NEPR MUSIC BLOGS

James Cotton, R.I.P.

Mar 19, 2017
Jason Marck

James Cotton, the blues harmonica great renowned for his long tenure with Muddy Waters and the high-octane energy of his own festival and nightclub shows, died on Thursday, March 16, in Austin, Texas. Pneumonia was the cause of death at age 81. Cotton was born in Tunica, Mississippi, on July 1, 1935. His father was a rural preacher who died when James was five, and his mother played rudimentary harmonica in imitation of barnyard animals. Cotton heard the real thing when he caught a broadcast of Sonny Boy Williamson’s local daytime radio show.

Today is Ruby Braff’s 90th birthday anniversary. The cornetist was born in Boston in 1927. Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Lester Young were his heroes. By most accounts Ruby was a prickly personality, but on all accounts he was a player dedicated to beauty. Great songs never failed him. He called his aesthetic, “adoration of the melody.” Ruby made a ton of records, not a throwaway in the bunch.

LADY DAY IN NEWARK, 1957
Jerry Dantzic

The New York Times last week posted an album of rarely seen photos of Billie Holiday. The pictures were taken by Jerry Dantzic in 1957 during her engagement at Sugar Hill on Broad Street in Newark, New Jersey. As the Times blog by John Leland notes, Billie had been denied a cabaret card for nearly a decade at that point, and without it she was unable to work in New York establishments that served alcohol, i.e., nightclubs.

T Charles Erickson© / T Charles Erickson Photography

On our way home from Boston Sunday we listened to American Routes on New England Public Radio. Host Nick Spitzer asked Blues musician Jimmy Duck Holmes why so many of his songs were along the lines of "the devil must have been in you to make you leave me." Holmes said that despite such lyrics no one is really led astray by diabolic forces; they were following their own desires.

Andy Jaffe Octet

Mar 6, 2017

Illness notwithstanding, I ventured out into the bitter cold of Saturday night for the second half of the Easthampton Jazz Festival’s nighttime lineup with the Andy Jaffe Octet; it was well worth it and apparently restorative. Andy’s group featured eight of the nine members of the nonet that he leads on his 2016 Playscape recording, Arc. The woodwind player Tom Olin has passed on since its release, but the rest of the group is intact.

February 22 was Rex Stewart's 110th birthday anniversary. The Philadelphia-born cornetist was a remarkably complete stylist whose features ranged from a 1931 assignment with Fletcher Henderson playing the lyrical solo that Bix Beiderbecke essayed on "Singin' the Blues," to portraying "Menelik, the Lion of Judah," in the "stylized jungle" manner that was synonymous with Duke Ellington. "Singin' the Blues," recorded as a memorial to Bix, dates from October 4, 1931, two months after his death on August 6.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything…no particular reason. So, I recently came across this interesting little story. Ever wonder what it’s like to be an orchestral musician in a world-class ensemble? Violinist Nathan Cole, First Associate Concertmaster with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, writes about his experiences with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra back in 2002. It might be a a tad lengthy, but it’s well worth the read!

Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra
Ryan Donnell

I dare say that, with the state of classical music in this country, ie: seemingly on a steady decline, no matter how much we’d like to believe otherwise, it doesn’t help matters when it comes to disagreements between musicians and symphony orchestra management when it comes to pay.

My wife and I have been going to the Met pretty much annually since the NEPR travel program began a couple of decades ago with a series of weekends at the Met. 2016 has stood out for history making adventures for us. In the fall of 2015 we bought tickets for a trip at spring break of this year.  As it happened we had excellent seats for James Levine’s final performance as Music Director. he conducted Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio and we were part of the tremendous ovation which followed, at least 20 minutes’ worth. I wrote about it at the time.