Jazz and Blues

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

Nima Fatemi / Flickr

I literally had someone say that to me the other day. My head almost exploded.

So if I am not familiar with a band that you happen to know or like, that means I have NO musical knowledge, whatsoever?

What is worse is that this is not the first time I have heard this from someone.

Read more on Groove Notes.

Last week, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz announced the 12 semi-finalists for its annual competition for young musicians, often seen as the most prestigious in jazz today.


Every art form needs its champions, its teachers, those who believe deeply and share their passion.

I have tremendous respect for two such champions of Latin Jazz (one based in San Francisco, the other in the Bronx): John Santos and Bobby Sanabria.

Andrea Corniel Photography

Latin Jazz is rich with percussion and compelling sounds.  Most of the percussion instruments originate from Africa, and are tied to spiritual and religious ceremonies.  Here are a couple of favorites:

Tommy Johnson’s songs may not be very well known, but he was a hugely influential blues player and also may be the source of one of the most enduring legends of the blues – the Devil and the Crossroads.

While this legend is sometimes associated with Robert Johnson (no relation), it was Tommy Johnson who first cultivated a story about himself that he met the devil at a crossroads, and sold his soul in exchange for his musical ability.

Sonny Watson's Streetswing.com

According to Rebeca Mauleon's indispensable "Salsa Guidebook for Piano and Ensemble,"  the Mambo is:

An up-tempo dance style, developed through the 1940s and 1950s, which blended several elements of North American instrumentation and harmony with the Cuban son (a style of popular dance music that combined Spanish and African elements).

I know. I know. It is widely assumed and believed that smell is the strongest sense tied to memory. But for me (and a handful of musicians that I spoke to), music – in some cases even just a few bars of a song -  can draw upon some of the most powerful memories in a persons life.

Read more on Groove Notes.

Soul Portrait

This week's Jazz Caliente on KPLU includes music from conguero, composer and bandleader Ray Barretto.  One of the first musicians to introduce Latin percussion to American be-bop, he was known as Manos Duras (Hard Hands), a power hitter of the congas. 

One of the great things about jazz is that it bridges generations. Because it relies on interactive improvisation and live performance, and thus can't be completely taught in a classroom or with a book, aspiring younger musicians seek the direct guidance of older, wiser ones. And more experienced musicians have plenty of reasons to take fresh talent under their wings, like gaining new bandmates with fresh skill sets, or helping future torch-bearers to thrive.

Jazz Caliente debuts today at 2 p.m. on KPLU’s Mid Day Jazz.

It’s a three-song set featuring Latin Jazz:  the melodies and improvisation of jazz blended with Latin rhythms.

The house bassist for Saturday Night Live and credited on hundreds of studio and live recordings across a wide variety of genres, James Genus is one of the most in-demand bassists on the scene.

In this interview, Genus discuss being required to learn upright bass in college, his experiences with Horace Silver and Roy Haynes, what he credits for his versatility, his thoughts on the late Michael Brecker, and what it is like to be part of a television show band.

Read the interview on Groove Notes.

Several of Western Washington’s finest high school jazz bands and jazz professionals are showcased on KPLU School of Jazz-Volume 8, the station’s latest CD release which is the culmination of this year’s mentoring project.

Buy your copy of KPLU School of Jazz now

Sally Sheldon

Halie Loren talks with Groove Notes about her most recent release, “Heart First” – which rose to number one on the iTunes Canada Jazz chart – her path to becoming a jazz singer, her success in other countries and what it takes to convincingly sing a song that she didn’t write.

Read the story on Groove Notes.

More links from this week:

  • Interesting discussions at George Colligan's blog this week. An informed opinion on the charge that music schools produce "cookie cutter" musicians. Some thoughts on sight reading, that misunderstood skill among the jazz community. And a low brass forum erupts.

The Undead Music Festival, which lifted off last night, has grown every year. On Friday, it will outgrow New York City.

'Miles Davis And Gil Evans: Still Ahead' On JazzSet

May 10, 2012

Gil Evans was born on May 13, 1912. In three collaborations in the late 1950s, he and his friend and Miles Davis steered their projects into a new era for jazz.

Their first album was Miles Ahead. This Monterey Jazz Festival concert is called "Still Ahead," with music from the pair's second and third records, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain.

His life reads like a blues song … 1920’s, a young preacher playing the blues, despite his church’s opposition. Kills a man in self-defense, 2 years in prison, and comes out to team up with the best-known blues man of the day, Charley Patton.

After limited commercial success of his own, he fades from view, working on farms and railroads. Thirtyfive years later, some dedicated blues fans track him down and he begins performing around the world, finally getting recognition as a blues master.

AP Photo

Known as the "First Lady of Jazz" singer Ella Fitzgerald was born April 25, 1917, in Newport News, Virginia.

From rather humble beginnings Fitzgerald and her smooth, silky voice climbed to the top of the jazz world, reports Biography.com. During her long career she worked with greats from Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong to Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Sinatra. In all Ella recorded over 200 albums and around 2,000 songs in her lifetime. She died on June 15, 1996.

Here’s five videos celebrating the great singers career:

Join KPLU for an exciting trip to the 28th TD Victoria International JazzFest, Friday, June 22 through Sunday, June 24. 

JazzFest features musical performances from around the world on 12 stages in the downtown area.  (This year's JazzFest is June 22-July 1.)  We've put together a fun-filled package for two that's specially priced (reflecting a 10% discount) for KPLU listeners!

More information

Because of their skill and versatility, a lot of jazz-trained musicians occasionally find themselves playing wedding gigs. But what happens when jazz musicians themselves get hitched? How do they decide who, among their many musician friends, gets the gig?

The trumpeter Ingrid Jensen is married to drummer Jon Wikan. Weeks before their 2004 wedding, NPR's Weekend Edition interviewed Jensen. Naturally, the subject came up:

Originally, a limited vinyl release by the National Press Club in 1972, one of the last recordings of Louis Armstrong will be available widely for the first time via Smithsonian Folkways Recordings on April 24th as part of the Smithsonian’s celebration of the 11th annual Jazz Appreciation Month.

Armstrong often signed letters “Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours,” which makes for an apt title for the recording especially since his favorite recipes ― everything from Louisiana Caviar to the Sazerac ― are included in the liner notes, as they were in the original pressing.

Read more on Groove Notes.

The Associated Press

Every so often, a barrage of articles and blog posts come out claiming that jazz has found the musician or musicians that are going to “save” jazz. More often than not, these musicians are achieving some current commercial success and popularity among a broad audience outside of the typical “jazz head” community.

But what would it mean to "save jazz"? And, what exactly does it need "saving" from?

Read more on Groove Notes.

As another successful pledge drive ends this season we hope you will continue to enjoy the commercial-free programming on KPLU, especially knowing you did your part to make it happen.

If you missed the pledge drive and would like to support KPLU, you can still be counted through April 9th!

We would also like to thank the various businesses who supported our volunteers and staff during the Spring Pledge Drive

Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

Dick Hyman was born March 8, 1927, in New York City. Classically trained, Hyman was drawn to jazz at an early age. Today, he's a living, breathing, swinging encyclopedia of jazz piano history, from ragtime and stride to bebop and beyond.

To hear my conversation with KPLU's Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick, click on the listen button above.

Jazz icon Ella Fitzgerald’s voice is recognized by millions around the world. But few know about her career-defining friendship with Marilyn Monroe, to whom Fitzgerald said she “owe a real debt.”

While touring in the ’50s under the management of Norman Granz, Fitzgerald, like many African-American musicians at the time, faced significant adversity as a result of her race, especially in the Jim Crow states. Granz was a huge proponent of civil rights, and insisted that all of his musicians be treated equally at hotels and venues, regardless of race.

Skerik’s most recent project released this week – Skerik’s Bandalabra: Live at the Royal Room – includes working with Seattle musicians Andy Coe (electric guitar), Evan Flory-Barnes (upright bass), and Donne Lewis (drums).

Skerik explains that it is a change of pace from the rock bands since a lot of the music is created in the moment.

Read more on Groove Notes.

Ray Pettis

Guitarist Peter Bernstein's recent appearance at Egan's in Seattle will be featured on Jazz Northwest on Sunday March 4 at 1 PM Pacific on 88.5 KPLU. Peter has been a part of the jazz scene in New York and abroad since 1989. He has played on over 60 recordings as well as festival, concert and club performances with musicians from all generations. His latest recording as a leader is Live At Smalls featuring Richard Wyands, John Webber, and Jimmy Cobb.

The Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival is back for another year at the University of Idaho in Moscow. Now ten years after the death of its namesake, the festival, like many such celebrations, is challenged by a changing jazz industry.

Read more on Groove Notes.