Archive for October, 2010

In Havana, Jam Sessions With a Master Trumpeter

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Originally posted by The New York Times

Wynton Marsalis pulled a young Cuban trumpeter aside as he left the Mella Theater here on Wednesday after a Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra concert. The band was here for a residency that ended over the weekend, and Mr. Marsalis had seen 17-year-old Kalí Rodríguez play a few nights earlier at an official reception for the American musicians.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra played at the Mella Theater during its a one-week residency in Cuba.

“He told me, ‘You have something special,’ ” recalled Mr. Rodríguez, who has been studying music for seven years at the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory in Havana.

Mr. Marsalis led Mr. Rodríguez to the empty theater and gave him a late-night lesson, playing blues on the piano while Mr. Rodríguez played his trumpet. The master trumpeter gave his pupil tips on musical phrasing and some encouragement as well, Mr. Rodríguez said.

“He told me, ‘You’re serious about what you do, and I like what you do,’ ” added Mr. Rodríguez, who said he was so overwhelmed by Mr. Marsalis’s attention that he broke down in tears midway through the class. “I felt like my soul was bursting out of my body. I mean, if Wynton Marsalis says you’re good at the trumpet, then that’s a big deal.”

Not everyone, though, was awed by the famous American players who descended on Havana for a whirlwind series of encounters that took them from dark rumba joints to the scruffy, vibrant conservatories where Cuba’s young talent is schooled. Dayrón Rodríguez, no relation to the trumpeter, a 12-year-old bongo fiend, didn’t flinch when he was invited to jam onstage with the Lincoln Center band and 13 other Cuban musicians for the rousing Saturday finale of the group’s residency. Mr. Rodríguez, the trumpeter, also played in the concert.

“It’s not the first time I’ve played with great musicians,” said Dayrón, who noted that he had sat in with Yaroldy Abreu Robles, a family friend and percussionist for Chucho Valdés’s Afro-Cuban Messengers.

A grinning Dayrón skipped onto the stage on Saturday night. Along with his bongos he brought a copy of a CD on which he had played, flashing it to band members whenever he got the chance.

The Lincoln Center players came to spread the word of American jazz to Cuban music lovers, and they found an eager audience. Cuban musicians are hungry for all the information they can get. Relatively few foreign bands visit Cuba, and the island’s Internet reach is low. (In a recent government survey less than 3 percent of Cubans said they had been online in the past year.)

Several of the teenage students who jammed with the Lincoln Center players last week said they had never used the Internet and did not have access to a computer or own an MP3 player. They relied on people who traveled overseas to share music with them, they said.

Many members of the Lincoln Center group said they were impressed by the young musicians who performed at workshops, sat in on rehearsals and filled the hotel lobby at night to pepper them with questions. “I love their talent, their attitude, their seriousness and their culture,” said Carlos Henriquez, the Lincoln Center bass player. “Their dedication is unbelievable. We don’t get that in the States.”

There was much talk of bridges last week: the one between Cuba and the United States, and the one between Afro-Cuban music and American jazz.

Jazz at Lincoln Center came trundling over that bridge on Oct. 2 to jam with Cuban stars and teenage students, to give a workshop for children and to perform four concerts with a lineup of Cuban players that included Chucho Valdés; Eliade Terry, known as Don Pancho, the country’s foremost chekeré player; Bobby Carcassés; and Orlando Valle, known as Maraca.

“The bridge was built when Chano Pozo and Dizzy started doing their thing — even before that,” said Mr. Henriquez, referring to the historic collaboration in the late 1940s between that Cuban percussionist and Dizzy Gillespie. “What we’ve done this week is repave the bridge.”

This was possible partly because American officials are interpreting travel restrictions less rigidly under President Obama than they did under George W. Bush. They are letting more Cuban artists visit America, and vice versa.

Now that the bridge is in use again, the musicians wondered how to keep the traffic flowing. Mr. Valdés, the veteran pianist and co-artistic director of the residency, said the next step would be to get American musicians to come to Havana’s jazz festival in December. The festival has flagged in recent years, as it became difficult for the Americans to attend after President Bush tightened travel restrictions in 2003.

“Let anyone come who wants to come,” Mr. Valdés said during a rehearsal break last week. “I would open the door really wide.”

Mr. Valdés also wants to see more Cubans and Americans participating in exchange programs. “Imagine if we could get Americans coming here to study Afro-Cuban rhythms, coming and going without any kind of problem, without politics getting in the way,” he said. “That would be my dream.”

For about 200 years Afro-Cuban rhythms nourished the American music from which jazz emerged, as commerce and people flowed freely between Havana and New Orleans. But that rich trade was essentially shut down when the United States severed diplomatic and commercial ties with Cuba and its Communist leader, Fidel Castro, in the early 1960s.

The two cities may be cut off from each other, but the spirit of New Orleans was present in Havana during the Lincoln Center residency. “I see many things here that are exactly like New Orleans: the architecture, the feeling of the people, the climate, the community,” said Mr. Marsalis, a native of New Orleans.

He pointed to the shared African roots of the roll call, in which New Orleans musicians call the names of deceased players, and the Yoruba blessing sung in Cuban rumba; and to the influence the Cuban habanera rhythm had on ragtime. “Cuban music is in the roots of our music. This is an opportunity to reconnect, to deepen our communality” he said.

So it was fitting that the penultimate event of the residency should include a New Orleans-style parade. On Saturday the players treated 1,500 music students from five schools around Havana to a workshop at the Mella Theater, dissecting the “three pillars” of jazz — swing, blues and improvisation — and bringing students onstage to play with them.

At the end the audience danced and clapped as the Americans played blues and paraded through the auditorium, trailing a line of Cuban trumpeters, violinists, clarinetists and saxophonists.

And then the band marched out of the theater, through the stage door and into the warm Havana afternoon, still tooting their horns, dancers twirling handkerchiefs behind them. A crowd waved and cheered as the musicians headed to their bus.

Then the sound of brass trailed off, and the players were gone.

NCCU Homecoming Nears; Dollar Impace Substantial

Monday, October 11th, 2010

One of the more anticipated events on Durham’s annual calendar, North Carolina Central University’s homecoming, kicks off Oct. 24 with a fireworks show. Besides the football game on Oct. 30, other events include the Homecoming Parade and Founder’s Day, which honors Dr. James E. Shepard’s birthday. Shepard founded the university exactly 100 years ago.

The annual autumn ritual brings more than memories to the city. The Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates that the weeklong series of student, alumni and public events pumps $1.03 million into Durham’s economy in visitor spending. That fattens Durham’s tax coffers by nearly $22,000, a financial bonus in a year when city and county revenues may sag again.

“Each year, Durham warmly welcomes the thousands of North Carolina Central University alumni and fans who return to our city to enjoy food, fellowship and fun during homecoming and all of the events associated with it,” said Durham Mayor William V. “Bill” Bell. “NCCU’s homecoming, like so many of the events we are proud to host in Durham, has a significant impact on the overall economic well being” of the city, he said.

Homecoming week officially begins with the crowning of Miss NCCU on Oct. 24 at 5 p.m. in the gymnasium. The event will pause at 8 p.m. for a citywide fireworks show over the campus.

The Founder’s Day Program is open to the public and is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on Oct. 29, in McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium. The speaker is Peggy Ward, a 1974 NCCU alumna and one of six people awarded an inaugural Shepard Medallion at the NCCU Centennial Gala in May. Ward is a former member and chairwoman of the NCCU Board of Trustees. In a long career in the insurance business, Ward has earned numerous honors for her service to customers and the industry.

The grand marshal of the popular Homecoming Parade will be Jeffrey L. Throop, president of the Tournament of Roses. NCCU’s Sound Machine Marching Band was chosen to perform in the 2011 Rose Parade, one of just a few historically African-American university bands invited to perform in the parade’s 122-year history.

NCCU’s Homecoming parade begins at 9 a.m. on Oct. 30 at W.G. Pearson Elementary School on Fayetteville Street and ends at Fayetteville and Lawson Streets. Police will close streets several minutes before the parade begins. The homecoming football game, at 2 p.m. in O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium, pits NCCU against Florida’s Edward Waters College.

For the first time, alumni who want to attend evening events will be able to place their youngsters in an on-campus child-care program. Children five to 13 can be enrolled in the Eagle Homecoming Camp, which will operate from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Oct. 29 and 30. It includes supper, snacks and games. The price of the camp varies depending on whether child is enrolled for one night or two.

Other traditionally popular events held during the week, some of which have an admittance charge, include:

  • The Choir Ball, a showcase of NCCU’s University Choir, on Oct. 25 at 7 p.m.
  • Lyceum, a gospel music concert that this year features singers Smokie Norful and Israel & New Breed.
  • Class reunions for graduating class years ending in 00 and 05. The Class of 1935 is the earliest scheduled to hold a gathering.
  • Induction of more than 60 members of the Class of 1960 into the Society of Golden Eagles. The society is made up of alumni who graduated at least 50 years earlier.

A complete schedule of events is on NCCU’s homecoming website, . Tickets to many events also can be purchased on the site.

WNCU eNewsletter

Monday, October 4th, 2010

WNCU eNewsletter


WNCU Broadcasts HD2

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

We are now broadcasting in high definition for our main channel and hd2.

Our second channel will be primarily devoted to news and public affairs programming. There are music shows also that explore music from around the world. For the time being, we are broadcasting mainstream jazz, 24 hours a day.

We intend to have an experimental approach to hd2, so please don’t be surprised at some opinions you may hear. They may be off beat, but that’s what public radio does so well, discourse, in depth, and from diverse points of view.

So, if you have an HD radio, tune in to our second channel, hd2, and see what’s cooking.

Sidney Bechet

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Who was the New Orleans jazz pioneer who did most to make this music a unique art form? When this question is asked, the name of Louis Armstrong invariably comes to mind, and rightly so.

But there is another jazz musician whose name deserves to be coupled with Armstrong as the greatest of the New Orleans Jazz players. His name is Sidney Bechet.
Bechet was born in New Orleans in May 1897, just three years before his compatriot, Louis Armstrong. Although the two boys grew up in the same city, their home environments were worlds apart.

Armstrong grew up in dire poverty, living alternately with his mother and a succession of “stepfathers” and his grandmother, and spending time in a reform school.
Sidney Bechet, who was of Creole ancestry, grew up in a middle class environment. His father, Omar, who was a shoemaker, played the flute as a hobby. Indeed, music had an important role in the Bechet household, as Sidney’s four brothers also played instruments.

His brother, Leonard, played the clarinet and trombone, and it was to the former instrument that eight-year-old Sidney was attracted. Leonard, whose main interest was the trombone, passed along his clarinet to his younger brother.

At first, Sidney played in the family musicales – waltzes, quadrilles, the polite music of the middle class. But as he grew into adolescence, Sidney was attracted to the syncopated music played in the dance halls and brothels in the Storyville District of New Orleans.

As a boy, he would watch the street parades in which jazz bands played. Young Sidney was so attracted to the music, that he often played hooky from school. And as he became more proficient on the clarinet, Sidney played in local jazz bands, such as the Young Olympians. His playing so impressed Bunk Johnson, the legendary cornet player, that Sidney was invited to join Johnson’s band, the Eagle Band. Sidney gained much experience, playing in dance halls, and for picnics, and parties.

Bechet left New Orleans for the first time when he was 19, traveling to Chicago with pianist, Clarence Williams and his variety show. Bechet’s big break came in 1919 when the composer-conductor Will Marion Cook asked him to join his Southern Syncopated Orchestra for an engagement in London.

Here Bechet came to the attention of the noted Swiss Conductor, Ernst Ansermet, who conducted the music of Stravinsky for the Ballets Russa. Ansermet wrote in a Swiss musical Journal, “The extraordinary clarinet virtuoso Bechet is an artist of genius!”

Sidney Bechet eventually became even better known as a virtuoso of the soprano saxophone. He first tried to play on a beat-up old soprano sax he purchased in a pawn shop. Such was the difficulty of the soprano sax, an instrument extremely difficult to play in tune, that Bechet gave up and obtained his money back from the pawnbroker.

A year latter in London, Bechet purchased a brand new instrument and tried again. This time he was successful and succeeded in making the soprano saxophone an important voice in jazz.

Bechet played both the clarinet and soprano saxophone with a broad vibrato, a characteristic that gave passion and intensity to his playing.
Much of Sidney Bechet’s subsequent career was spent abroad. In 1925 he played in Claude Hopkin’s band, which was accompanying a revue starring Josephine Baker. Bechet also played in bands led by Noble Sissle in London and Paris, and later, in the United States. Some of the numbers performed and recorded by Bechet with Nobel Sissle are Loveless Love, Polka Dot Rag, and Dear Old Southland.

In 1932, Bechet and his friend, trumpet player Tommy Ladnier, formed their own band, the New Orleans Feetwarmers. When engagements for the Feetwarmers became scarce, Ladnier and Bechet opened a dry cleaning shop in Harlem. Bechet became quite adept at pressing and altering clothes.

Sidney Bechet’s association with Brooklyn began in 1945 when he moved into a house at 160 Quincy Street. To augment the unstable income of a jazz musician, Bechet began teaching music. The adolescent that became his star pupil and disciple was Bob Wilber, then still in high school. Bechet taught Wilber the rudiments of both the clarinet and soprano saxophone. When he finished high school, Wilber moved into the Quincy Street house with Bechet so that he could have longer and more frequent lessons. Today, Bob Wilber is a leading exponent of the soprano sax and clarinet, and with his own group, the Bechet Legacy, he plays in the Bechet tradition.

Much of the latter part of his life, Bechet spent in France. Many of his compositions are inspired by his love for that country. They include Petite Fleur, Rue des Champs Elysees, and Si tous vois ma mere. Other Bechet compositions include Chant in the Night, Blues in the Air, Bechet’s Fantasy, and his ode to his Brooklyn home, Quincy Street Stomp.

Sidney Bechet died in Paris, May 14, 1959. In July 1997, The Sidney Bechet Society has been formed to perpetuate the name and fame of Sidney Bechet. To that end, the Sidney Bechet Society sponsors concerts, symposia, in-depth studies, a newsletter, change the name of Quincy Street to Bechet Street and a Website to carry the appreciation of this great jazz pioneer into the next century.

Copyright By The Sidney Bechet Society, Ltd.