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Dizzy’s Love

Dizzy Gillespie ca. June 1946 – William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress

 

Today we celebrate the 100th birthday of John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie.  Dizzy as he was affectionately known was one of the greatest jazz innovators of the twentieth century.  His music, Bebop – “Bop” for short, was improvised, with complex and often dissonant chords, and sometimes very rapid tempos.  It began in jam sessions in Harlem, and made a dramatic entrance into the music scene in the mid-1940s.  Listeners were startled by it, and some traditional jazz musicians even described it as noise. But, it took over the world of jazz rapidly, and as a genre would influence generations of musicians to come.

Nothing so amazing and so influential has been heard in jazz since.  Looking back, many writers have focused on Dizzy’s musical genius and technical mastery, but I am going to talk about Dizzy’s love of Cuban music and his connection to Cuban musicians.

Dizzy was born on October 21st, 1917 in Cheraw, South Carolina, and his father was a bandleader.  Dizzy was surrounded by instruments as a young child.  He learned to play piano starting at age four and later taught himself trumpet and trombone. He soon became a professional musician.  It was while he was playing in Cab Calloway’s orchestra in the 1940’s that Calloway introduced him to Mario Bauzá.  Bauzá was one of the first musicians to introduce Latin music to the United States. He would later connect Dizzy to Luciano Pozo Gonzáles, who was known as Chano Pozo.

Chano Pozo cut a strong and charismatic figure on stage. He could dance and sing as hard as he played conga.  Even though it was difficult for them to understand each other.  But, Dizzy said in the documentary film, A Night in Havana: Dizzy Gillespie in Cuba, that they both “spoke Africa.”  Dizzy saw him as a brother.  Before they met, Cuban music had only an occasional influence on jazz, and vice versa. That would soon change.  Dizzy quickly welcomed Chano Pozo as a conguero into his band.   And, on September 29th 1947, Pozo and the bongo player Chiquitico performed with Dizzy at a Carnegie Hall concert.   As Alyn Shipton wrote in “Groovin’ High: A Life of Dizzy Gillespie”:

Few collaborations capture the heady excitement, virtuosity … that can be found in “Manteca”, “Cubana-be Cubana-bop” (also known as the Afro-Cuban jazz suite) and “Guarachi Guaro” from the first fruits of Pozo’s tenure with Dizzy’s band.”

 

A Night in Havana: Dizzy Gillespie in Cuba

 

Dizzy incorporated much of Chano Pozo’s Santeria chanting into Bop – something that was new, and at times perplexed his fellow musicians, but later caught on.  Likewise, bands in Bop had hitherto only a single drummer, but suddenly congas and sometimes a group of Cuban percussionists became a regular component of the music, adding additional excitement and rhythmic spice.  Chano Pozo was tragically murdered at the age of only 33, but he left behind a powerful mark on modern jazz that reverberates to this day. Dizzy also recorded several beautiful pieces with the masterful Cuban composer and arranger, Chico O’Farrill, including the album Afro-Cuban jazz moods, on which the well-known Cuban maraca player, Machito, also performed.

Dizzy fell quickly in love with Cuban music.  It was a firm embrace. He said several times in different interviews that slaveholders forbade drumming in the United States, yet drumming was kept alive in the South Americas and Caribbean, a drumming that has as its roots Africa.  Cuban music is a music with rhythm at its center.  The clave rhythm, broken up into a first measure of two notes and a second measure of three or vice versa, finds its origins in Sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed the word clave means key.  And it is used to help organize many Cuban rhythms, including rumba, son, salsa and mambo.  Dizzy was no stranger to rhythm. He wrote in his autobiography, “To Be or Not … to Bop” of six prerequisites that all successful musicians must have: mastery of instrument, style, taste, communication, chord progressions and rhythm. “Rhythm,” he wrote, “includes all of the other attributes because you may have all of these others and don’t have the rhythmic sense to put them together, then it would negate all of your other accomplishments.”

 

To Be or Not … to Bop

 

The Cuban music that Dizzy fell in love with in the 1940’s would stay with him for the rest of his life.  Forty years later, he was invited to headline the fifth international jazz festival in Havana.  He described going to Cuba as “coming home.” There, like a loving father, he embraced and nurtured the emerging jazz talents of several younger Cuban musicians, including Arturo Sandoval and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Arturo who is a trumpeter later recounted that he thought Dizzy was expecting to find only a group of great percussionists when he arrived in Cuba, but was a bit surprised to find a trumpeter with some technical prowess.

Dizzy’s love of world music did not stop and rest in Cuba.  He travelled the world as part of the Jazz Ambassador program with a band of musicians from all of the Americas on behalf of the United States State Department. They toured South America, the Middle East, and still other countries. He went with a sense of curiosity and openness. But he also felt a deep need for the world to know and to appreciate jazz.  He felt the same need in the United States, where racism impeded its acceptance. For Dizzy, music was a delight, he emanated joy from the stage.

In 2002, Gillespie was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame for his contributions to Afro-Cuban music.  Dizzy had long embraced the Ba’hai faith.  It is no accident that a man who wanted to be remembered not only for his music, but also for his humanitarianism, was so moved by a religion that speaks about the worth of all religions, and the equality and unity of all people.

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Artist Profiles: Noam Pikelny

Noam Pikelny

Noam Pikelny was born February 27, 1981, in Chicago, Illinois. He is one of the finest banjo musicians in the United States. In 2004 he released his first solo album titled In the Maze. In 2010 he was awarded the first annual Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass earning him an appearance on the popular American TV program The Late Show with David Letterman.

In 2011 Pikelny released his second album Beat The Devil and Carry A Rail. The album hit both the Billboard Top Heatseekers and Bluegrass album charts and was the focus of a Funny or Die parody video starring Pikelny with appearances from Steve Martin, Ed Helms, Earl Scruggs, Chris Thile, Gillian Welch and others.

Noam Pikelny works regularly with well-known artists beyond the bluegrass world including Punch Brothers Wilco Fiona Apple Norah Jones and Jon Brion for the soundtrack to This is 4 a feature song on The Hunger Games soundtrack and a collaboration with Marcus Mumford for the Coen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis.

In 2013 Noam Pikelny released Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe, an interpretation of traditional Bluegrass through a bold complete adaptation of one of the most influential instrumental bluegrass records of all-time. Joining Pikelny on this album are some the best instrumentalists in bluegrass: Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin), and Mike Bub (bass).

The original album Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe was recorded in 1976 five years before Pikelny was even born. It contains twelve classic tunes written by the father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe (1911-1996) and performed by his longtime fiddler Kenny Baker (1926-2012). While many outstanding musicians worked for Bill Monroe, Monroe would introduce Kenny Baker to audiences as “the best in bluegrass.”

Baker’s fiddle provided an elegant and refined voice to Monroe’s music and Pikelny accurately transposes Baker’s versions to the banjo note-for-note track-by-track. It is the first bluegrass record that remakes an entire album in sequence though never turning into an exercise in musical impersonation; instead Pikelny uses the Monroe instrumentals as blueprints and catalysts for his own improvisations and those of his band.

Discography:

In the Maze (Compass Records 2004)
How to Grow a Woman from the Ground, with Chris Thile (Sugar Hill 2006)
Punch, with Punch Brothers (Nonesuch 2008)
Antifogmatic, with Punch Brothers (Nonesuch 2010)
Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail (Compass Records 2011)
Who’s Feeling Young Now?, with Punch Brothers (Nonesuch 2012)
Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe (Compass Records 2013)
Universal Favorite (Rounder Records, 2017)

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Artist Profiles: Sachal Ensemble

Sachal Ensemble

The Sachal Ensemble was formed by Izzat Majeed, a Pakistani investor and hedge fund manager who became a philanthropist and music producer. Born in Lahore in 1950, Majeed’s dream was to recreate the soundtrack of his childhood. His hometown, the second largest city in Pakistan, was once a cultural and artistic center in the region.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Lahore was at a peak as the home of “Lollywood,” the Pakistani equivalent of India’s Bollywood. Movies featured between 10 to 15 songs and the industry employed a considerable number of musicians, composers and arrangers. Music was fundamental to the life of the city.

Izzat’s father, Abdul Majeed, was the chairman of the film producers association of Pakistan and a music lover who would take his son to hear all the touring American jazz musicians passing through Lahore. That’s how an 8-year-old Majeed got to hear pianist Dave Brubeck at a venue near his family home. Brubeck was still a year away from recording “Take Five,” which would become the biggest selling jazz single ever. For the young Izzat, the concert had a profound effect. “That’s where I got hooked on jazz,” says Majeed.

But following a military coup in July 1977, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq became president and his dictatorship set out to “cleanse” Pakistan’s cultural landscape. Most non-religious music was declared sinful and the film industry, severely limited by religious bans, fell to pieces. In Lahore, even virtuoso musicians had to become taxi drivers or shopkeepers just to make a living.

Despite his success in finance, Majeed’s true passions “have always been and will always be about art and music,” he affirms. And so, he decided to do something about it.

These great musicians – from both folk and classical schools – were left hungry and jobless,” said Majeed in a recent interview. “We were losing our instruments, losing our musicians, losing our culture; something had to be done about it.”

Long a patron of the arts and a lover of poetry (he is a published poet himself), Majeed founded Sachal Studios, named after the Sufi poet Saeein Sachal Sarmast, in 2003, on Waris Road, once the center of Lahore’s film studios. He then looked for the city’s great musicians, many of whom had put away their instruments. What’s more, Majeed had to buy instruments for several players.

Initially, Majeed and the Sachal Ensemble focused on the region’s classical and folk music. But then, he started to dream about the possibility of jazz being played on local instruments, and once he introduced the sounds and concepts of jazz, the musicians “took to it very naturally.” As they searched for a broader audience and looked outside Pakistan, they began to explore cross-cultural versions of Western jazz standards, pop and film classics.

Unexpectedly, Sachal Ensemble had a breakthrough when a video of their version of Brubeck’s Paul Desmond classic “Take Five” went viral. Brubeck, who died in December, 2012, in reality got a chance to listen to it, calling it “the most interesting recording of it I have ever heard.”

Discography:

Song of Lahore (Universal Music Classics, 2016)

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Azymuth Announce European Tour 2017

Brazilian jazz-funk band Azymuth will be touring Europe in October. Ivan, Alex and Kiko will be presenting material from their latest album Fênix, along with many of their classics.

Tour Dates:

Oct 13 – Fasching (Stockholm Jazz Festival), Stockholm
Oct 14 – The Hideaway, London
Oct 15 – The Hideaway, London
Oct 17 – Gretchen, Berlin
Oct 18 – Bravo Caffè, Bologna
Oct 19 – Auditorium Fausto Melotti, Rovereto tbc
Oct 20 – Santeria Social Club, Milan
Oct 21 – La Bellevilloise, Paris tbc
Oct 23 – Band On The Wall, Manchester
Oct 24 – Hoochie Coochie, Newcastle tbc
Oct 25 – Neimënster, Luxembourg tbc
Oct 26 – Jazz & The City (Festival), Salzburg
Oct 27 – Jazz & The City (Festival), Salzburg
Oct 28 – Jazz & The City (Festival), Salzburg

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The Black Seeds Cross Over

The Black Seeds – Fabric

Black Seeds – Fabric (Easy Star, 2017)

Black Seeds, one of the most successful international reggae bands, changes course on Fabric. While there is still some great reggae in Fabric, the band ventures deeply into a crossover sound of funk, soul and pop.

Some of the highlights of the album are the first two tracks, “Better Days” and “Everybody Knows.”

 

 

Personnel: Barnaby Weir on vocals and guitars; Daniel Weetman on vocals and percussion; Jarney Murphy on drums; drums; Nigel Patterson on keyboards; Ned Ngatae on guitars, vocals and keyboards; and Francis Harawira on bass and bass synth.

Buy Fabric in Europe

Buy Fabric in the rest of the world

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Thunderous and Passionate Farafina

Farafina – Bolomakote (Intuition, 1992)

The raw, percussion-driven but still melodic sounds of Farafina burst forth on this 1992 release. Layers of drumming provide a solid foundation for bala (wood and gourd xylophone), flute and lyrics that focus mainly on the subject of man’s place in the world and the fulfillment of destiny. But don’t get the idea that it’s heady-sounding stuff. It’s energetic and passionate, with a thunderously tight ensemble sound that knows when to fuel the fire and when to sit back and let it burn. So grab your drum, join in, and feel the spirit.

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Artist Profiles: Mary Youngblood

Mary Youngblood

Native American flute player Mary Youngblood was born on June 24, 1958 in Kirkland, Washington. Mary has Aleut and Seminole ancestry. She is one of the first Native women to record this sacred instrument, a role that has traditionally limited to men. Classically trained on several instruments Mary Youngblood has been playing the flute for over two decades.

Youngblood has a lifetime of musicianship behind her, starting with piano lessons at age six and guitar at ten; she is also a renowned classically trained flutist.

As an adult, when Youngblood received her first wooden Native flute she was compelled to pursue this ancient instrument traditionally played only by men. She has been honored with numerous awards and furthers her craft and knowledge of music and her Native traditions through teaching.

Her 5th album Dance with the Wind came out on May 23 2006 on Silver Wave Records. Inspired by the wisdom of nature Mary writes: “The trees have given a voice to me the voice that sings to you now.” Her eclectic musical style evokes feelings of freedom and gratitude for the blessings of life.

I am simply a vessel between Creator and this sacred instrument the Native American Flute. Listen with an open heart and you will hear the whispers of the Ancient Ones. May their timeless voices soothe your soul.”

Discography:

The Offering (Silver Wave Records, 1998)
Heart of the World (Silver Wave Records, 1999)
Beneath the Raven Moon (Silver Wave Records, 2002)
Feed the Fire (Silver Wave Records, 2004)
Dance with the Wind (Silver Wave Records, 2006)
Sacred Place: A Mary Youngblood Collection (Silver Wave Records, 2008)

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Hurdy Gurdy Wizardry

Rao Trio – Sin Titulo (Producciones Efímeras, 2004)

Rao Trio – Sin Titulo (Producciones Efímeras, 2004)

Although the zanfona (Spanish hurdy gurdy) is best known as an instrument used in Spanish regional folk and Celtic music, Rao Trio take the zanfona to the world of progressive jazz and improvised music as well as tango and flamenco buleria.

Rao Trio is led by zanfona master Germán Diaz from Valladolid (Spain), who is known as one of the best hurdy gurdy players in Europe. The other two members are César Diaz on bass and fretless bass; and Diego Martín on drums and percussion. Accordionist Gorka Hermosa is the guest artist on the album.

Sin Titulo is an excellent album that shows the tremendous potential of the ancient zanfona in the hands of a talented and pioneering musician.

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Dr. John and Henry Butler to Perform at The Town Hall in NYC Tomorrow

Dr. John

Two of the finest performers of New Orleans Music are set to perform together at The Town Hall in New York City tomorrow, June 15, 2017. The concert is part of Blue Note Jazz Festival 2017.
Dr. John and Henry Butler will be accompanied by Dr. John’s acclaimed backing band, The Nitetrippers.

The latest work by multifaceted pianist and vocalist Dr. John is a 2-CD live set titled album, The Musical Mojo of Dr. John: A Celebration of Mac and his Music, featuring well-known guests such as Bruce Springsteen, John Fogarty, Mavis Staples, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux.

 

Henry Butler

 

Butler is one of the greatest blues pianists in the United States. His most recent album is Vipers Drag (2014), with trumpeter and arranger Steven Bernstein and The Hot 9. It includes recreations of classics by Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton.

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Ibibio Sound Machine to Perform at Skirball Cultural Center

Ibibio Sound Machine

Ibibio Sound Machine is set to perform on Thursday, August 3, 2017 in Los Angeles. This concert is part of the Skirball Cultural Center’s Sunset Concerts. Admission is free.

Led by London-born Nigerian singer Eno Williams, Ibibio Sound Machine combines African and electronic elements with ease, inspired by the golden era of West African funk, disco, and electronica.

On March 3, 2017 Ibibio Sound Machine released Uyai (Merge Records).

Skirball Cultural Center is located at 2701 N. Sepúlveda Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90049. Phone: (310) 440-4500.

More information at: skirball.org

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