Archive for August, 2013

Labor Day Special – Newport Jazz

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

You can expect to hear the following on WNCU 90.7FM on Labor Day, Sept. 2.

  • 7 am – Jon Batiste
  • 8:15 am – Ray Anderson
  • 9:07 am – Jim Hall
  • 10:06 am – Terence Blanchard
  • 11:03 am – Donny McCaslin
  • 11:59 am – Dirty Dozen Brass Band
  • 12:57 pm – Mary Halvorson
  • 1:54 pm – Ali Amr
  • 2:40 pm – Eddie Palmieri
  • 4 pm – Detroit Jazz 2012
  • 9 – 10 pm – Sarah Vaughn

You can also expect to hear:

  • Sonny Rollins
  • Steve Wilson
  • Brian Lynch
  • Jerry Gonzalez
  • Marcus Belgrave/Harvey Thompson
  • Terence Blanchard
  • Mack Avenue Superband
  • Wane Shorter
  • Fred Hersch
  • Poncho Sanchez
  • Cecile McLorin Salvant
  • Donald Harrison
  • Preservation Jazz Band

North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Salutes Romare Bearden Aug. 30

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A leading member of the Harlem Renaissance artists in the 1960s, Romare Bearden was born in Charlotte, but moved to New York with his family when he was 4-years-old. Many of his collages and paintings were drawn from memories of his home state. Bearden will be remembered by his home state with a N.C. Highway Historical marker, which will be dedicated Aug. 30, at 4 p.m., at Mint Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Charlotte.

Bearden graduated from New York University in 1935 and worked for the New York City Department of Social Services until 1969. After serving in the Army during World War II, he studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and also with German artist George Grosz, who greatly influenced the burgeoning artist.

By the early 1960s Bearden settled into the techniques of collage and photomontage. He practiced fracturing to bring generality to his work, which might include photographic images of African masks, animal eyes and even vegetation, for his subject’s faces. He believed that art must maintain a quality of artificiality which he achieved primarily through distortion and abstract colorization. Bearden claimed that photographs captured the essence of reality far better than an artist could hope to achieve. He was not inclined to paint about African-Americans in terms of propaganda and protest, choosing to express attitudes on the human existence instead.

Today his work is found in leading museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Studio in Harlem, and also at the N.C. Museum of Art. His publications include “A Painter’s Mind: A Study of the Relations of Structure and Space in Painting,” with Carl Holty and “A History of African-American Artists: From 1792 to the Present,” with Harry Henderson, published posthumously.

Bearden was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest honor for artistic excellence, in 1987. He died in 1988, leaving a legacy of artwork and literature that forever altered African-American art. A street and park in Charlotte are named in his memory. The marker dedication is part of the dedication ceremonies for the park.

For information about the dedication, please contact the Arts and Sciences Council at (704) 335-3261. For information on the N.C. Highway Historical Marker Program, please contact (919) 807-7290. The Highway Marker program is collaboration between the N.C. Department of Transportation and the N. C. Department of Cultural Resources.

South Africa: Jazz Singer, Composer Sathima Bea Benjamin Dies

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Cape Town — Renowned jazz singer and composer Sathima Bea Benjamin has died, the South African Broadcasting Corporation has reported. Sathima returned to Cape Town from New York in 2011, where she was born in 1936 – continuing to work as a vocalist.

Benjamin had toured the world, first with husband and jazz legend Abdullah Ibrahim, then going on to record more than 10 albums. She became well-known in jazz and theatre circles in the early 1960s, also helping the African National Congress with fundraising concerts during the struggle for liberation.

In October 2004, South African president Thabo Mbeki bestowed upon her the Order of Ikhamanga Silver, a national honour,  in recognition for her “excellent contribution as a jazz artist” in South Africa and internationally, as well as for her contribution “to the struggle against apartheid.”

Sathima Bea Benjamin’s most recent CD, SongSpirit, was released on 17 October in celebration of her 70th birthday. A compilation record, it includes tracks from her earlier albums, starting with A Morning In Paris and going through Musical Echoes, plus a previously unreleased duet with Abdullah Ibrahim from 1973.

In 2007, Benjamin began the process of reissuing her now out-of-print back catalogue for download. Her life was the subject of a 2010 documentary film titled Sathima’s Windsong, directed by author and professor, Daniel Yon.

In December 2008, she brought an Apollo Theater crowd to their feet as the closing act of of the Jazz concert Bricktop at the Apollo, hosted by film director Jordan Walker-Pearlman.

A fortnight ago, Standard Bank Joy of Jazz awarded Benjamin with the Lifetime achievement award.

Originally published at

Marian McPartland, ‘Piano Jazz’ Host, Has Died

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Marian McPartland, who gave the world an intimate, insider’s perspective on one of the most elusive topics in music — jazz improvisation — died of natural causes Tuesday night at her home in Long Island, N.Y. She was 95.

For more than 40 years, she hosted Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, an NPR program pairing conversation and duet performances that reached an audience of millions, connecting with jazz fans and the curious alike. She interviewed practically every major jazz musician of the post-WWII era.

McPartland’s soft English accent wasn’t the only thing that made her a good radio personality. She was an accomplished jazz pianist herself, which was readily evident on her program.

McPartland The Pianist

Marian McPartland, radio host, was at one time Margaret Marian Turner, piano student. She told NPR in 2005 that her interest in music started when she was a young girl, after she heard her mother play piano.

“From that moment on, I don’t remember ever not playing piano, day and night, wherever I was,” she said. “At my aunt’s house, at kindergarten — wherever they had a piano, I played it. Of course, on the BBC they played all the hits from over here [in the U.S.]. They played them, I heard them and I learned them.”

Young Marian Turner studied classical music, then went on to perform in vaudeville theaters across England. During WWII, she entertained troops, often jamming with American soldiers.

She married one of them: cornetist Jimmy McPartland. After the war, the couple made their way to the U.S. — first to Chicago, then to New York.

There, she tracked down one of her early idols, one of the few women in the bebop revolution, pianist Mary Lou Williams.

“A man might come into New York in 1951 and be kind of gunning for his competition,” says Paul de Barros, McPartland’s biographer. “Marian McPartland came to New York City and befriended Mary Lou Williams. She immediately tried to establish a kind of camaraderie with her, a kind of female strategy of ‘we’re in this together.’ ”

That “we’re in this together” attitude was central to the success of her radio program and her career — not that she had an easy time of it at first. As McPartland struggled to make a name for herself in New York, one critic caustically suggested that she had three things going against her: She was British, she was white and she was a woman.

“I guess it wasn’t that usual to see a woman musician playing in a group, although there were many, actually,” McPartland told NPR. “But everybody seemed to think that this was pretty strange, maybe because I was British also. And someone would say, ‘Oh, you play good for a girl,’ or ‘You sound just like a man.’ At the time, I just took all those things as encouragement.”

McPartland landed a gig in 1952 at The Hickory House, a noisy steakhouse on 52nd Street, the center of the city’s jazz scene.

“Everybody came by,” de Barros says. “I mean, she had the opportunity to meet everyone from Duke Ellington to Pee Wee Russell to Thelonious Monk. Jazz was really an underground community, and everybody hung out.”

Conversations Like Jazz

McPartland continued to record and perform throughout the 1950s and into the ’60s, but as rock ‘n’ roll took over, she began to lecture on college campuses. In the late ’60s, she started spinning jazz records on a New York radio station where other pianists would drop by the studio unannounced, just to chat.

A casual hello became a regular program in April 1979, when McPartland and South Carolina ETV Radio launched Piano Jazz. Her first on-air guest was the late Billy Taylor, also a pianist and NPR jazz host.

“It seemed as if every opportunity that came her way in the past prepared her for being a radio host,” de Barros says. “She had researched other people’s styles, so she had questions that she wanted to ask. All of those skills were in place, and she was ready for the opportunity that came to her.”

McPartland said the conversations themselves were very much like jazz, spontaneous and free-flowing.

“It’s so easy to make it a conversation, and you don’t know where it’s going to lead,” McPartland said. “The whole thing is so improvised, you really don’t know where it’s going to go.”

Along the way, McPartland also became a mentor to many young pianists. Geri Allen, one of those pianists, says she hears something familiar to musicians when she listens to Piano Jazz.

“It’s a very personal exchange that only happens to musicians on the bandstand,” Allen says. “But to have it opened up to the fans, I think it helps to create even more of an understanding [of] what that whole experience of improvising is about.”

McPartland was once asked how she did this. Her answer was simple: “You have to love what you do,” she said.

That was perhaps Marian McPartland’s greatest talent: She made Piano Jazz not about her, but about the musicians, the fans and our collective exploration of jazz. For more than 40 years, she reminded listeners every week that we’re all in it together.

Originally published at

Passing of NEA Jazz Master Cedar Walton

Monday, August 19th, 2013

NEA Jazz Master Cedar Walton passed away this morning.

He had early associations in the 50’s with Coltrane and Bird , but he first came to international prominence as the piano player and arranger for Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in the early 60’s. After the Messengers, Walton was house pianist for Prestige Records and is the sideman on many hard bop recordings.

He had many CDs recorded as a soloist and band leader as well.

Albert Murray, Essayist Who Challenged the Conventional, Dies at 97

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Albert Murray, an influential essayist, critic and novelist who found literary inspiration in his Alabama roots and saw black culture not as distinct from American culture but as essential to it and inextricably bound up in it, died on Sunday at his home in Harlem. He was 97.

Lewis P. Jones, a family spokesman and executor of Mr. Murray’s estate, confirmed the death.

Mr. Murray was one of the last surviving links to a period of flowering creativity and spreading ferment among the black intelligentsia in post-war America, when the growing force of the civil rights movement gave rise to new bodies of thought about black identity, black political power and how African-Americans can live in a society with a history of racism.

As blacks and whites clashed in the streets, black integrationists and black nationalists dueled in the academy and in books and essays. And Mr. Murray was in the middle of the debate, joining or sparring with writers and artists like James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Romare Bearden and his good friend Ralph Ellison.

One of his boldest challenges was directed toward a new black nationalist movement that was gathering force in the late 1960s, drawing support from the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam and finding advocates on university faculties and among alienated young blacks, who believed that African-Americans could never achieve true equality in the United States.

Mr. Murray insisted that integration was necessary, inescapable and the only path forward for the United States. And to those — blacks and whites alike — who would have isolated “black culture” from the American mainstream, he answered that it couldn’t be done. To him the currents of the black experience — expressed in language and music and rooted in slavery — run through American culture, blending with European and Native American traditions and helping to give American culture its very shape and sound.

With a freewheeling prose style influenced by jazz and the blues — Duke Ellington called him “the unsquarest man I know” — Mr. Murray challenged conventional assumptions about art, race and American identity in books like the essay collection “Stomping the Blues” and the memoir “South to a Very Old Place.” He gave further expression to those views in a series of autobiographical novels, starting with “Train Whistle Guitar” in 1974.

Mr. Murray established himself as a formidable social and literary figure in 1970 with his first book, a collection of essays titled “The Omni-Americans: New Perspectives on Black Experience and American Culture.” The book constituted an attack on black separatism.

“The United States is not a nation of black and white people,” Mr. Murray wrote. “Any fool can see that white people are not really white, and that black people are not black.” America, he maintained, “even in its most rigidly segregated precincts,” was a “nation of multicolored people,” or Omni-Americans: “part Yankee, part backwoodsman and Indian — and part Negro.”

The book also challenged what Mr. Murray called the “social science fiction” pronouncements of writers like Baldwin, Richard Wright and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who he said had exaggerated racial and ethnic differences in postulating a pathology of black life. As Mr. Murray put it, they had simply countered “the folklore of white supremacy” with “the fakelore of black pathology.”

The novelist Walker Percy called “The Omni-Americans” “the most important book on black-white relations in the United States, indeed on American culture,” published in his generation. But it had fierce detractors. Writing in The New York Times, the black-studies scholar and author J. Saunders Redding called the essays contradictory, Mr. Murray’s theories “nonsense” and his “rhetoric” a “dense mixture of pseudo-scientific academic jargon, camp idiom and verbal play.”

For many years Mr. Murray and the novelist Ralph Ellison, who met in college, were close friends and literary kindred spirits. In “King of Cats,” a 1996 profile of Mr. Murray in The New Yorker, Henry Louis Gates Jr. wrote that the friendship between the two men “seemed a focal point of black literary culture.”

“Both men were militant integrationists, and they shared an almost messianic view of the importance of art,” Mr. Gates wrote. “In their ardent belief that Negro culture was a constitutive part of American culture, they had defied an entrenched literary mainstream, which preferred to regard black culture as so much exotica — amusing perhaps, but eminently dispensable. Now they were also defying a new black vanguard, which regarded authentic black culture as separate from the rest of American culture — something that was created, and could be appreciated, in splendid isolation.”

Like Ellison, Mr. Murray proposed an inclusive theory of “the American Negro presence.” (He disdained the use of the term “black” and later spurned “African-American” — “I am not an African,” he said, “I am an American.”)

Mr. Murray contended that American identity “is best defined in terms of culture.” And for him, American culture was a “composite,” or “mulatto,” culture that owed much of its richness and diversity to blacks.

Yet Mr. Murray was not always sure that whites understood this shared legacy when they embraced black artists. He could be suspicious of whites, asking whether they, even in their applause, nonetheless continued to regard black culture “as so much exotica,” as Mr. Gates put it. Thus Mr. Murray asked whether the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Toni Morrison in 1993 was not “tainted with do-goodism,” and whether the poet Maya Angelou’s readings at President Bill Clinton’s first inaugural echoed a song-and-dance tradition in which blacks entertained whites.

The essential bond between American culture and what Mr. Murray called Negro culture is the shared embrace of a “blues aesthetic,” which he found permeating the works of black musicians, writers and artists and increasingly adopted by whites. “For him, blues music, with its demands for improvisation, resilience and creativity, is at the heart of American identity,” Laura Ciolkowski, a professor of literature now at Columbia University, wrote of Mr. Murray in The New York Times Book Review in 2002. The blues, she added, were to him “the genuine legacy of slavery.”

Mr. Murray himself wrote: “When the Negro musician or dancer swings the blues, he is fulfilling the same fundamental existential requirement that determines the mission of the poet, the priest and the medicine man. He is making an affirmative and hence exemplary and heroic response to that which André Malraux describes as la condition humaine.”

Albert Lee Murray was born on May 12, 1916, in Nokomis, Ala., to middle-class parents who soon gave him up for adoption to Hugh Murray, a laborer, and his wife, Matty. “It’s just like the prince left among the paupers,” said Mr. Murray, who learned of his adoption when he was about 11. The Murrays moved to Mobile, where Albert grew up in a neighborhood known as Magazine Point. In “Train Whistle Guitar,” his largely autobiographical first novel, he called it Gasoline Point.

Through the novel’s protagonist, Scooter, his fictional alter ego, Mr. Murray evoked an unharrowed childhood enriched by music, legends, jiving and jesting, and the fancy talk of pulpit orators and storefront storytellers. As rendered in Mr. Murray’s inventive prose, the adolescent Scooter and his friend Buddy Marshall could imagine themselves as “explorers and discoverers and Indian scouts as well as sea pirates and cowboys and African spear fighters not to mention the two schemingest gamblers and back alley ramblers this side of Philmayork.”

After graduating from the Mobile County Training School, where he earned letters in three sports and was voted the best all-around student, Mr. Murray enrolled at Tuskegee Institute, where he discovered literature and immersed himself in Hemingway, Faulkner, Joyce and Mann. He met Ralph Ellison, an upperclassman, as well as another student, Mozelle Menefee, who became his wife in 1941. She survives him, as does their daughter, Michéle Murray, who became a dancer with the Alvin Ailey company.

Mr. Murray received a bachelor of science degree in education in 1939 and began graduate study at the University of Michigan. But the following year, he returned to Tuskegee to teach literature and composition.

He enlisted in the military in 1943 and spent the last two years of World War II in the Army Air Corps. After the war, the Murrays moved to New York City, where he used the G.I. Bill to earn a master’s degree from N.Y.U. and renew his friendship with Ellison. In 1951, a year before Ellison published his classic work, “Invisible Man,” Mr. Murray rejoined the military, entering the Air Force.

He served in the military, peripatetically, for 11 years — teaching courses in geopolitics in the Air Force R.O.T.C. program at Tuskegee in the 1950s, taking assignments in North Africa and studying at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and the University of Paris.

After retiring from the Air Force as a major in 1962, he returned to New York with his family and settled in an apartment in the Lenox Terrace complex in Harlem. He began writing essays for literary journals and articles for Life and The New Leader, some of which were included in “The Omni-Americans.”

He also became a familiar figure on campuses, holding visiting professorships at the University of Massachusetts, Barnard, Columbia, Emory, Colgate and other schools. And he resumed exploring the streets and nightclubs of Harlem with Mr. Ellison.

From 1970 to the mid-1990s, as if compensating for his slow start, Mr. Murray published nine books. His second, “South to a Very Old Place” (1971), recounted his return to his Southern homeland. The book later became part of the Modern Library.

In “The Hero and the Blues” (1973), a collection of essays based on a series of lectures, Mr. Murray criticized naturalism and protest fiction, which he said subjugated individual actions to social circumstances. In “Stomping the Blues” (1976), he argued that the essence of the blues was the tension between the woe expressed in its lyrics and the joy infusing its melodies. He saw the blues, and jazz, as an uplifting response to misery.

“The blues is not the creation of a crushed-spirited people,” Mr. Murray said years later. “It is the product of a forward-looking, upward-striving people.”

He next began a long collaboration with Count Basie on his autobiography, “Good Morning Blues,” which was published in 1985, a year after Basie’s death. Along with the writer Stanley Crouch and the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, Mr. Murray was actively involved in the creation of Jazz at Lincoln Center, the institution’s first permanent jazz program.

In 1991 he returned to his fictional alter ego, Scooter, depicting his college years at Tuskegee in the novel “The Spyglass Tree.” Four years later, as he neared 80, Mr. Murray published two books: “The Seven League Boots,” the third volume of his Scooter cycle, and “The Blue Devils of Nada,” another essay collection. Still another collection, “From the Briarpatch File: On Context, Procedure, and American Identity,” which explored in part the “existential implications of the blues,” was published in 2001.

Mr. Murray published the fourth and last novel in his Scooter cycle, “The Magic Keys,” in 2005. The book, which received tepid reviews (it “feels plotted rather than lived,” John Leland wrote in The Times), brings its narrator, whose real name is never learned, to graduate school in Manhattan, where he befriends a thinly disguised Ralph Ellison and Romare Bearden.

Mainstream recognition was slow to come for Mr. Murray. But by the mid-1990s, the critic Warren J. Carson had called him “African America’s undiscovered national treasure,” and in 1997 the Book Critics Circle gave Mr. Murray its award for lifetime achievement. The next year he received the inaugural Harper Lee Award as Alabama’s most distinguished writer.

In 2000, Mr. Murray published “Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray,” which he edited with John F. Callahan. That same year he appeared as a commentator in Ken Burns’s multipart PBS documentary “Jazz.”

The critic Tony Scherman wrote of Mr. Murray in American Heritage, “His views add up to a cohesive, elegant whole, making him a rarity in today’s attenuated intellectual world: a system builder, a visionary in the grand manner.”

He could also write on a personal scale: his first book of poems, “Conjugations and Reiterations,” appeared in 2001. And he was candid in writing about advanced age.

“I’m doing more than ever,” he wrote in an Op-Ed essay in The Times in 1998, two years after undergoing spinal surgery, “but it’s harder now. I’m in constant pain. At home I use a four-pronged aluminum stick to get around. I need a stroller when I’m on the street. At receptions and in airports I need a wheelchair to get down the long aisles.

“But nothing hurts quite like the loss of old friends. There are ways to cope at the time they die. But weeks and months later you realize you can’t phone them and talk: Duke Ellington, Romare Bearden, Ralph Ellison, Alfred Kazin, Robert Penn Warren, Joseph Mitchell. It’s hard to believe they’re all gone.”

Originally published by the New York Times

Labor Day Special

Monday, August 19th, 2013

WBGO, NPR Music and WNCU are offering a holiday special on Labor Day, Sept. 2. The special will feature selected sets from the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival. WBGO’s Josh Jackson will host sets from three stages.

“How diverse was this year’s Newport Jazz Festival? One of my favorite solos … was by an oud player” on the Quad Stage, writes Jon Garelick in The Boston Globe.

“Makeshift dance floors popped up at each side of the … main stage as the Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra got into its groove,” writes Alisha A. Pina in The Providence Journal.

She says the Harbor Stage “was mobbed … as Jon Batiste and Stay Human took them on a New Orleans ride.” The crowd sang and the band played in the aisle. Batiste – age 26 – plays piano, melodica, sings and “won’t rest until [he’s] won you,” writes Ben Ratliff in The New York Times’ review of Newport.

Tune in to member supported WNCU 90.7 and to catch the Newport Jazz Festival.

Birthday Tribute to Abbey Lincoln

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Today is Abbey Lincoln’s birthday! WNCU will air her birthday tribute special at 9pm tonight.

Newport Jazz Festival Live

Monday, August 5th, 2013

NPR Links:

Erroll Garner

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

egarner2One of the most distinctive of all pianists, Erroll Garner proved that it was possible to be a sophisticated player without knowing how to read music, that a creative jazz musician can be very popular without watering down his music, and that it is possible to remain an enthusiastic player without changing one’s style once it is formed. A brilliant virtuoso who sounded unlike anyone else, on medium tempo pieces, Erroll Garner often stated the beat with his left hand like a rhythm guitar while his right played chords slightly behind the beat, creating a memorable effect. His playful free-form introductions (which forced his sidemen to really listen), his ability to play stunning runs without once glancing at the keyboard, his grunting, and the pure joy that he displayed while performing were also part of the Erroll Garner magic.

egarner3Garner, whose older brother Linton was also a fine pianist, appeared on the radio with the Kan-D-Kids at the age of ten. After working locally in Pittsburgh, he moved to New York in 1944 and worked with Slam Stewart’s trio during 1944-1945 before going out on his own. By 1946, Garner had his sound together, and when he backed Charlie Parker on his famous Cool Blues session of 1947, the pianist was already an obvious giant. His unclassifiable style had an orchestral approach straight from the swing era but was open to the innovations of bop. From the early ’50s on, Garner’s accessible style became very popular and he never seemed to have an off day up until his forced retirement (due to illness) in early 1975. His composition “Misty” became a standard. Garner, who had the ability to sit at the piano without prior planning and record three albums in one day (all colorful first takes), made many records throughout his career for such companies as Savoy, Mercury, RCA, Dial, Columbia, EmArcy, ABC-Paramount, MGM, Reprise, and his own Octave label.

Originally published on

Photo credits: