Chris Botti’s Impressions

Posted May 11th, 2012 at 3:32 pm (UTC+0)
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Expressing love for romantic melodies from around the world

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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Grammy award winner Chris Botti is not only a gifted American jazz trumpeter and a talented composer but he’s also a charismatic performer and innovative soundtrack writer. The Oregon native, who was once a member of the progressive jazz-rock fusion group Bruford Levin Upper Extremities, has the ability to surprise the audience with his trumpet virtuosity, improvisational skills, and uniquely expressive sound. Botti’s latest album, Impressions, features him playing with a group of acclaimed artists, including pianist and composer Herbie Hancock, tenor Andrea Bocelli, country singer Vince Gill, rock star Mark Knopfler, composer and pianist David Foster and violinist Caroline Campbell.

Drawing inspiration from jazz roots, Botti shows prodigious technique on the 13-track collection from across the world  that includes Michael Jackson’s hit “You Are Not Alone,” Brazilian songwriter Ivan Lins’ “Setembro,” Joaquin Rodrigo’s “En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor,” and trumpet legend Louis Armstrong’s signature song “What A Wonderful World. ”

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Botti’s Discography

  • First Wish (1995)
  • Midnight Without You (1997)
  • Slowing Down the World (1999)
  • Night Sessions (2001)
  • The Very Best of Chris Botti (2002)
  • December (2002)
  • A Thousand Kisses Deep (2003)
  • When I Fall in Love (2004)
  • To Love Again: The Duets (2005)
  • Live: With Orchestra and Special Guests (2006)
  • Italia (2007)
  • Chris Botti in Boston (2009)
  • This Is Chris Botti (2011)
  • Impressions (2012)

Influenced by trumpet giants Miles Davis and Chet Baker, Botti has long impressed audiences with contemporary jazz and melodies of vintage standards and ballads. I profiled him in 1997 when his star began to rise after releasing Midnight without You.

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Born in Portland, Oregon in 1962, Botti began playing trumpet when he was almost 10 years old. He was partly influenced by his mother, a piano teacher, who noticed his early talent and started to encourage him to pursue music. Botti had an early taste of the international world and learned to love music when he spent two years in Italy, his father’s country of origin. A feeling of a firm connection with his Italian roots later influenced some of his music.

Botti continued to play trumpet through high school, then studied music at the prestigious Indiana University. In the early 1980s, Botti moved to New York, where he took private trumpet lessons, then took flight as a professional musician.  He performed as a sideman for high-profile jazz, pop and rock stars, including Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Joni Mitchell, Jeff Lorber, saxophonist George Coleman, and trumpet great Woody Shaw.

In 1995, Botti blended sounds of contemporary jazz, pop and soft rock, and released his debut, solo album, First Wish, at the end of his five-year tour with guitarist Paul Simon. In 1996, he scored the film Caught. A few years later, he gained more popularity when he performed with pop superstars Sting and Steven Tyler. It was in 2004 when he released best-selling albums, including I Fall In Love (2004), To Love Again: The Duets (2005), and Chris Botti Live with Orchestra & Special Guests (2006).

Botti performed his version of Chopin’s “Prelude No. 20 in C minor” in Warsaw for the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Last year, Botti performed in Moscow amid repeated applause. He described the concert as a “blast.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJmHMZo-qK4

Botti also performed at the world renowned Hollywood Bowl along with Bobby McFerrin and the Yellowjackets; and played many jazz festivals, including the Blue Note Jazz Festival, Ottawa International Jazz Festival, CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival, Rehobeth Beach Autumn Jazz Festival, St. Lucia Jazz Festival, Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, Daytona Beach International Festival, and others.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Betcha By Golly Wow: The Songs of Thom Bell

Posted April 28th, 2012 at 12:39 am (UTC+0)
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Baldwin’s new album

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – American pianist, composer and producer Bob Baldwin has released a new album to pay tribute to the legendary composer and song writer Thom Bell, one of the creators of the Philadelphia style of soul music in the early 1970s. The album, Betcha By Golly Wow: The Songs of Thom Bell, has a collection of great oldies written by Bell and late lyricist Linda Creed.

If you were born in the 70s, you might not remember this song by actress and singer Connie Stevens. The album’s title cut “Betcha By Golly, Wow” was originally recorded for Thom Bell by Stevens under the title “Keep Growing Strong” in 1970. But in 1972, the song really scored a hit after The Stylistics – a group of five young men from Philadelphia – recorded it.

“I remember hearing Connie Stevens’ tune very well,” says Baldwin who is best known for his brand of soul-and-jazz mix. “But it was The Stylistics’ one that really struck a chord for me, and a lot of the music on those particular records were written by Thom Bell and Linda Creed.”

If you are a fan of such American oldies from the 1970s, you will enjoy this all-killer, no-filler collection. Betcha By Golly Wow: The Songs of Thom Bell showcases songs from that wondrous and great feel-good period by The Delfonics, The Spinners, and The Stylistics.

Baldwin’s Discography

  • 2012 Becha By Golly Wow: The Songs Of Thom Bell
  • 2011 Never Out of Season
  • 2011 Newurbanjazz.com 2 / RE-VIBE
  • 2010 Never Can Say Goodbye
  • 2009 Lookin’ Back
  • 2008 NewUrbanJazz.com
  • 2007 Bob Baldwin – “Memoirs From The Hudson”
  • 2005 All In A Day’s Work
  • 2004 Brazil Chill
  • 2002 Standing Tall
  • 2002 Bob Baldwin Presents the American Spirit
  • 2000 BobBaldwin.com
  • 1997 Cool Breeze
  • 1996 Welcome to The Games
  • 1992 Reflections of Love
  • 1990 Rejoice
  • 1989 I’ve Got A Long Way to Go/The Dream

The album also brings together an all-star cast that includes vocal master Will Downing, vocalist Vivian Green, saxophone icon Gerald Albright, saxophonist Marion Meadows, Paul Taylor, Rippingtons guitarist and founder Russ Freeman, and guitarist Paul Brown.  Thom Bell himself, one of the most influential songwriter/producers of our time, has written a brand new song, “Gonna Be Sweeter”, especially for this 10-track tribute CD.

I talked with Bob Baldwin, the bona fide hero of New Urban Jazz, about the album, that nostalgic period of the 1970s, and his new format of Urban Jazz. You will exclusively enjoy a remake of three masterpieces in full from the album: “Betcha By Golly Wow”, “You Are As Right As Rain”, and “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)?”

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Bob Baldwin was born in Mount Vernon, N.Y.  His father, Robert Baldwin, Sr., was also an acclaimed jazz pianist. The father taught his son how to play piano at the age of four. Baldwin grew up listening to jazz piano greats like Duke Ellington and Oscar Peterson, Stevie Wonder, Patrice Rushen, Chick Corea, Joe Sample, Ramsey Lewis, and trumpeter Miles Davis. When he matured, he performed with many well-known musicians and artists, and later focused on urban jazz. The prominent jazz musician, producer, radio host and music presenter is often described as an unsung hero when it comes to the Contemporary and Smooth Jazz genre.

He played many local and international jazz festivals. Last year he performed in the Arab Gulf emirate of Dubai, an experience that has left a mark on him. “I had a great time there. It is one of the amazing countries, the blend of people there!” he said. “Not only from the United Arab Emirates, but you had [people from] India, Northern Africa, and you had [people from] the Arabian countries. What a great blend of people that love that music. I had a wonderful time and I hope to go back.”

Pianist, composer, and bandleadr Bob Baldwin

Bob Baldwin

Bob Baldwin is not just a jazz artist; some people refer to him as an advocate and educator. He performed jazz for charity to help the victims of natural disasters. His last project was a fundraising performance for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti two years ago. With 17 albums under his belt, he has taught music, and has written a book called Better Ask Someone: The Things You Need to Know About The Music Business. The book covers Baldwin’s success story, and advises people on how they, too can be successful in the music business.

Betcha By Golly, Wow” makes me drift back in memory. Not many people knew it was originally written for the adorable Connie Stevens who is best known for her roles in the glorious black and white TV series “Hawaiian Eye.” I still remember this unforgettable theme song and the cool surfing shots in the introduction (watch here). I watched this series when I was a little kid (about eight-years old), and I remember exactly how my brother Nasr who now teaches medicine at Zagazig University in Egypt used to shout to alert us each time a new episode was starting.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

The album also brings together an all-star cast that includes vocal master Will Downing, vocalist Vivian Green, saxophone icon Gerald Albright, saxophonist Marion Meadows, Paul Taylor, Rippingtons guitarist and founder Russ Freeman, and guitarist Paul Brown.  Thom Bell himself, one of the most influential songwriter/producers of our time, has written a brand new song, “Gonna Be Sweeter”, especially for this 10-track tribute CD.
Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Sergio Salvatore, the ‘Marvelous Kid’

Posted April 19th, 2012 at 10:36 pm (UTC+0)
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Sergio Salvatore

Sergio Salvatore

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Italian-American pianist and composer Sergio Salvatore has been called the “Marvelous Kid”.  While his kindergarten mates were focusing on learning the alphabet, he was performing in public at the age of four. In 1993, when he turned 11, he took the world of jazz piano by storm, recording and releasing his first self-titled debut album: Sergio Salvatore. The CD featured 10 vibrant songs – seven of them were original tracks composed by young Salvatore himself.  Two years later, Salvatore released his second album, Tune Up, which included compositions by Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Charlie Parker, and Chick Corea.  The album led to appearances with the American Jazz Philharmonic and to performances in Japan, Italy, and Canada. It also led to performances at Carnegie Hall and the Ravinia Jazz Festival.

How did 21-year-old Salvatore get to that point?

“I grew up [in New Jersey] listening to jazz music all the time,” explained the young musician.

In a nutshell, his mother is a singer and his father is a musician who once taught at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. When Salvatore was two years old, his dad, Luciano established his own music school, North Jersey Music Labs, to teach piano and improvisation. It wasn’t long before Sergio became his father’s star pupil. In fact, he began composing music at the age of five.

Salvatore’s Albums

  • Dark Sand (2009)
  • Point of Presence (1997)
  • Always A Beginning (1996)
  • Tune Up (1994)
  • Sergio Salvatore (1993)

Born in March 1981, Salvatore was highly influenced by many jazz icons, including pianist and composer Keith Jarrett who started his career with jazz legend Art Blakey. This influence was also reflected in Salvatore’s recordings and rearrangements of compositions by iconic musicians such as Chick Corea, Michael & Randy Brecker, Gary Burton, Jay Anderson, Danny Gottlieb, Mel Torme, Tony Bennett, and Grover Washington, Jr.

In 1996, I featured Salvatore for listeners of my music show in the Middle East. At the time he had become the talk of New York City after releasing his third album, Always A Beginning. The CD was an all-acoustic album selected as one of JazzTimes magazine’s favorite albums of the year. Always A Beginning, Tune Up, and the self-titled Sergio Salvatore albums propelled the teenage pianist to fame as the youngest jazz artist ever to release three albums by the age of 15. Enjoy the music in full following my Arabic narration. You will also hear acclaimed trumpeter Al Hirt in the” Down Memory Lane” segment of the show (Download here).

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Salvatore now works as a software engineer. He has not recorded any new albums since 2008 when he released Dark Sand, a duet project with Greek  virtuoso vibraphonist Christos Rafalides who studied music at the Berklee College of Music and the Manhattan School of Music.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Tribute to Guitar Giant Wes Montgomery

Posted April 13th, 2012 at 9:31 pm (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra will pay tribute to guitar great Wes Montgomery by performing selections of his compositions next week at the National Museum of American History. The event is part of Jazz Appreciation Month, or JAM, celebrated every April in the United States.

Wes Montgomery is one of the greatest and most influential of jazz guitarists in the world. He left indelible marks on instrumental jazz.

My colleague Tom Turco is a die-hard fan of Wes Montgomery. He suggested I include Montgomery’s cover of The Association’s pop hit “Wendy,” as an example of his “vastly superior music.” Turco describes Montgomery’s music and style as nothing short of unbelievable. “His playing was cool, clean and beautiful,” Turco says.

Recently, several long lost tapes of previously unreleased Montgomery music have been discovered and restored. Resonance Records, a non-profit Jazz Label, released this treasure trove March 6, on an album titled Echoes of Indiana Avenue.  That day would have marked Montgomery’s 88th birthday.

Wes Montgomery

Echoes of Indiana Avenue

Echoes of Indiana Avenue, a taste of the early days of Wes Montgomery, showcases him in studio and in live performances recorded in his native Indianapolis in the late 1950s. It’s sold with a booklet of previously unpublished photos as well as essays reflecting on Montgomery, his talented brothers Buddy and Monk and friends.

John Leslie “Wes” Montgomery was born March 6, 1925 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He taught himself the guitar at the age of 19, learning by ear by studying guitarist Charlie Christian. He later became one of America’s all-time favorite jazz guitarists. During his 25-year musical career, the internationally renowned guitar virtuoso recorded at least 35 known albums. He won two Grammys for “Best Instrumental Jazz Performance” in 1966 and 1969.  Montgomery died of a sudden heart attack in his hometown June 15, 1968.

The guitarist was well-known for his innovative soft thumb-picking and octave techniques. Many people wondered why Montgomery didn’t use a pick when playing the guitar. He explained that his practice was limited to nighttime because he worked long hours during the day. So, he had to practice at home while his wife was asleep. He found that using his thumb to strum chords reduced the noise and achieved a softer guitar sound.

I always loved Montgomery’s gorgeous arrangements and sound reproduction of “The Shadow of Your Smile”, one of my all-time favorite love songs from the 1965 movie “The Sandpiper,” The movie starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It’s not easy to re-work such a great song and play it beautifully on the guitar.

Montgomery was known to have developed a corn on his thumb, as he himself later revealed in the liner notes for the album Ultimate Wes Montgomery. It gave his sound what guitar giant George Benson described as a “point.” Montgomery “would get one sound for the soft parts, and then that point by using the corn. That’s why no one will ever match Wes,” Benson wrote in the album notes.

Montgomery had a great impact and influence on generations of guitar players who followed him. Many currently acclaimed jazz guitarists spoke of his influence on them, including George Benson, Jimi Hendrix, Pat Martino, Pat Metheny, Russell Malone, Emily Remler, Kenny Burrell, John Pizzarelli, and others. The legendary saxophonist John Coltrane once asked Montgomery to join his band after performing in a jam session together, but Montgomery preferred to lead his own group. Before his death, he also performed and recorded with many jazz legends and big bands, including Thelonious Monk, leaving an unprecedented legacy as one of the greatest jazz innovators and improvisers.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

JAM Honors Frank Sinatra, His Activism

Posted April 5th, 2012 at 3:56 pm (UTC+0)
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Frank Sinatra is the entertainer featured on the 2012 Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) poster for this April’s global celebration.

Frank Sinatra is the entertainer featured on the 2012 Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) poster for this April’s global celebration.

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC -  April has been designated Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) in the United States since 2002. The celebration is meant to recognize that jazz has influenced life in America for so many years. In fact, one way or another, every music genre in America in the 20th century has been influenced by jazz. The music genre has also influenced Hollywood movie makers, artists, poets, novelists and painters. This year’s JAM theme is activism.

Legendary singer Frank Sinatra is featured on JAM’s 2012 poster. The group plans a global celebration of his life and legacy during Jazz Appreciation Month. The iconic singer was chosen for his courageous support for human rights in 1945. That year, Sinatra used a song and a short film to promote respect for others as an ideal of American freedom and civil pride. The song “The House I Live In” became a battle cry pulling America together during World War II. The hit song and a 10-minute Hollywood film, earned Sinatra an Honorary Academy award (Oscar) and a special Golden Globe award in 1946.

In the film, which included the song, Sinatra appealed for religious tolerance, unity and freedom after World War II – a time during which many African-American soldiers were angry that they were returning home to “Jim Crow” conditions, the practice of segregating blacks and treating them as second-class citizens.

The Library of Congress (LOC) selected the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 2007. LOC described it as “significant” culturally, historically and aesthetically.

Sinatra took his bold stand nine years before Rosa Parks, an ordinary African-American seamstress in Alabama, who refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger during racial segregation years in America. That defiant decision catalyzed the civil rights movement and touched off the Montgomery Bus Boycott and inspired a young Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to take action.

Throughout April, the Smithsonian‘s National Museum of American History which sponsors the annual JAM events is hosting a series of performances, talks, and tours around Washington. All American jazz stations will join the celebration by broadcasting all or some of concerts and performances, not only to an American audience, but also to a growing global jazz audience on the Internet.

In 1996, I produced a special show about jazz radio stations across the United States, that were trying to use jazz music to cross borders and cultures via the World Wide Web. All stations played a variety of classic, modern, and new age jazz for a growing Internet audience to enjoy. Here’s the show (download here), which includes music by saxophonist Kenny G, and two jazz piano legends who helped enrich jazz music in America: Nat King Cole and Herbie Hancock.

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At the end of JAM’s festivities, Hancock, who is UNESCO’s Goodwill Cultural Ambassador, will launch International Jazz Day. This annual, UNESCO-endorsed initiative will use jazz and intercultural discussions to help foster unity, dialogue and intercultural understanding among the world’s youth.

The National Museum of American History selected April as Jazz Appreciation Month because so many seminal people were born this month, including jazz icons Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Tito Puente and Herbie Hancock.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dsjSpyb0pM&feature=player_embedded

 

April has been designated as the Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) in the United States since 2002. It’s a kind of recognition that jazz has influenced life in America for so many years. In fact, every music genre in America in the 20th century has been influenced by jazz one way or another. Jazz has also influenced Hollywood movie makers, artists, poets, novelists, painters and many others. The theme for this month’s celebrations is activism. 

The legendary singer Frank Sinatra is featured on this year’s JAM poster for global celebration of his life and legacy during the Jazz Appreciation Month. The reason for picking this iconic singer is his role for standing up for human rights in 1945, when he used a film and a song to promote respect for others as an ideal of American freedom and civil pride. The song, “The House I Live In” which became a battle cry, was part of a 10-minute Hollywood short film, which earned Sinatra an Honorary Academy Award and a special Golden Globe award in 1946. In 2007, the Library of Congress (LOC) selected the short film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. LOC described the film as significant culturally, historically, or aesthetically.

Sinatra took his stand nine years before Rosa Parks, an ordinary African-American seamstress in Alabama who refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger during racial segregation years in America, catalyzed the civil rights movement by touching off the Montgomery Bus Boycott and inspired a young Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to action.

Throughout April, the Smithsonian‘s National Museum of American History which sponsors JAM’s annual events is hosting a series of performances, talks, and tours around Washington. All jazz stations will join the celebration by broadcasting all or some of concerts and performances, not only to American audience, but to a growing global jazz audience on the Internet.

I produced a special show in 1996 about jazz radio station across the United States, trying to use their jazz music to cross borders and cultures via the World Wide Web. All stations play a variety of classic, modern, and new age jazz for a growing Internet audience to enjoy. Here’s the show (download here), which includes music by saxophonist Kenny G, and two jazz piano legends who helped enrich jazz music in America: Nat King Cole and Herbie Hancock.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

At the end of JAM’s festivities, Hancock, UNESCO’s Goodwill Cultural Ambassador, will launch International Jazz Day. This annual, UNESCO endorsed initiative, will use jazz and intercultural discussions to help foster unity, dialogue and intercultural understanding among the world’s youth.

The National Museum of American History selected April as Jazz Appreciation Month because so many seminal people were born this month, including jazz icons Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Tito Puente and Herbie Hancock.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dsjSpyb0pM&feature=youtu.be

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Jazz in Pop: John Pizzarelli’s Double Exposure

Posted March 30th, 2012 at 3:50 pm (UTC+0)
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John Pizzarelli's latest album

John Pizzarelli's latest album

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Jazz legend John Pizzarelli is getting ready to release his new album Double Exposure, a collection of great pop oldies rearranged and recast in a jazz style. Pizzarelli is one of the most versatile guitarists and singers on the jazz scene today. His latest album, which is proving the idea that jazz and pop can exist together, has taken everyone by surprise.

With a collection of 13 pop, rock and folk songs from a different generation, Double Exposure opens with Pizzarelli’s reversioned Beatles‘ upbeat song,” I feel Fine”. The soft spoken Pizzarelli and his band initially road tested songs during a performance last year at the renowned Birdland jazz club in New York City.  Pizzaelli and his band played Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder” incorporating the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” inside.  The mix was well-received and drew applause.

Pizzarelli  also rearranged other oldies on Double Exposure, including Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” James Taylor’s “Traffic Jam,” the Allman Brothers classic “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed,”  Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man In Paris,” Tom Waits’ “Drunk On The Moon,” Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s “Ruby Baby,” and songs by Billy Joel and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan.

The album ends with a subtle remake of Seals and Crofts’ 1973 soft rock hit “Diamond Girl,” which quotes directly from Miles Davis’ 1950’s iconic “So What.”

“It’s funny – when we first did ‘Diamond Girl’ and a lot of the horn songs we actually got to play live at Birdland about a year ago just to see if this idea was anything,” said Pizzarelli in an interview with VOA’s Jazz Beat. “We actually played ‘So What’ and then sang ‘Diamond Girl’.”  Pizzarelli said people liked the new style very much.

Listen to John Pizzarelli and selected songs from Double Exposure:

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John Pizzarelli was born in New Jersey in April 1960. He grew up in a house crowded with guitars, and everybody in his family played an instrument at one time or another. His father is the iconic guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli.

“There were guitars in the house all the time. I once joked that if you wanted to sit down on the couch, you had to move a guitar you know,” said Pizzarelli who is known for his charming stage presence. “And eventually you say I’m moving this guitar very much I’ve got to try and play it. It was just something that we did and I didn’t even realize that I was making a living doing it.”

In his 20s, John Pizzarelli used to go out on jazz, pop and rock gigs, having a good time and getting a check. “It was just something that we enjoyed. I was making a living doing it. So, It’s very interesting how this sort of evolved,” he said.

Guitarist and composer John Pizzarelli

Guitarist and composer John Pizzarelli

Besides his father and sister, Pizzarelli was highly influenced by the legendary vocalist and pianist Nat King Cole, trumpeter Miles Davis, singer Frank Sinatra, pianist Duke Ellington, The Beatles, saxophonist Stan Getz and songwriter-arranger-guitarist-pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim.

With more than 40 albums under his belt, Pizzarelli is a prolific guitarist who has worked in a vast range of studio settings with many famous musicians – most recently in February – with Beatles legend Paul McCartney for an iTunes concert at Capital Records Studios in Hollywood, California.

“I made the record “Kisses on the Bottom” with him and Diana Krall was the piano player… and I got to play with him on the Grammy,” Pizzarelli said. “He [Paul McCartney] is just as humble and as lovely a musician as you could find, and a really talented musician.”

In 1998, Pizzarelli released his studio album, John Pizzarelli Meets the Beatles, as a tribute to the Fab Four (The Beatles). The idea for one of the most talked-about albums was to recast and re-imagine some of the great oldies in a jazz setting. So he placed the songs into a different time as if someone else had performed them first. For instance, he rearranged “Here Comes The Sun” in a Brazilian Bossa Nova style – it was meant as a Jobim/Getz tribute.

Pizzarelli, who is also a radio host and a television personality, has just returned to the United States from a European tour where he performed and promoted Double Exposure. The album is slated for release in May.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Grover Washington Jr.’s Just the Two of Us

Posted March 27th, 2012 at 1:44 pm (UTC+0)
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Saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. - Ultimate Collection

Saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr.

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – I don’t usually listen to music while I study. I’m the kind of person who needs to have my room door closed and have the sound of silence reigning before I can focus.  But as a college student, I remember one day as I was studying with two friends on the eve of our 1982 college final exams, suddenly, this particular song, “Just the Two of Us”, by Grammy winning jazz saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. broke the silence and electrified me. It was blaring from my brother’s cassette recorder down the hall.  The awesome song took hold of us. “Just the Two of Us” was a huge hit on Radio Cairo in the spring of 1982, and it always brings nostalgic moments for me and my college mates. It has kept playing over and over in my head for a long time.

Just the Two of Us” appears on Washington’s 1981 Winelight album, considered one of the best R&B-Soul-Jazz albums of all time. It was recorded by Grover Washington, Jr. and Bill Withers, and won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song. It reached Number 2 on the Billboard’s Adult Contemporary Tracks chart and the Billboard Hot 100. “Just the Two of Us” was also extremely popular in Cairo, Egypt, in 1982 although “Bette Davis Eyes” was the highest seller. The extremely popular song also appears on his album Ultimate Collection.

Many young Americans will remember the song from the 1987 commercial for breath freshening Dentyne gum. It also inspired Hollywood star Will Smith whose rap video version focuses on the relationship between a father and son instead of love between a couple. It features clips of fathers with their children, including Smith playing with his son, and other celebrity fathers such as R&B singer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, professional basketball player Magic Johnson and boxing champion Muhammad Ali, whom Smith later played in the biopic Ali.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRm8g3UTZzQ

Many of Grover Washington, Jr.’s albums proved that he was a new force to be reckoned with in jazz, soul and R&B, particularly his 1974 album Mister Magic, which climbed to number 10 in Billboard’s Top 40 album chart. It was a major commercial success.

Grover’s Discography

  • 1971: Inner City Blues
  • 1972: All the King’s Horses
  • 1973: Soul Box
  • 1974: Mister Magic
  • 1975: Feels So Good
  • 1976: A Secret Place
  • 1977: Live At The
  • 1978: Reed Seed
  • 1979: Paradise
  • 1980: Skylarkin’
  • 1980: Winelight
  • 1981: Come Morning
  • 1981: Baddest
  • 1982: The Best Is Yet To Come
  • 1984: Inside Moves
  • 1986: House Full Of Love
  • 1987: Strawberry Moon
  • 1988: Then and Now
  • 1989: Time Out of Mind
  • 1992: Next Exit
  • 1994: All My Tomorrows
  • 1996: Soulful Strut
  • 1997: Breath of Heaven: A Holiday Collection
  • 2000: Aria
  • 2001: Discovery
  • 2010: Grover Live

Listen to VOA Arabic Tribute to Grover Washington, Jr. December 1999: [The Best Is Yet To Come, Take Five, and Mister Magic]

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Washington was born in Buffalo, New York in December 1943. His parents were musicians. He grew up listening to jazz music by famous musicians such as clarinetist Benny Goodman, pianist Fletcher Henderson, saxophonist John Coltrane, and others like them. At the age of eight, he began playing a saxophone gifted to him by his saxophonist father. In the early 1960s, Washington worked on and off in New York City until he moved to Philadelphia in 1967. In 1970 and 1971, he appeared on acid jazz & soul jazz organist Leon Spencer‘s first two albums, together with drummer Idris Muhammad and guitarist Melvin Sparks. He also worked as a sideman with many acclaimed artists, including singer Kathleen Battle, guitarist Kenny Burrell, saxophonist Dexter Gordon, trombonist Urbie Green, trumpeter Gerry Mulligan and others.

Washington, who blended R&B with jazz on his saxophone, has inspired many musicians, including renowned saxophonists Kenny G and Boney James who is still playing the same mix. “When I was about 13 years old, I heard Grover Washington Jr. for the first time. He was the first guy I heard who was combining R&B music that I loved, with the saxophone that I also loved,” said James in an interview with VOA’s Jazz Beat. “That’s the sort of tradition that I’m still playing.”

On December 17, 1999, Grover Washington, Jr. died from a massive heart attack. He was 56. There’s a large mural of Grover Washington, Jr. at the intersection of Broad and Diamond Streets in the main campus at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The mural is part of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, which was launched in 1984 to eradicate the graffiti crisis plaguing the city.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIWZBn6UlGc

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America



Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Tony Williams, Drummer Extraordinaire with China Connection

Posted March 15th, 2012 at 6:56 pm (UTC+0)
7 comments

A Tibute to Miles by Tony Williams

A Tibute to Miles, a Grammy winner

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – In March 1994, American jazz drummer extraordinaire Tony Williams released a special album as a tribute to the man who discovered him, jazz legend Miles Davis. The album, A Tribute To Miles, is a collection of compositions celebrating the life and music of the iconic trumpeter and bandleader, Davis, who died in September 1991 and  is widely considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.

A Tribute To Miles brought together a group of jazz icons, including pianist Herbie Hancock, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Ron Carter, hard bop,  post-bop trumpeter Wallace Roney and Tony Williams who was famous for his use of polyrhythms and metric modulation. The sublime-sounding album won a Grammy award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance – Individual or Group. It’s a bit surprising that Wallace Roney sounded almost exactly like Miles Davis, with saxophonist Wayne Shorter balancing the trumpet. Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock, and Ron Carter completed the impressive performance with great virtuosity and strength. The album is a tour de force.

Williams, who was considered the greatest jazz drummer of his era, died in California from a heart attack on February 23, 1997 at age 51. On the first anniversary of his death, I prepared a special Jazz Club USA show (for a Middle East audience) focusing on his album, Wilderness, which he released in 1996 in support of a clean and safe world environment. Also I talked about his album Young At Heart, which was released after his death. You will hear the title cut in full following my Arabic narration.

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Wilderness prompted some people to ask about Tony Williams’ China connection because of three songs – composed by him titled “China Town”, “China Road”, and “China Moon”. In a rare,  historic interview with BET television in 1996, Williams explained that: “The China connection is that about seven years ago I found out that my great, great grandfather was Portuguese … he lived in the Portuguese part of China, Macau, … so, I’m Portuguese and Chinese [on my mother’s side], and on my father’s side I’m African American. So, I’m African-Euro-Asian.”

Williams was born on December 12, 1945 in Chicago, Illinois. His father, Tillmon Williams, played saxophone and took him to music clubs to encourage his music interests. When Williams was eight years old, he began on drums, taking lessons from jazz drummer Alan Dawson. At the age 13, Williams began performing in concerts with the acclaimed clarinetist, saxophonist and bandleader Sam Rivers in Boston. At 17, Williams’ inventive playing highly impressed Miles Davis and attracted his attention. Davis hired him, and soon his quintet’s sound changed. Later, Davis described him as “the center of the group’s sound” in his biography.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NLNaGMyTjI

In 1964, Williams released his debut album, Life Time. Five years later, he formed his own R&B-jazz-rock fusion trio, The Tony Williams Lifetime, with John McLaughlin on electric guitar and Larry Young (aka Khalid Yasin Abdul Aziz) on organ and piano. The trio was very successful but short-lived. Its debut album, Emergency, is still considered a fusion classic. The group was disbanded in 1975, and innovative Williams formed another one: the New Tony Williams Lifetime.

In addition to his performances with Miles Davis, Williams recorded and performed with other jazz legends, including drummer Art Blakey, guitarist and singer-songwriter Jimi Hendrix, saxophonist and composer John Coltrane, drummer Max Roach, and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Lester Young’s Smooth Tone

Posted March 8th, 2012 at 8:48 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

An undated photo during a concert of American jazz tenor saxophonist Lester Young (1909-1959).

An undated photo during a concert of American jazz tenor saxophonist Lester Young (1909-1959).

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Lester Young was one of the most influential saxophonists of the swing era, introducing a unique approach to improvisation that provided much of the basis for modern jazz solo conception. He was known for his famous smooth tone and relaxed lyrical style. Many saxophonists have copied his style, and many others – including Dexter Gordon – were primarily influenced by him.

Young was born in Mississippi in 1909. He played saxophone, violin, trumpet, and drums. He spent a great deal of his boyhood touring with his family’s band in both the vaudeville and carnival circuits. When he was 18 years old, he left the band, refusing to tour with it in the Southern United States, where Jim Crow laws were in effect and racial segregation was required in public facilities. In 1927, Young started touring with regional dance bands, including Walter Page’s Blue Devils that formed the core of what became the Count Basie Orchestra. His style and sophisticated harmonies with Count Basie’s Orchestra gained him popularity and prominence.

He played with other jazz legends, including Nat King Cole, Buddy Rich, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday who gave him the nickname, Prez.

I profiled Young in the early 1990s as part of my Jazz Club USA series on legendary Americans. I also talked about Benny Goodman and Oscar Peterson.

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Young, who held his saxophone out to the side when others held it upright, had an exceptional personality. Some considered him eccentric, but his eccentricity earned him recognition as the original hipster. His signature clothing style, including a “porkpie hat”, was part of his legend. This particular hat style inspired jazz bassist and bandleader Charles Mingus to write his elegiac tune “Goodbye Porkpie Hat”. The composition was later renamed “Theme for Lester Young” after Young died in New York on March 15, 1959. He was 49.

Young was one of icons included in A Great Day in Harlem, a rare Oscar-nominated documentary film on the history of jazz.  For me, the title, A Great Day in Harlem, always brings a flashback of a 1958 historic photo showing dozens of legendary Jazz musicians who gathered around a brownstone between Madison and Fifth avenues in New York City for a group picture by Esquire magazine photographer Art Kane. He rightly calls it “the greatest picture of that era of musicians ever taken.” The magazine published the photo in its January 1959 issue.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jf-cTg9a3_c#t=56m43s

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Keiko Matsui’s Rose in Morocco

Posted March 4th, 2012 at 3:43 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – If you love piano and keyboard music, then international jazz sensation Keiko Matsui deserves a spot on your Top 10 list. She continues to amaze me as one of the most prolific, innovative and creative Japanese-American jazz pianists and composers in the world.  Talented Matsui has released more than 40 CDs.

I have been following the smooth jazz pianist,  and new age composer since her first fusion-flavored album A Drop of Water debuted in 1987. Her blend of eastern flair music with American jazz is introspective and soothing.

Matsui was born in Tokyo, Japan, in July 1963. Influenced by her mother, she started at piano at age five. She focused on classical music, but in junior high school Matsui found herself attracted very much to jazz. She says she was influenced by Stevie Wonder and Sergei Rachmaninoff as well as early fusion masters Maurice Jarre and Chick Corea.

Matsui is best known in North Africa and the Middle East for her song “Rose in Morocco”. The song is from her album Deep Blue, which made it all the way to No.1 on the Billboard Charts for Top Contemporary Jazz Albums in 2001.

Matsui was well-received in the Moroccan countryside when she performed with a stellar line-up of local and international jazz artists at the First Annual Casablanca Jazz Festival in June 2001. Such festivals provide a real opportunity for up-and-coming artists to perform among well established and acclaimed musicians.

She has been able to differentiate herself from the rest of contemporary jazz artists because of her ability to flirt eastern music with new age, Latin, funk and other genre. She truly breaks the mold and brings new energy to jazz.

For the past few years, Matsui has taken an interest in social charitable programs to help the needy and sick. In 1997, she dedicated some of her music to the fight for breast cancer. Her music is heard on “Say It, Fight It, Cure It”, a Lifetime TV channel special about breast cancer. In 2001, proceeds from her four-track benefit album A Gift of Life went to the National Marrow Donor Program and the Marrow Foundation in support of their program Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches, raising awareness for the worldwide need for bone marrow and stem cell donors,  in hopes of improving the chance of finding matching donors for needed transplants.

On December 17, 2003, Keiko Matsui played at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City to benefit the World Food Program (WFP), and raise awareness for fighting world hunger. She also donated royalties from her 2004 album Wildflower to support WFP’s efforts in hunger-stricken countries.

Matsui, who lives in Los Angeles, California, is performing next week at the Liliu Theater in Honolulu, Hawaii. Last week she was in Washington, performing at Constitution Hall as part of her North America tour. Her latest album, ALTAIR & VEGA, was released last year.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_rKYeHB7kA

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

About

About Jazz Beat

Diaa BekheetCairo native Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows for the former Arabic Service such as Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

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