manager, Jean-Pierre Leduc. Mr. Jones lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and also had a home in Hartwick, N.Y.

Mr. Jones spent much of his career in the background. For three and a half decades he was primarily a sideman, most notably with Ella Fitzgerald; for much of that time he also worked as a studio musician on radio and television.

His fellow musicians admired his imagination, his versatility and his distinctive style, which blended the urbanity and rhythmic drive of the Harlem stride pianists, the dexterity of Art Tatum and the harmonic daring of bebop. (The pianist, composer and conductor André Previn once called Mr. Jones his favorite pianist, “regardless of idiom.”)

But unlike his younger brothers Thad, who played trumpet with Count Basie and was later a co-leader of a celebrated big band, and Elvin, an influential drummer who formed a successful combo after six years with John Coltrane’s innovative quartet, Hank Jones seemed content for many years to keep a low profile.

That started changing around the time he turned 60. Riding a wave of renewed interest in jazz piano that also transformed his close friend and occasional duet partner Tommy Flanagan from a perpetual sideman to a popular nightclub headliner, Mr. Jones began working and recording regularly under his own name, both unaccompanied and as the leader of a trio. Listeners and critics took notice.

Reviewing a nightclub appearance in 1989, Peter Watrous of The New York Times praised Mr. Jones as “an extraordinary musician” whose playing “resonates with jazz history” and who “embodies the idea of grace under pressure, where assurance and relaxation mask nearly impossible improvisations.”

Mr. Jones further enhanced his reputation in the 1990s with a striking series of recordings that placed his piano in a range of contexts — including an album with a string quartet, a collaboration with a group of West African musicians and a duet recital with the bassist Charlie Haden devoted to spirituals and hymns. In 1998, he appeared at Lincoln Center with a 32-piece orchestra in a concert consisting mostly of his own compositions.

Henry W. Jones Jr. was born in Vicksburg, Miss., on July 31, 1918. He grew up one of 10 children in Pontiac, Mich., near Detroit, where he started studying piano at an early age and first performed professionally at 13. He began playing jazz even though his father, a Baptist deacon, disapproved of the genre.

Mr. Jones worked with regional bands, mostly in Michigan and Ohio, before moving to New York in 1944 to join the trumpeter and singer Hot Lips Page’s group at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street.

He was soon in great demand, working for well-known performers like the saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and the singer Billy Eckstine.

“People heard me and said, ‘Well, this is not just a boy from the country — maybe he knows a few chords,’ ” he told Ben Waltzer in a 2001 interview for The Times. He abandoned the freelance life in late 1947 to become Ella Fitzgerald’s accompanist and held that job until 1953, occasionally taking time out to record with Charlie Parker and others.

He kept busy after leaving Fitzgerald. Among many other activities, he began an association with Benny Goodman that would last into the 1970s, and he was a member of the last group Goodman’s swing-era rival Artie Shaw led before retiring in 1954. But financial security beckoned, and in 1959 he became a staff musician at CBS. He also participated in a celebrated moment in presidential history when he accompanied Marilyn Monroe as she sang “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy, who was about to turn 45, during a Democratic Party fund-raiser at Madison Square Garden in May 1962.

Mr. Jones remained intermittently involved in jazz during his long tenure at CBS, which ended when the network disbanded its music department in the mid-’70s. He was a charter member of the big band formed by his brother Thad and the drummer Mel Lewis in 1966, and he recorded a few albums as a leader. More often, however, he was heard but not seen on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and other television and radio programs.

“Most of the time during those 15 or so years, I wasn’t playing the kind of music I’d prefer to play,” Mr. Jones told Howard Mandel of Down Beat magazine in 1994. “It may have slowed me down a bit. I would have been a lot further down the road to where I want to be musically had I not worked at CBS.” But, he explained, the work gave him “an economic base for trying to build something.”

Once free of his CBS obligations, Mr. Jones began quietly making a place for himself in the jazz limelight. He teamed with the bassist Ron Carter and the drummer Tony Williams, alumni of the Miles Davis Quintet, to form the Great Jazz Trio in 1976. (The uncharacteristically immodest name of the group, which changed bassists and drummers frequently over the years, was not Mr. Jones’s idea.)

Two years later he began a long run as the musical director and onstage pianist for “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” the Broadway revue built around the music of Fats Waller, while also playing late-night solo sets at the Cafe Ziegfeld in Midtown Manhattan.

By the early 1980s, Mr. Jones’s late-blooming career as a band leader was in full swing. Since then he worked frequently in the United States, Europe and Japan. While he had always recorded prolifically — by one estimate he can be heard on more than a thousand albums — for the first time he concentrated on recording under his own name, which he continued to do well into the 21st century.

He is survived by his wife, Theodosia.

Mr. Jones was named a National Endowment for the Arts jazz master in 1989. He received the National Medal of Arts in 2008 and a lifetime achievement Grammy Award in 2009. And he continued working almost to the end. Laurel Gross, a close friend, said he had toured Japan in February and had scheduled a European tour in the spring until doctors advised against it. He was also scheduled to perform at Birdland in Manhattan this summer to celebrate his birthday.

Reaching for superlatives, critics often wrote that Mr. Jones had an exceptional touch. He himself was not so sure.

“I never tried consciously to develop a ‘touch,’ ” he told The Detroit Free Press in 1997. “What I tried to do was make whatever lines I played flow evenly and fully and as smoothly as possible.

“I think the way you practice has a lot to do with it,” he explained. “If you practice scales religiously and practice each note firmly with equal strength, certainly you’ll develop a certain smoothness. I used to practice a lot. I still do when I’m at home.” Mr. Jones was 78 years old at the time.

Six to Receive Inaugural Shepard Medallion Honor

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Six people with ties to North Carolina Central University will be recipients of a newly created honor, called the Shepard Medallion, as part of the university’s 100th anniversary.

The six are:

Julius Chambers, an NCCU alumnus, legal champion for civil rights and Chancellor Emeritus; H.M. “Mickey” Michaux Jr., an NCCU alumnus whose long career as a member of the state House of Representatives has focused on the fight for higher education, particularly for minority students; Mattie Sharpless, an NCCU alumna, former U.S. ambassador and longtime foreign agricultural envoy; LeRoy Walker, chancellor emeritus and past NCCU and Olympic track coach, and the first black president of the U.S. Olympic Committee; Peggy Ward, an alumna, former NCCU trustee and award-winning agent for a national life insurance company, and NCCU Chancellor emeritus Albert N. Whiting.

Five of the six are scheduled to receive the specially designed bronze medallions at the university’s Centennial Gala on May 22 at the Durham Performing Arts Center. Whiting’s travel plans from his home in Maryland were uncertain on Tuesday. Nominees for the Shepard Medallion were solicited from the campus and nationally. From that pool, a campus committee recommended a handful of finalists to NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms, who picked the honorees.

Nelms commissioned the medal to recognize people, associated with the university, who have made significant contributions to the school, to their communities or to their professions. The contributions must be in keeping with the public university’s motto, “Truth and Service.”

“Our rather small university has produced more than its share of leaders, in every sphere of endeavor,” Nelms said in announcing the awardees. “We’ve sent legislators to Washington and Raleigh, and scientists to the most prestigious laboratories in the nation. Our faculty and students served in the trenches of the civil rights movement. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of NCCU-trained teachers have educated our school children and college students. These people we honor rise to the top of anyone’s list of exemplars of service and achievement.”

Chambers was NCCU’s chancellor from 1993 to 2001. A 1958 graduate of the school and a president of the student body, he went on to obtain a law degree and fought key civil rights court cases. His Charlotte law firm, the first integrated firm in the state, is credited with influencing more landmark state and federal legislation in school desegregation, employment and voting rights than any other in the United States.

Michaux received his undergraduate and law degrees from NCCU, in 1952 and 1964, respectively. He became the first African-American U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, and first won a seat in the state House of Representatives in 1972. He is considered the dean of the General Assembly, and in recent years, has guided the annual state budget through the chamber. He has tirelessly campaigned for adequate funding for NCCU and other minority universities.

Sharpless received a bachelor’s in business education in 1965 and a master’s in business administration and economics in 1972 from NCCU. She joined the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service in 1965 and was its acting administrator for much of 2001. Following that position, Sharpless was named U.S. Ambassador to the Central African Republic, where she served until a coup toppled that nation’s government in 2003. With that posting, however, Sharpless became the first woman agricultural attaché to serve as an ambassador. She retired in 2006.

Walker was chancellor from 1983 to 1986, but he was a familiar figure on the NCCU campus. Walker became head track and field coach at NCCU in 1945. He went on to chair the physical education and recreation departments. His track teams at NCCU were legendary, and many of the members competed in the Olympics across the span of decades. He was president of the U.S. Olympic Committee and in 1987 was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.

Ward is a 1974 alumna of NCCU. She is a longtime agent for New York Life Insurance Co., where she has won numerous awards for her service to the company and to her clients. Ward served on the university’s Board of Trustees from 1993 until 1997, and was chairman of the board from 1995 until 1997. She also served on the board of trustees of UNC-TV, part of the University of North Carolina system, and chair of that board’s Advancement Committee.

Whiting was NCCU’s last president and first chancellor. Named president of North Carolina College in 1967, Whiting was chief executive when the university was made part of the UNC system in 1972 and the name of his position changed to chancellor. Under Whiting, NCCU’s School of Business was created and programs in public administration and criminal justice were launched.

The medallion features a likeness of Shepard’s statue in front of NCCU’s administration building and the date of the school’s opening. On its reverse, the phrase “The Shepard Medallion” is written in raised letters. The recipients’ names will be engraved on each.

The May 22 gala is one of the more formal events in NCCU’s yearlong centennial celebration. Dr. James E. Shepard, a pharmacist and academic and business leader, chartered his school in 1909. Then called the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua, the school formally opened its doors to students on July 5, 1910.

Tickets to the gala are $100, and can be purchased online at

The medallion was struck by Recognition Products International, a Maryland company that manufactures the Pulitzer Prize medal as well as the University Award medallion, presented annually by the board of governors of the 17-campus University of North Carolina system for illustrious service to higher education.

Sponsors of the Gala include State Farm Insurance Co., The Forest At Duke and The Freelon Group.

Miguel Zenón

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Miguel Zenón was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. There, he studied classical saxophone at the famed Escuela Libre de Musica. Although Zenón was exposed to jazz while in high school, it wasn’t until he began his studies at the Berklee School of Music that his formal jazz training began. After graduating from Berklee, Zenón received a scholarship to attend Manhattan School of Music and in 2001, he received a Masters in Saxophone Performance. The distinguished list of educators he has studied with include Angel Marrero, Leslie Lopez, Rafael Martinez, Danilo Perez, Dick Oatts, Dave Liebman, George Garzone and Bill Pierce.

In his relatively short, but rather illustrious career, Zenón has performed and/or recorded with a quite a diverse array of artists including David Sanchez, Charlie Haden, The Village Vanguard Orchestra, Bobby Hutcherson, Bob Moses and Mozamba, The Either Orchestra, Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos, The Mingus Big Band, Jerry Gonzalez & The Fort Apache Band, Ray Barretto, and Steve Coleman, among others.

The saxophonist and composer has released four recordings as a leader. His debut CD Looking Forward, was selected by The New York Times as the number one independent jazz record of 2002. In 2004, after being one of the first artists signed to Marsalis Music, he released the critically acclaimed Ceremonial. This same year also marked the beginning of three consecutive years on the top of the Downbeat Critic’s Poll in the Rising Star Alto Sax category. Zenón topped that category as well in 2008,making that the fourth time in the last five years.

In 2005, Zenón was honored by Billboard magazine as one of the “Faces to Watch– 30 Under 30: Top Young Acts and Executives.” That year Zenón also released Jibaro, a tribute to the “Musica Jibara” of Puerto Rico and commissioned by a grant from the New York State Council of the Arts. Like his previous recordings, Jibaro was uniformly well received and appeared on many top ten lists including The New York Times, Latin Beat, El Nuevo Dia, and The Chicago Tribune. In 2006, the readers of Jazz Times magazine voted him the Best New Artist of the Year. Awake, his fourth recording as a leader was released in April 2008. It was chosen as one of the Best Jazz Cd’s of 2008 by, Jazz Improv magazine, Cuadernos de Jazz, JazzTimes and El Nuevo Dia, among others.

Esta Plena, his latest release as a leader, creates a bridge between elements of “Jazz Music” and “Plena Music” from Puerto Rico. It was unanimously heralded as one of the bestjazz releases of 2009 by publications such as The Village Voice, The Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Enquire and Jazz Times, among others. It also received two Grammy Nominations, for “Best Latin Jazz Album” and “Best Improvised Jazz Solo”.

In 2003, as part of the Kennedy Center’s Jazz Ambassador’s Program, Zenón’s quartet was selected to teach and perform throughout West Africa. Since then he has done master classes, clinics and/or residencies in such diverse institutions as the Banff Centre, University of Manitoba, LeMoyne College, UMASS-Amherst, the Brubeck Institute, Berklee College of Music, Conservatoire de Paris, Rotterdam Conservatory, Manhattan School of Music, Amsterdam Conservatory and the Diaz Institute. Zenón also serves as a private saxophone instructor at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York. Starting in the Fall of 2009, Zenón will be joining the jazz faculty at the New England Corservatory in Boston, MA.

In April 2008, Zenón received a fellowship from the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Foundation to work on his next project, which focused on Plena Music from Puerto Rico. Later that year he was one of 25 distinguished individuals chosen to receive the coveted MacArthur Grant, also know as the “Genius Grant”.