Willis Conover was known around the world, but not so much at home. He was the voice of jazz over the Voice of America for more than 40 years, most of it during the Cold War.
Imagine what it was like to sit in the dark of a hushed room in Prague, Moscow or Warsaw in the 1960s, fiddle with the dial of a shortwave radio, slide over crackles, pops, and jamming, to finally find the opening notes of “The A Train” and a rich baritone intoning slowly through the static, “Good evening. Willis Conover with Music USA … ”
He played the Count, the Duke, and Satchmo, Dizzy, Miss Sarah Vaughan and Charlie Parker.
Last week, I found myself in an Italian restaurant playing improvised jazz music with a few other musicians. Despite what it might sound like, I’m not a full-time musician. I’m actually CEO of a big data startup, a far cry from my musical moonlighting gig.
But as I played, I couldn’t help but connect the dots between the two roles. On paper, CEOs and jazz musicians may seem like they are on opposite ends of the spectrum and appear to have very little in common. We think of executives as rigid, driven, and all business, while musicians appear to be casual and more free spirited.
The great jazz trumpeter Buck Clayton would fondly recall his time in China in the 1930s, when jazz was the soundtrack to Shanghai.
Although jazz was massively popular in China during the 1920s and 1930s, it suffered greatly under Chairman Mao, who banned it out-right during the Cultural Revolution of the Sixties, decrying it as “capitalist, bourgeois decadence”.
A thaw began in the 1980s (when even George Melly played in Beijing) and has really taken hold in recent years, with a revival in many cities and the return of jazz festivals to places such as Changsha.
The groundswell is such that Blue Note, one of the world’s best-known jazz franchises, has announced an expansion to China as it banks on a growing appetite for live performances among moneyed consumers.
Jazz at Lincoln Center has shelves upon shelves of recordings from concerts it has presented since its founding in 1987, including a studio recording featuring the pianist Chick Corea, a musical Mass with a gospel choir written for the 200th anniversary of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York and concerts with the saxophonists Sherman Irby and Ted Nash. Now, that organization, together with Sony Music Entertainment, is bringing that archive, as well as new studio and live recordings, to the public through the creation of its own label, Blue Engine Records, to be announced on Tuesday.
When saxophonist Ornette Coleman played clubs in Los Angeles in the mid-1950s, audiences often covered their ears and waited outside until his set was done. He shunned the conventions of melody and harmony and encouraged his bandmates to do the same, producing a sound too dissonant for mainstream tastes.
So in 1959, when the iconoclastic musician and composer blew into New York for a gig at the legendary Five Spot jazz club, hostility flowed — drummer Max Roach expressed his disapproval by punching Coleman in the mouth.
But the club was filled, night after night, for weeks. By the the end of his run, Coleman had launched a new kind of cool.
“He’s doing the only really new thing in jazz since the innovations of Parker, Gillespie and Monk,” pianist John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet said at the time.
Coleman, whose spontaneous approach to jazz improvisation and imaginative compositions stamped him as one of the most innovative and controversial figures of the post-bebop era and brought him a Pulitzer Prize for musical composition in 2007, died of cardiac arrest Thursday in New York, said his publicist, Ken Weinstein. He was 85.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert recently named gifted and charismatic New Orleans jazz musician Jon Batiste as bandleader. At the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival, Batiste sat down with Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson for a lively conversation that was part performance and part discussion (watch Batiste and Isaacson join in song at the 44:15 mark). They talked about the roots of jazz, their hometown of New Orleans, the importance of arts education, and the state and future of American musical traditions.
WASHINGTON, June 6, 2015 – Touting itself as the fastest growing jazz festival in the U.S., the 2015 D.C. Jazz Festival will welcome a diverse selection of locally, nationally and internationally acclaimed artists performing in venues across the Nation’s Capital this week from Wednesday to June 16.
As the area’s largest and most diverse music festival, boasting more than 125 performances in nearly 60 venues across the city, the DCJF reaches more than 60,000 visitors of all ages each year.
“As a supporter of the DC Jazz Festival for the last seven years, we are proud to be associated with the overall growth of the festival and in particular, Jazz in the ‘Hoods,” said Erik A. Moses, managing director of Events DC’s sports and entertainment division. “The Jazz in the ‘Hoods series brings people together to enjoy great jazz in a variety of DC’s coolest neighborhood venues,” he noted.
MONTREAL — When Ray Charles opened the inaugural Montreal International Jazz Festival in 1980, founder Alain Simard was working on a budget of $70,000.
Little did he know that years later the festival would stave off financial ruin and draw millions in money and crowds to become one of the country’s most economically successful events of the summer.
“We could never have imagined that it would become a symbol of Montreal and bring about $100 million economic windfall each year,” said Simard, who is overseeing his final festival this year beginning June 26.
By Salim Muwakkil
This year, a truly golden anniversary is taking place in Chicago: the 50th birthday of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), an organization unlike any other in the history of jazz music—or any musical genre, for that matter.
The AACM is at once a management firm, artistic salon, aesthetic manifesto, training ground for young musicians and musical manifestation of black cultural nationalism. In short, it’s hard to pin down. But what’s clear is this: It is the most illustrious jazz collective in history.
The AACM was formed in Chicago in 1965, when jazz was losing its pop currency to rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll. For jazz musicians, as AACM member George Lewis explains in his 2007 book, A Power Stronger than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music, everything was beginning to evaporate: club dates, dance-band jobs, instrumental recording sessions. And so musicians came together and organized, under the logic that if the clubs refused to hire them, they would create their own venues and put on their own concerts.
SINGAPORE — When we heard jazz artiste Melissa Tham perform with the Christy Smith Quartet at the Singapore International Jazz Festival earlier this year, the singer’s rich, emotive vocals made jazz music seem far more accessible than one thought possible. Interestingly, while Tham comes across as your regular, endearing Singaporean girl — who is not afraid to flaunt it — with a love of jazz, she likes “all kinds of music, lah”.
“It’s nice sometimes when I listen to something on YouTube, or someone tells me to check some person out,” said the 29-year-old. “But I’ve always felt most at home with jazz or, specifically, swing. I like that feeling when I listen to Frank Sinatra — that swagger. I really like that feeling because it makes me feel so shiok!”
Bob Belden, a jazz saxophonist, composer, arranger, bandleader and record producer who was both a historian of the music and a force in moving it forward, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 58
He died three days after having a heart attack, said his sister, Beth Belden Harmstone.
Engaged and opinionated, Mr. Belden was part reformist and part conservationist. As a bandleader and record maker, he often looked for ways to connect the jazz tradition to other energies. In February he performed in Tehran with his group Animation, in a concert brought about in part by the American nonprofit organization Search for Common Ground. It was the first time an American musician had played in Iran since 1979.
After a lengthy and hilarious discourse at his South Philadelphia home on all things swing and jazz, hot guitarist Marty Grosz, 85, says, “I hope I don’t sound like a sour curmudgeon, which is probably what I am.”
About to release his latest album, Diga Diga Doo – Marty Grosz Meets the Fat Babies: Hot Music from Chicago, the musician and singer says proudly that his art has always sought to entertain rather than lull audiences into a stupor with what he calls “egghead jazz.”
“I’ve got a feel for ‘hot music’ – because if I call it jazz, people don’t know what I’m talking about. I wouldn’t know what I was talking about. In the ’50s and ’60s, we billed ourselves as ‘jazz,’ but even then it was problematic. Were you playing traditional, bebop, free-form?”
On this first day of Jazz Appreciation Month (April), the Jazz Journalists’ Association has announced that local property developer Don Chisholm will receive its 2015 National Jazz Hero Award to recognize his “years of generous service and philanthropy for jazz and musical theatre in Ann Arbor.”
With a group of fellow jazz lovers, Don Chisholm provides financial support for concerts at The Kerrytown Concert House. The Don Chisholm Friends of Jazz at KCH have made it possible for Ann Arbor music lovers to enjoy Jackie Ryan, Tamir Hendelman, Jeff Hamilton, Terry Lower, Gwilym Simcock, The JaLaLa Trio, Mr. B, Peter Bernstein, Randy Napoleon, James Dapogny and many others in the elegant and intimate Kerrytown Concert House.