Jazz

Duke Ellington, Mahalia Jackson, and George Wein (in polo jersey), 1970, New Orleans
Michael Smith / The Historic New Orleans Collection

Tom Reney looks back at Duke Ellington’s “New Orleans Suite,” and the crucial role that Duke and festival producer George Wein played in the establishment of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which just completed its 49th annual presentation in the Crescent City. Wein’s insistence that any festival he produced would include Ellington, who “stayed only in the finest hotels,” and feature integrated ensembles was a spur to ending rigid segregation practices in New Orleans.

Connie Kay
Tom Copi / Getty Images

Lately I've grown accustomed to hearing Joe Lovano and other bandleaders introduce drummers as players of "drums and cymbals." Connie Kay, a cymbals master who was born 90 years ago today, qualified for that delineation decades ago.

Tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi hears in Joe Henderson a powerful mix of the astrological elements Earth and Air. “He can be playing some far out stuff [Air] and all of a sudden he comes back [to Earth] and grounds it and plays some groove that knocks you off your feet. He’s amazingly smart and fleet.”

Steve Davis
UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center

Today is Steve Davis's 50th birthday, which means he was born in the middle of the first month of the Impossible Dream season of the Boston Red Sox. Stevie-D is one of the most ardent Red Sox fans on the planet, but more importantly, he's a master trombonist; a tireless teacher, mentor, bandleader, and denizen of jam sessions near and far; and a dedicated keeper of a lineage that includes J.J.

In the latest edition of Jazz Beat, Tom Reney explores the legacy of the bassist Scott LaFaro, who was a leading innovator in modern jazz and a member of the Bill Evans Trio. LaFaro was tragically killed in an auto accident in 1961 at age 25, and he’s the subject of an outstanding biography by his sister Helene LaFaro-Fernandez. Tom’s appreciation of LaFaro includes numerous samples of his music.

Creative Commons

Jay Geils died on April 11 at his home in Groton, Massachusetts, at age 71, from what police determined were natural causes. The guitarist lent his name to one of the hardest-working and most popular rock bands of the 1970s and '80s, and his death is making headlines everywhere. While Geils was born in New York and raised in New Jersey, the J. Geils Band got its start in Worcester, where Geils, harmonica player Magic Dick, and bassist Danny Klein attended WPI and first teamed in a campus-based jug band.

The legendary Claude Jeter made one of his final appearances as leader of the Swan Silvertones at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival. The Silvertones founder was 52 at the time, and he would live another 42 years, but by then he'd tired of the ceaseless travel and modest reward of the gospel highway.

It took a "country boy" who "stayed out all night long" to create the modern Chicago blues. With his 1948 Aristocrat release, "I Can't Be Satisfied" b/w "I Feel Like Goin' Home," Muddy Waters transformed a pair of songs he'd first recorded on the Stovall Plantation in Mississippi into the urgent, amplified sound of post-war urban blues.

One of the most substantial biographies I’ve read in recent years is the 2009 publication that Helene LaFaro-Fernandez devoted to her brother Scott.  The great bassist is best known for his work with the Bill Evans Trio between 1959 and ’61, and for the tragic car accident that claimed his life on July 6, 1961, two weeks after the trio’s legendary performance at the Village Vanguard. LaFaro burned like a meteorite, rising to the top rank of bassists in a few short years and working with a Who’s Who of jazz greats in the compressed time frame preceding his death at age 25.

Arthur Blythe
Stuart Nicholson

They call me a producer/host in the staff directory at NEPR, but this week, like many others, I feel more like a eulogist. Two days after writing a memorial tribute to my friend and jazz radio colleague Steve Schwartz, word came that Arthur Blythe died on Monday, at 76. The San Diego native had been sidelined with Parkinson's since 2005, but for a few decades he was one of the most potent forces in the music. I hadn't seen Blythe since the mid-'90s, but I heard him as often as possible after his arrival in New York around 1975.

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