Jazz and Blues

News about jazz, blues, Studio Sessions, and music samplings from jazz artists in the northwest and around the world.

Jamie Tanaka, sfjazz.org

The SFJAZZ Collective is an all-star jazz ensemble comprising eight of the finest performer/composers at work in jazz today.  Launched in 2004,  the ensemble annually performs a new list of compositions by a modern jazz master and new pieces by the Collective members.

This iconic hard-luck song was a hit when Bessie Smith recorded it in 1929, and with its timeless message and memorable melody, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” has been a favorite for singers in almost every genre including jazz, blues, folk and rock. Bessie Smith was the most popular female jazz and blues singer of the 1920’s, and the highest paid black entertainer of the day. Known as “The Empress of the Blues”, she often worked with the top tier players in the business, including Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins and James P. Johnson.


The Cuban-born drummer/percussionist, bandleader and composer Dafnis Prieto appears at the Earshot Jazz Festival next Thursday, October 17 at the Poncho Concert Hall at Cornish College for the Arts, with his Si o Si Quartet:  Peter Apfelbaum (saxophone/melodica/caxixi), Robert Rodriguez (piano) and Johannes Weidenmueller (bass).


Guitarist Pat Martino was a jazz and soul-jazz star since the mid-1960s, recording for the Prestige, Muse, Warner Bros. and Blue Note labels.  In 1980, after operations for a brain aneurysm, he could remember nothing.


Oscar Castro Neves  1940-2013

A founding figure in the development of Bossa Nova, Brazilian guitarist, composer and arranger Oscar Castro Neves died on September 27. 

Cars make great musical metaphors, and they’ve inspired some famous blues songs like “Cadillac Boogie”, “Maybelline” and “Mustang Sally”. K.C. Douglas came out with “Mercury Boogie” in 1949, a song that would go on to be a widely covered blues standard, known as “Mercury Blues”. Ford purchased the rights to the song for advertising (“Crazy ‘Bout a Ford Truck”), and it was a #2 hit for country singer Alan Jackson in 1993.


For the next few weeks on the Jazz Caliente blog, I'll feature previews of the Latin jazz artists appearing at this year's Earshot Jazz Festival, October 1 through November 17.

Justin Steyer / KPLU

Jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer is among this year's 24 Genius Grant winners. Iyer and 23 others fellows will each receive $625,000 over the next five years from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. 

Charley Patton was one of the first to play what we might recognize as Delta blues, putting blues into a strong and syncopated rhythm. A powerful singer with an aggressive guitar style, he was also a masterful entertainer, and one of the best-known traveling performers of his time.

Eric Clapton called Robert Johnson "the most important blues singer who ever lived."

Saying that Johnson was a superlative guitar player, impassioned singer and masterful lyricist seems barely adequate to convey the importance of the work he accomplished in his 27 years. 

Tomoji Hirakata

Today is the birthday of two outstanding jazz artists who have years of experience in the Latin jazz format:

Lionel Cironneau / Associated Press

Jazz legend Herbie Hancock is among four musicians who will receive this year's Kennedy Center Honors, along with actress Shirley MacLaine.

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced the selections Thursday. The honorees also include Billie Joel, Carlos Santana, and opera star Martina Arroyo.

Jimmy Reed is one of the most influential bluesmen in history and his songs will always be part of the blues repertoire. "Baby, What You Want Me to Do," "Bright Lights, Big City," “ You Don't Have to Go”, are just some of the songs Reed made popular.

His style was easy-going and non-threatening, which made it accessible to white audiences of the 50’s and 60’s. Perhaps because of that, Reed sold more records than other blues stars like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.

Anita Kalikies / yoshis.com

Opportunities to hear some wonderful live Latin music are popping up in the area this month, and also at the Earshot Jazz Festival in October and November.  Here’s a starter list, more will follow in the coming weeks:

Sleepy John Estes was a Tennessee-based blues singer of the 1920’s and 30’s. Though not a flashy guitarist, his voice was packed with power, and the songs he wrote have lasted through the years to be sung by Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan.

This deceptively simple blues song is a masterpiece of restraint and execution. Recorded first in 1964, it features the voice of Muddy Waters and the piano of Otis Spann in call-and-response. Buoyed by composer Willie Dixon’s bass, Waters slide guitar speaks only twice in the entire song, with bone-chilling results.


Pianist and composer Cedar Walton died this week, at the age of 79.

He was perhaps best known for his years with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (1961-1964), where he presented some of his compositions that became jazz standards, like Ugetsu (Fantasy in D), Firm Roots, Bolivia and Mosaic.  He also recorded with John Coltrane on the famous Giant Steps album, but his alternate take of the title track was not released until a CD reissue many years later.

Seth Wenig / AP

Update: Marian McPartland died of natural causes Tuesday night at her home in Long Island, N.Y. As a remembrance, we are rerunning this piece, which first ran in October 2012. 

A new book chronicles the life and illustrious career of jazz piano legend Marian McPartland. She's known for her role as host of Piano Jazz on NPR for more than three decades, but her fans have known little else about Marian McPartland. Until now.

Big Joe Williams was part of the first generation of blues players, and lived to help spark the blues revival of the 1960’s. An active performing and recording musician, he traveled the country starting in the 1920’s, and by the 1970’s, had become very popular on the folk circuit as well. He is best known for the songs “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Crawling King Snake” which he recorded in 1941.

“Summertime” is considered one of George Gershwin’s finest songs. Collaborating with his brother Ira and lyricist DuBose Heyward, Gershwin composed the piece for his 1935 “folk-opera” Porgy and Bess.

David Belove

Wayne Wallace is a trombonist, a five-time Grammy nominee, a respected proponent of African American-Latin music, and an accomplished arranger, educator, and composer.  His playing and recording credits are impressive, too:  Pete Escovedo, Santana, Tito Puente, Steve Turre,  Max Roach and more.  The San Francisco native took some time from his busy schedule last week to talk with me about his latest CD, Latin Jazz-Jazz Latin and an upcoming project.

Elmore James is a giant of the blues. His work as a songwriter, singer and guitarist put him near the top of the short list of greats. The songs he wrote and revived—  “Dust My Broom”, “Cry For Me Baby” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” —are revered as blues standards.

Johan Broberg

Master drummer and percussionist Steve Berrios died last week at age 68. He leaves a legacy of inspirational jazz and Latin music, and a large number of devoted friends who call him their musical father.

In the span of Howlin’ Wolf’s life and career he saw virtually the entire progression of blues from a rural, acoustic music through the birth of modern rock music. As a young man, he learned guitar from Delta master Charley Patton, and as an elder statesman performed with Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones. In between he sang some of the most compelling and memorable songs in all of American music, including “Back Door Man”, “Killing Floor” and “Spoonful”.

Atael Weissman / Latin Jazz Network

This Sunday, July 28, the award-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra presents a dance concert in the Sculpture Garden of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, CA.

It’s one of the most widely played songs in the blues, but not much is known about Robert Petway, the man who recorded the definitive early version of “Catfish Blues”. The scant information that exists tells a familiar story of a Delta musician who headed to Chicago to make records. But after recording a mere 16 songs in 1941 and 1942, Petway seems to have disappeared from view.

Centrum Foundation

Grammy Award winner and Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement honoree Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band return to Seattle's Jazz Alley tonight through Sunday, July 21. 

Skip James was one of the first influential blues players. Although he came from the same Mississippi culture that produced Delta blues, James had a unique sound, built around unusual guitar tunings and his eerie falsetto. Robert Johnson based his song “32-20 Blues” around James’ lesser known “22-20 Blues”, and Cream famously covered his song “I’m So Glad” on their 1966 debut Fresh Cream. (a future BTM episode)

The misunderstood drum

Jul 11, 2013

The Name

What North Americans call conga drums are actually "tumbadoras." 

Blind Lemon Jefferson was one of the defining guitarists of Texas Blues of the 1920’s. Influenced by the country and gospel music of Texas, he also heard Mexican music played by farm workers. His unique guitar style and high, eerie voice were memorable; he recorded over 100 songs and was one of the best known bluesmen of his day. Some of his other well-known songs are “Black Snake Moan” and “Matchbox Blues”. He recorded “Broke and Hungry “ in 1926.