Tag: jazz music

Happy 100th, Ella! American Musical Legend Ella Fitzgerald Born on this Day in 1917

Early Hardship Couldn't Muffle Ella Fitzgerald's Joy
Legendary singer Ella Fitzgerald (photo via npr.org)

article by Tom Vitale via npr.org

Ella Fitzgerald, who would have turned 100 today, was one of the most beloved and versatile singers of the 20th century. In a career that spanned six decades, Fitzgerald recorded hundreds of songs, including definitive versions of many standards. Along the way, she influenced generations of singers.

But the first thing that strikes you about Fitzgerald is that voice.

Cécile McLorin Salvant, who won a Grammy last year for Best Jazz Vocal Album, says a combination of qualities made Fitzgerald’s voice unique. “When you hear the tone of her voice — which has kind of a brightness, kind of a breathiness, but it also has this really great depth, and kind of a laser-like, really clear quality to it — it hits you,” she says.

Salvant, 27, says she learned to sing jazz standards by listening to Fitzgerald’s versions.

“I remember being 17 and living in France and feeling really homesick and wanting to go back to Miami, and listening to Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,’ ” Salvant says. “And I would listen to that all day. All day. For, like, weeks. And it felt — it created a home for me.”

Fitzgerald had perfect pitch, impeccable diction and a remarkable sense of rhythm. And it all came naturally to her, as she told the CBC in 1974.  “What I sing is only what I feel,” she said. “I had some lady ask me the other day about music lessons and I never — except for what I had to learn for my half-credit in school — I’ve never given it a thought. I’ve never taken breathing lessons. I had to go for myself, and I guess that’s how I got a style.”

That style was an immediate hit. Fitzgerald was discovered at an amateur contest and began her professional career when she was only 16, singing with the Chick Webb Orchestra at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. When she was 21, she became internationally famous with a hit record based on a nursery rhyme, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”

Tony Bennett says that when he was starting out as a young singer, Ella Fitzgerald was his idol. “She was a complete swinger,” he says. “She just understood the whole art of jazz phrasing.” Continue reading “Happy 100th, Ella! American Musical Legend Ella Fitzgerald Born on this Day in 1917”

Already a Hub for the Arts, New Brunswick, NJ Enters Its Jazz Age

Thursday nights at Hotoke are a part of a resurgence of the New Brunswick jazz scene. Instrumentalists performing there have included the drummer Rudy Royston and his quartet. (BEN SOLOMON FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES)

This month’s cold snap did not deter the drummer Rudy Royston, a fixture on the New York jazz scene, from making his way to New Brunswick, where on a particularly frigid Thursday night, he could be found burning up the bandstand at Hotoke, a restaurant and lounge on George Street.

Mr. Royston had a hole in his schedule to fill, and fill it he did, his drumming a polyrhythmic whirlwind propelling a quartet through war horses like “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Autumn Leaves.” Mr. Royston said he relished getting back to basics out of the glare of Manhattan.

“These gigs are foundation gigs,” he said, before launching into his set. “We play tunes, play the room, deal with management. They are at the root of jazz.”

But the larger significance of the set was that it was happening at all. The George Street of old, hollowed out by postwar suburbanization, was a dark and lonely place after 5 p.m., save for the odd prostitute prowling the stretch leading to Albany Street. The mere existence of a jazz room was something of a miracle.

Historically, New Brunswick’s native sons have contributed to jazz, from the stride pianist James P. Johnson, a Jazz Age innovator, to the avant-garde bassist Mark Helias, who came out of Rutgers University’s groundbreaking jazz studies program in the 1970s.

But jazz as a commercial enterprise didn’t gain a toehold in New Brunswick until Johnson & Johnson built its new headquarters there. Opening in 1983, it spawned redevelopment, like the Hyatt lounge and other cultural hot spots catering to a new, wealthier crowd.

By the 1990s, those spots included theaters, like the George Street Playhouse and Crossroads Theater Company, and music spaces, like the Raritan River Club on Church Street, where the influential pianist Kenny Barron, then a Rutgers professor, offered full sets of solo playing rarely heard when he performed in Manhattan clubs. Another establishment with new owners, Steakhouse 85, now operates at the River Club’s former address.

Despite the general improvement in New Brunswick’s fortunes, the city’s night life suffered during the 2008 recession, according to Virginia DeBerry, a writer and local jazz enthusiast.

“Everybody’s pocket was strained,” she said. “Jazz just wasn’t happening in town.”

But the downturn had an upside. It spurred Ms. DeBerry, along with fellow enthusiasts Michael Tublin, a New Brunswick city employee, and Jim Lenihan, an engineer, to form the New Brunswick Jazz Project. In the spring of 2010, the three started knocking on doors, brokering deals with local businesses interested in hosting jazz. This year, the project, which once booked two shows a month, will book three or four a week.

Continue reading “Already a Hub for the Arts, New Brunswick, NJ Enters Its Jazz Age”

Miles Davis’ Birthday (Today) Celebrated with Official Unveiling of “Miles Davis Way” on New York’s Upper West Side


The late Miles Davis (1926-1991) was an icon who changed the world of jazz and music forever. This Memorial Day, also the birthday of the beloved trumpeter, New York City will honor his legacy with a block party celebrating the official unveiling of “Miles Davis Way” (West 77th Street between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue). This location is the site of Davis’ infamous, former brownstone, where he lived for nearly a quarter of a century and created some of his best music.


I recently had the opportunity to chat with Miles Davis’ son Erin and nephew Vince Wilburn, Jr. for my podcast Whine At 9. The cousins shared their feelings about this special upcoming honor, their own music careers, and their family’s role in keeping the Miles Davis legacy alive.

Find out more about the NYC Memorial Day Block Party and Unveiling of “Miles Davis Way”.

When it comes to New York City’s block party celebration of his father, Miles’ son Erin admits, “We couldn’t be more excited–we’re just trying to wrap our heads around the whole situation.” He and cousin Vince, along with sister Cheryl Davis oversee Miles Davis Properties LLC and are intimately involved with maintaining the integrity and creativity of the music great’s legacy. The family plans to be in New York City to participate in this special honor.

Continue reading “Miles Davis’ Birthday (Today) Celebrated with Official Unveiling of “Miles Davis Way” on New York’s Upper West Side”

The Man Behind the Grin: What Louis Armstrong Really Thought, in His Own Words

(Photograph: Eddie Adams/AP)

On October 31, 1965, Louis “Pops” (or “Satchmo”) Armstrong gave his first performance in New Orleans, his home town, in nine years. As a boy, he had busked on street corners. At twelve, he marched in parades for the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys, where he was given his first cornet. But he had publicly boycotted the city since its banning of integrated bands, in 1956. It took the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to undo the law. Returning should have been a victory lap. At sixty-four, his popular appeal had never been broader. His recording of “Hello, Dolly!,” from the musical then in its initial run on Broadway, bumped the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” from its No. 1 slot on the Billboard Top 100 chart, and the song carried him to the Grammys; it won the 1964 Best Vocal Performance award. By the time the movie version came out, in 1969, he was brought in to duet with Barbra Streisand.

Armstrong was then widely known as America’s gravel-voiced, lovable grandpa of jazz. Yet it was a low point for his critical estimation. “The square’s jazzman,” the journalist Andrew Kopkind called him, while covering Armstrong’s return to New Orleans for The New Republic. Kopkind added that “Among Negroes across the country he occupies a special position as success symbol, cultural hero, and racial cop-out.” Kopkind was not entirely wrong in this, and hardly alone in saying so. Armstrong was regularly called an Uncle Tom.

Detractors wanted Armstrong on the front lines, marching, but he refused. He had already been the target of a bombing, during an integrated performance at Knoxville’s Chilhowee Park auditorium, in February, 1957. In 1965, the year Armstrong returned to New Orleans, Malcolm X was killed on February 21st, and on March 7th, known as Bloody Sunday, Alabama state troopers armed with billy clubs, tear gas, and bull whips attacked nearly six hundred marchers protesting a police shooting of a voter-registration activist near Selma. Armstrong flatly stated in interviews that he refused to march, feeling that he would be a target. “My life is my music. They would beat me on the mouth if I marched, and without my mouth I wouldn’t be able to blow my horn … they would beat Jesus if he was black and marched.”

When local kids asked Armstrong to join them in a homecoming parade, as he had done with the Colored Waif’s Home in his youth, he said no. He knew the 1964 Civil Rights Act was federal law, not local fiat. Armstrong had happily joined in the home’s parades in the past, but his refusal here can be read as a sign of the times. The Birmingham church bombings in 1963 had shown that even children were not off limits.

And yet little of what Armstrong said about the civil-rights struggle registered. The public image of him, that wide performance smile, the rumbling lilt of his “Hello, Dolly!,” obviated everything else. “As for Satchmo himself,” Kopkind wrote, “he seems untouched by all the doubts around him. He is a New Orleans trumpet player who loves to entertain. He is not very serious about art or politics, or even life.”

* * *To be fair to Kopkind, and many others who wrote about Armstrong, they did not know much of what Armstrong thought, because, at the time, Armstrong’s more political views were rarely heard publicly. To the country at large, he insisted on remaining a breezy entertainer with all the gravitas of a Jimmy Durante or Dean Martin. Fortunately, that image is now being deeply re-examined. This month, the publication of Thomas Brothers’s Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism and the Off Broadway opening of Terry Teachout’s Satchmo at the Waldorf (which follows his 2009 biography, Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, which was reviewed by John McWhorter) provide a rich, nuanced picture of what was behind Armstrong’s public face.

Armstrong’s thoughts were scattered about in uncollected letters, unpublished autobiographical manuscripts, and tape recordings. He brought a typewriter with him on the road, and an inquisitive fan who sent a letter stood a good chance of getting a reply from Satchmo himself. When reel-to-reel tape decks were introduced, he bought one so that he could listen to music, study his own performances, and record conversations with friends and family to get down his own version of events. Scholars and researchers have been studying his writing and recordings for a number of years. Teachout’s play, a one-man show starring John Douglas Thompson, is based on more than six hundred and fifty reels of tape stored at Queens College, all of which reveal an Armstrong who did indeed take art, politics, and life seriously.

Continue reading “The Man Behind the Grin: What Louis Armstrong Really Thought, in His Own Words”

R.I.P. Jazz Icon, Grammy Award-Winning Musician and Composer George Duke

GEORGE DUKE | Aug. 5 (age 67) | The legendary keyboardist released more than 40 albums during his four-decade-plus career. He memorably collaborated with artists such as Michael Jackson, Jill Scott and Miles Davis.
GEORGE DUKE | The legendary keyboardist released more than 40 albums during his four-decade-plus career. He memorably collaborated with artists such as Michael Jackson, Jill Scott and Miles Davis. Jean-Christophe Bott, AP

Jazz musician George Duke died Monday in Los Angeles at age 67.  A pioneer in the funk and R&B genres, he had been battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia, according to his label Concord Music Group, which confirmed his death.  “The outpouring of love and support that we have received from my father’s friends, fans and the entire music community has been overwhelming,” said his son, Rashid Duke, in a statement. “Thank you all for your concern, prayers and support.”

Born in San Rafael, Calif., Duke aspired to a music career from an early age, after his mother took him to a Duke Ellington concert.  “I remember seeing this guy in a white suit, playing this big thing, which I later found out was a piano,” Duke told USA TODAY in 1997. “He had all these guys around him, and he was waving his hands conducting, and he spoke very intelligently and seemed to be having a good time. And his name was Duke, and my last name was Duke. I told my mom, ‘I want to be him.’ That moment in time set the stage for me.”

Over the course of his four-decade-plus career, the Grammy Award-winning keyboardist put out more than 40 albums and collaborated with artists such as Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, Jill Scott and Michael Jackson. His music was also sampled by Kanye West, Daft Punk and Common.  “It’s a wonderful thing that has happened under the banner of jazz,” Duke told USA TODAY of his career longevity. “In R&B and rock, when you are over a certain age, they say goodbye to you. But in jazz, you just kind of level off and continue to gain respect, so long as you keep your integrity.”

Duke’s final album, DreamWeaver, was released July 16 and made its debut at No. 1 on Billboard‘s contemporary jazz chart. It was his first new music since the death of his wife, Corine, last year.  To learn more about Duke’s life and music, click here.  Also, watch a video of Duke recording his classic “Dukey Stick” below:

article by Patrick Ryan via usatoday.com

Born On This Day in 1917: American Musical Legend Ella Fitzgerald

Ella FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996), also known as the “First Lady of Song”, “Queen of Jazz”, and “Lady Ella”, was an American jazz vocalist with a vocal range spanning three octaves (D♭3 to D♭6). She was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a “horn-like” improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.

Fitzgerald was a notable interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Over the course of her 59-year recording career, she sold 40 million copies of her 70-plus albums, won 13 Grammy Awards and was awarded the National Medal of Arts by Ronald Reagan and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George H. W. Bush.

ella_fitzgeralds_96th_birthday-1212009-hpAs Google honors Ella with her own Google Doodle today (pictured left), learn more about her life and music on Wikipedia.org.  Also, it is truly worth watching all seven minutes and thirty-nine seconds of the video below as Al Jarreau and Nancy Wilson honor Ella with a spectacular version of one of her biggest hits, “A Tisket, A Tasket” at the 1988 NAACP Image Awards.  Then, after 71 year-old Fitzgerald receives her award, she sings a dynamic, swinging, commanding version of “You Are The Sunshine of My Life” that is not to be missed:

article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson

Born On This Day in 1919: Legendary Jazz Musician and Singer Nat King Cole

Nat ColeNathaniel Adams Coles (March 17, 1919 – February 15, 1965), known professionally as Nat King Cole, was an American singer and musician who first came to prominence as a leading jazz pianist. He owes most of his popular musical fame to his soft, baritone voice, which he used to perform in big band and jazz genres.

Cole was one of the first African Americans to host a television variety show, The Nat King Cole Show, and has maintained worldwide popularity since his death from lung cancer in February 1965, based on his classic renditions of  “Unforgettable,” “Mona Lisa,” “Laura,” and “The Christmas Song.”  Learn more about his life and music here, and watch his uncomparable version of “Nature Boy” below:

article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson

Born On This Day in 1933: Jazz Singer and Activist Nina Simone

ninasimoneEunice Kathleen Waymon (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003), born in Tyron, North Carolina and better known by her stage name Nina Simone, was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist widely associated with jazz music. Simone studied at the Julliard School of Music in New York and worked in a broad range of styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.  Among Simone’s most popular recordings were “My Baby Just Cares For Me”, “I Put A Spell On You”, “I Loves You, Porgy” “Feeling Good” and the civil rights protest song “Mississippi Goddam.”  Learn more about this amazing musician’s life and music here and watch her live performance of  “Ain’t Got No… I Got Life” below:

article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson

Jazz Legend Wayne Shorter Releases “Without A Net” CD This Week

(Photo: Robert Yager/The New York Times)

The standard line on Wayne Shorter is that he’s the greatest living composer in jazz, and one of its greatest saxophonists. He would like you to forget all of that. Not the music, or his relationship to it, but rather the whole notion of pre-eminence, with its granite countenance and fixed coordinates. “We have to beware the trapdoors of the self,” he said recently.

“You think you’re the only one that has a mission,” he went on, “and your mission is so unique, and you expound this missionary process over and over again with something you call a vocabulary, which in itself becomes old and decrepit.” He laughed sharply.

Mr. Shorter will turn 80 this year. Decrepitude hasn’t had a chance to catch up to him. Last week he appeared at Carnegie Hall as a featured guest with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, which played several of his compositions. On Tuesday “Without a Net,” easily the year’s most-anticipated jazz album, will become his first release on Blue Note in more than four decades. And next Saturday he’ll be at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the premiere of “Gaia,” which he wrote as a showcase for the bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding.

Continue reading “Jazz Legend Wayne Shorter Releases “Without A Net” CD This Week”

Sony Music Honors Nina Simone As Artist Of The Month For February 2013

Legacy Recordings, the catalog division of Sony Music Entertainment, commemorates the life and music of Nina Simone on the occasion of the singer’s 80th birthday and celebrates the iconic High Priestess of Soul as the label’s Artist of the Month for February 2013.

Nina Simone, who would’ve turned 80 on February 21, was a strong and vocal civil rights advocate who carried the message of universal rights and personal empowerment, freedom, equality and dignity throughout her career. Whether it was political or emotional or personal, she never failed to tell the truth through her music.

One of the most powerful and uncompromising artists of the 20th century, Nina Simone was a natural talent who developed into a virtuosic performer–an ineffable song stylist with concert hall piano skills and a transcendental on-stage presence. Singer, songwriter, arranger, and pianist, Nina wove classical, blues, jazz, pop, rock, R&B, folk, gospel, torch songs and world music into a body of work as eclectic as it is incomparable.

Continue reading “Sony Music Honors Nina Simone As Artist Of The Month For February 2013”

The Good Things Black People Do, Give and Receive All Over The World
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