Whitney Houston Smooth Jazz Tribute

Posted February 23rd, 2012 at 8:59 pm (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – I’d like to dedicate this blog post to the late pop super diva, Whitney Houston, who died February 11 at age 48.  You may not recall that she recorded some little-known jazz songs earlier in her career such as “I Look To You”, “Million Dollar Bill” and “Worth It”. The super diva’s great song, “I Have Nothing”, is  included on an album titled Ultimate Divas, a collection of 18 songs by the greatest female jazz, R&B, and pop vocalists of our time.  In addition to Whitney Houston, you’ll find songs by Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan, Gladys Knight, Tina Turner, Chaka Khan and others.

Houston was born August 9, 1963 in Newark, New Jersey. She seemed destined to become a singer. Her mother Cissy Houston is a legendary figure in American gospel and soul music. Here’s a video clip of Houston with her Mom Cissy:

Whitney Houston first skyrocketed to stardom in mid-1985 after the release of her self-titled album Whitney Houston.

A year later in 1986, Houston won the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for “Saving All My Love for You”. The award was presented by her cousin – singer, actress and TV show host Dionne Warwick.

A makeshift memorial to Whitney Houston is seen in front of The Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, California, (AP February 17, 2012)

A makeshift memorial to Whitney Houston is seen in front of The Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, California, (AP February 17, 2012)

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Whitney Houston is the female artist with the most Grammy nominations in history. However, during her life Houston only won six Grammys.

1-     Saving All My Love for You 1986

2-     I Wanna Dance with Somebody – 1988 Best Female Pop Vocal Performance

3-     I Will Always Love You – 1994 in the Record of the Year category for her record I Will Always Love You

4-     The Bodyguard – original soundtrack 1992 Album of the Year category for the original soundtrack

5-     I Will Always Love You part 2 – 1994 Best Female Pop Vocal Performance

6-     It’s Not Right But It’s Okay – 2000 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance

In addition to the Grammys, Houston also won two Emmys, 30 Billboard Music Awards, 22 American Music Awards and a total of 415 career awards. She is considered to be one of the world’s best-selling music artists, having sold over 200 million albums and singles worldwide.

I first learned about Whitney Houston from my Egyptian TV colleague Hamdiya Hamdy who hosted an extremely popular music show called “Al-Alam Youghanni” Arabic for “The World Sings.” She was talking about Houston’s Grammy nomination for Album of the Year. The CD remained at number 1 for 14 weeks on Billboard’s Top 200 chart. I was amazed when I heard the now-much-forgotten song “Hold Me” from that album. I heard it a few days after being introduced to the super diva’s music, while riding the renowned water taxi on Egypt’s Nile River.

In 1993, I briefly profiled Whitney Houston on VOA’s “Good Morning From America” Arabic show. My feature focused on how Houston defended the late pop superstar Michael Jackson, accusing the media of hypocrisy and racism. At the time, she also made headlines for her denials of media reports that she had been admitted to a hospital for treatment for addiction to diet pills.

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In 2009, the Smooth Jazz All Stars released an album paying tribute to Whitney Houston There’s not a lot of information available about this group, but I noticed that the All Starsrendition video clip of Houston’s I Will Always Love You on Youtube has spiked.  In just a few days after news of Houston’s death, it went from less than 100,000 views to more than 450,000. The singer-actress sang this song on the soundtrack of her 1992 hit movie, “The Bodyguard,” a romantic thriller co-starring Kevin Costner.

The Whitney Houston Smooth Jazz Tribute includes reimagined, soothing smooth jazz versions of 10 of her greatest hits.

Houston has other rare jazz recordings but unfortunately they are not available on an album. She recorded them before she became a pop star, when she was approached by Blue Note President Bruce Lundvall in the early 1980s.

Houston’s best selling albums include:

1. Saving All My Love for You

2. How Will I Know

3. Greatest Love of All

4. I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)

5. Didn’t We Almost Have It All

6. So Emotional

7. Where Do Broken Hearts Go, which set several world records.

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.

Tim Hagans, The Moon is Waiting

Posted February 20th, 2012 at 8:33 pm (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Hard bop trumpeter and composer Tim Hagans is one of the most influential voices in modern jazz today. His latest album The Moon Is Waiting is a set of original recordings reflecting his creative ability to manipulate his trumpet and make tightly-structured music, allowing for the “wildest playing possible”.

“I’m not comfortable making comfortable music,” said Hagans about releasing The Moon Is Waiting last October. “This is the ideal band for me to create a kind of spontaneous combustion of raw energy that is nonetheless melodically unified. This might sound like a contradiction, but all my music is tightly structured to allow for the wildest playing possible.”

Tim Hagans was born in August 1954. He grew up in Dayton, Ohio playing in school bands. His early inspirations included Miles Davis, Brown Clifford, Herb Alpert, Sly Stone, and Blood, Sweat and Tears. In 1974, he majored in music education at Bowling Green State University, but dropped out of school to join Stan Kenton’s band. He later moved to Europe, where he lived in Malmö, Sweden, the so-called hotbed of the European jazz scene.

When he returned to the United States, Hagans taught music at the University of Cincinnati and the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. In April, he will travel to Sweden for a recording Project.

Last year, Hagans’ song, Box of Cannoli, was nominated for a Grammy award in the Best Instrumental Composition category. The song is from his album The Avatar Sessions – The Music Of Tim Hagans, the final project which encapsulates his 15 years with the Nörrbötten Big Band before resigning as Artistic Director in 2011.

Tim Hagans' Animation Imagination

Tim Hagans' Animation Imagination

Hagans’ first Grammy-nominated album, Animation Imagination, was a smash in 1999. You will feel the heavy influence trumpet great Miles Davis had on him when you listen to this album. I introduced the title cut, “Animation Imagination, on my Jazz Club USA show for the Middle East 13 years ago. Also on the show is tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander who released an album the same year, and a reimagined “Delilah” by Ellis and Branford Marsalis.  Their music follows Arabic narration.

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Tim Hagans is well known on the modern jazz scene as a great improviser who maintains integrity of original character and tone.  But he is highly inspired by the music of Miles Davis.

“The first Miles Davis recording that I heard is still one of my favorite jazz records…In Person Friday and Saturday Nights live at the Blackhawk,” explains Hagans in his online biography. “The band was swinging and popping and the recording has a real dark sound that makes the music especially intriguing. Then I heard Bitches Brew and life changed once again. Although I love everything that Miles played, the records from In A Silent Way to Agharta are my favorites. Those records reflect the social and political energies of that time. It wasn’t just music, it was an abstract description of extreme force and energy.”

While in Europe, Hagans performed and recorded with many jazz icons, including jazz tenor saxophonist, composer, bandleader and Oscar-nominated actor Dexter Gordon. This year, Hagans will be awarded an honorary doctorate of music from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, where he was an International master class visitor.

Tim Hagans

  • Born on August 19, 1954 in Dayton, Ohio.
  • Studied music at Bowling Green State University.
  • Quit school and joined Stan Kenton’s band the band (1974-1977).
  • Joined Woody Herman Orchestra in 1977 only for four weeks.
  • Taught at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati (1982-84).
  • Taught at the Berklee College of Music (1984-87).
  • Artistic director of the Nörrbötten Big Band (1996-2011).

 

Tim’s Albums

  • From the Neck Down (1983)
  • No Words (1993)
  • Audible Architecture (1994)
  • Hub Songs, the Music of Freddie Hubbard (1997)
  • Animation – Imagination (1999)
  • Re-Animation: Live in Montreal (1999)
  • Beautiful Lily (2006)
  • Alone Together (2008)
  • The Avatar Sessions (2010)
  • The Moon is Waiting (2011)

 

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

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udg6UnoInbo

 

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.

Karen Briggs, the Queen of Violin

Posted February 10th, 2012 at 1:14 am (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – She is my absolute favorite violinist: jazz star and electrifying violinist Karen Briggs. I consider her to be a gifted queen of violin.  Her dazzling and impeccable solo makes her very popular and can make you jump to your feet.

Briggs has a natural talent and awesome ability to improvise various styles of music. Perhaps that’s due to her constant exposure to symphonic orchestra, jazz ensemble, Pop, Caribbean, Afro Latin, rap and Middle Eastern music. You will love the way she expresses herself as she improvises and interplays. A great example of this is her guest appearance on One Night In Jordan: A Concert For Peace.”

Karen Briggs has performed worldwide as a featured soloist in concerts from the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, to the Taj Mahal in India. I stumbled onto Briggs for the first time while watching the Greek pianist Yanni’s concerts at the ancient Acropolis and at the Taj Mahal in the 1990s.

Briggs, described as one of the most celebrated jazz violinists in the world, grew up immersed in music in a Virginia state village. Her grandfather played trumpet and piano, and all her uncles and aunts either sang or played music. She started her violin lessons when she was in elementary school, then majored in music at college. In the 1980s, Briggs won the amateur night (Top Dog Night) contest at New York’s famous Apollo Theater four times.

In 1988, she began her first professional tour throughout the United States and Japan. In 1993, fans started to call her the “Lady in Red” after having seen her world tours with Yanni and her amazing solo performances Live at the Acropolis, which was watched on television by more than 500 million people around the world.

  • Karen Briggs was Born in New York City in 1963
  • Grew up in Portsmouth, Virginia
  • Began violin lessons when she was 12
  • Studied music education and mass media at Norfolk State University inNorfolk, Virginian.
  • Played with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra in 1983 for four years
  • Karen’s Albums

  • Karen (1992)
  • Amazing Grace (1996)
  • Soulchestral Groove (2009)

 

Briggs has also performed and recorded with many great artists, including Stanley Clarke & Lenny White, Mike Phillips, Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin & Yolanda Adams. She has a total of three albums — the latest solo CD – Soulchestral Groove — was released in August 2009.

Briggs released Soulchestral Groove after finishing a project that started in 2002 and culminated with the release of Unwrapped Vol. 2. The album includes Karen Briggs’ spectacular performance of the extremely popular crime-fighting rap songGangsta’s Paradise” by rap star Coolio.

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.

Iconic American pianist Ahmad Jamal

Posted February 2nd, 2012 at 8:54 pm (UTC+0)
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Ahmad Jamal's Blue Moon

Ahmad Jamal's Blue Moon

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Innovative and influential American jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal is performing this coming week at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, France as part of a world tour that will also take him later to Martinique, Rome, Italy and Istanbul, Turkey.  Jamal will play songs from his new album Blue Moon. The CD, described by jazz critics as his latest masterpiece, contains nine songs.

 

Jamal is best-known for his distinctive piano improvisations. He still plays music with the same energy, elegance and sophistication at the age of 82. The talented pianist has been labeled as the chief apostle of American classical music. Jamal has been touring the world for concerts and performances for more than five decades. He started his concert tour by visiting Egypt, Sudan and Ghana in the late 1950s.

I first profiled fabulous Jamal in 1994 when the National Endowment of the Arts officially recognized his genius and named him a Jazz Master. I also highlighted many of his performances at festivals in the 1990s, including his noteworthy appearance at the 1998 Poznan Jazz Fair in Poznan, Poland with his quartet. The group included bassist James Cammack, drummer Idris Muhammed and Othello Molineaux on the Steel Drums.

Born in July 1930 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Jamal strongly believes that “music soothes the savage beast.” He began playing piano at age thee. He always had one straight answer to the question asked by so many music critics on how he got into the music business. “I didn’t choose music. Music chose me,” stresses the iconic bandleader, composer and educator who once played with jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie.

Ahmad Jamal has inspired and influenced many musicians. Trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie loved him. So did Cool Jazz founder Miles Davis who reportedly said, “All my inspiration comes from Ahmad Jamal.”

Just listen to his latest album Blue Moon and you will find that he is still as compelling as ever. One of my all-time favorites is his gorgeous and signature track “Poinciana” from his classic 1958 album At the Pershing: But Not for Me. It remained on the Best-selling charts for more than two years — unprecedented for a jazz album in the 1950s.

This particular composition was recorded at the Pershing Hotel’s nightclub in Chicago while he was on tour. Later, due to its sweeping popularity, Jamal made it the title of a whole new album that was released in 1963. “Poinciana was a great hit – although not written by Jamal.  He later turned it into his signature tune. In fact, my favorite Hollywood star Clint Eastwood featured it in his 1995 movie The Bridges of Madison County.

Ahmad Jamal's After Fajr

Ahmad Jamal's After Fajr

One of Jamal’s well-known albums in the Arab world is After Fajr, which he originally recorded live in mid-2004 with his trio in France but released in 2005. Fajr, Arabic for dawn prayer, is the first of the five daily prayers offered by practicing Muslims.  Another favored album is Ahmad Jamal: Live in Baalbeck (Lebanon 2003).

A subtle jazz piano virtuoso, Jamal was named Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2007. He is featured as a celebrated jazz master on several jazz history books, including Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz by Stanley Crouch (2007), and Miles Davis and American culture by Gerald Lyn Early (2001).

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.

Rez Abbasi’s Jazz & Qawwali Music Mix

Posted January 27th, 2012 at 2:34 pm (UTC+0)
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Guitarist Rez Abbasi

Guitarist Rez Abbasi & his Quintet

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – His compositions have been described as “sheer genius.” Pakistani-American jazz guitarist and bandleader Rez Abbasi is a tour de force and his creative jazz-Qawwali blend is helping to popularize modern jazz in South Asia.

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“It’s a process, put it that way,” said Abbasi in an interview with Jazz Beat. “It’s a matter of maturity, and as I feel like, you know, as I’ve matured things could have surfaced in a different way than they did let’s say 20 years ago when I was actually studying more of the music.”

Qawwali, a form of the 700-year-old Islamic Sufi devotional music, is very popular in South Asia, particularly in the Punjab and Sindh regions of Pakistan, Hyderabad, Delhi, and other parts of northern India. It was introduced to the world through the work of the late Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who fused Qawwali and Western music.

Abbasi extrapolates from the many elements of South Asia’s rich culture and music to produce an organic style of music.

“My main agenda is not to make it sound overt and sort of canned. It needs to be very organic,” the accomplished guitarist explained. “The elements you hear from South Asia in my music are sort of under the radar. They are there for sure and you would hear them more if you actually knew Indian classical music or perhaps Qawwali. If you know that music, then you might hear it in my music. If you don’t know that music, then you might think of it as an expression.”

Interview with Rez Abbasi:

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Rez Abbasi was born in Karachi, Pakistan, but his family moved to Los Angeles, California when he was four. He grew up listening to Qawwali music at home. One day, when he was 11, his uncle brought home a guitar as a gift for him and his brother.

“We turned off the lights and we both played this melody, I specifically remember this — it was a Led Zeppelin melody,” said Abbasi who now has eight albums under his belt. “We wanted to test each other as to who could play better and I won this competition. It was kind of obvious in the sense that I would pursue something musically.”

Abbasi would eventually learn much more about the string instrument, American jazz and pop musicians and famous Indian and Pakistan composers. He started his music education at the University of Southern California, then moved to New York and completed his education at the Manhattan School of Music, where he majored in jazz and classical composition.

Blues Alley, a famous jazz club in Washington, D.C.

As a young guitarist, Abbasi was influenced by legendary American guitarist Jim Hall.  He was also a big fan of bands like Rush, Van Halen and the Rolling Stones. He liked jazz and Indian classical music. He says he practiced playing for hours every day, and eventually began writing his own modern jazz music.

Abbasi, who now lives in New York, was a guest performer last week at Blues Alley, located in the historic Georgetown area of Washington, DC. A sign posted in front of the popular jazz club announcing that Abbasi was playing drew a large audience, including  South Asians of various age groups.

“We had a mixed audience. We had a lot of South Asians come through, which is somewhat unique for a jazz concert,” said an elated Abbasi. “It’s a great phenomenon that we’re seeing that more of these types of people are coming.”

Abbasi’s India-born wife is celebrated vocalist and frequent collaborator Kiran Ahluwalia. Abbasi arranges some of her music.

“Her music is unique and it really opens the door to the melodic element of Indian music,” he says proudly. Abbasi adds that the new age groups are not taking jazz as something that came out of the 1940s.

“It has expanded,” he notes. “So, when they hear my music they hear that expansion and I think they are very open to it.”

After his recent successes, particularly with his new album Suno Suno, Abbasi was hailed as an “amazing guitarist” by guitar great Pat Metheny. “Unique and beautiful music – and best of all – very original…I’m really impressed,” Metheny was quoted as saying.

Abbasi has also elicited praise from some of the biggest and most respected jazz critics. Guitar Player magazine describes Rez Abbasi as “a highly talented guitarist and composer deserving major attention.” The online All About Jazz magazine says, “Abbasi sounds like no one who has gone before him. His compositions are sheer genius.”

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.

Yanni’s North America Tour, Truth of Touch

Posted January 23rd, 2012 at 1:39 pm (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – World-renowned jazz keyboardist and composer Yanni is planning a four-month tour of the United States and Canada.   “An Evening With Yanni” will take him to 15 states in the North, East, West and South. Lauded as the top New Age artist of 2011, Yanni will play songs from his most recent album Truth of Touch. It is his first album of original music in years and was the top-selling New Age album of 2011. The tour starts on April 17.

From The Acropolis in Greece to the Forbidden City in China and the Taj Mahal in India, the Greek artist has made quite a name for himself.

Multi-talented Yanni was born in Kalamata, Greece in 1954. He grew up on the shores of the Mediterranean. Young Yanni’s passion was swimming and listening to music.  At the age of six, Yanni would reproduce on the family piano, what he was hearing on the radio or gramophone. He refused to take piano lessons and could not read music at the time. The family spent a lot of time playing music and singing together. As a child, Yanni was also a talented swimmer.

In fact, he broke the Greek National swimming record for the men’s 50-meter freestyle event at age 14. Yanni left Greece to college in the United States. During that time, he played with various rock and roll bands. The musician credits that experience with helping him develop his own original music style.  After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1976 with a B.A. in psychology, Yanni moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of work on movie soundtracks.

In 1987 Yanni established a band that included pianist/singer John Tesh and drummer Charlie Adams. The band traveled on several tours to promote his earliest instrumental albums, Keys to Imagination, Out of Silence, and Chameleon Days.

I featured Yanni three times on my Jazz Club USA show that aired on VOA in the 1990s. At the time, he was nominated for a Grammy in the Best New Age Album category for “In My Time” in 1994 and for “Dare to Dream” in 1993. The music follows Arabic narration.

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Yanni skyrocketed to fame after a live concert at the centuries-old Herod Atticus Theater in Athens in September 1993. The show, Yanni Live at the Acropolis, was simultaneously televised all around the world. More than 500 million people watched the live concert in 65 countries.   I was among those viewers and decided to feature the concert in a special program for my Middle Eastern audience.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-6i2_ILIf8

Yanni Live at the Acropolis was released in 1994 as an album and a video. It was his first live album recorded with a full orchestra directed by Iranian conductor, Shahrdad Rohani.  Yanni‘s own core band accompanied him. The album remained No. 1 on the charts for a long time and became the second best-selling music video of all time. It sold over 7 million copies worldwide.

Since then, Yann’s music has been used extensively in television shows and televised sporting events, including the Super Bowl, Wide World of Sports, U.S. Open, Tour de France, the World Figure Skating Championships and the Olympic Games.

Here’s a show reviewing his album Winter Lights in 1999.  Music follows Arabic narration.

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Yanni has recorded a total of 16 albums.  They include live concerts on CDs and DVDs. His world tours continue unabated. In the past 10 months, Yanni has performed in 60 concerts throughout the USA and in Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Puerto Rico and Panama. He still has another 140 worldwide concerts scheduled for this year. One of his most popular concerts was last month’sYanni Live at El Morro” in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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.

Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society

Posted January 16th, 2012 at 1:55 pm (UTC+0)
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Esperanza Spalding's Radio Music Society

Esperanza Spalding's Radio Music Society

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Grammy-winner and jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding has released a new album titled Radio Music Society. It is considered a companion to the bass virtuoso’s 2010 best-selling album Chamber Music Society, which became a number 1 hit on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart.

The 26-year-old, who will be touring the world in April,  catapulted to fame when she became the first jazz musician to receive the Grammy Award for Best New Artist last year. She received the award for Chamber Music Society.

The new CD, Radio Music Society, is accompanied by a separate deluxe DVD that contains 12 conceptual music videos on which Spalding expresses her inspiration for the album and tells the story behind each track. The videos were shot in several locations, including Spalding’s hometown of Portland, Oregon. Other locations include New York City; and Barcelona, Spain.

I tried to interview her to talk about the new album and her interest in the music of other cultures, including that of Brazil, but her schedule is too tight.

“Originally I thought it would be fun to release a double album,” Spalding said in a press release promoting Radio Music Society. “One disc with an intimate, subtle exploration of chamber works and a second one in which jazz musicians explore song forms and melodies that are formatted more along the lines of what we would categorize as ‘pop songs,’. Those are the two things that really interest me, and it intrigues me to think about different presentation approaches while writing each kind of song.”

At the end of 2011, Spalding was named the Jazz Artist of The Year in the 76th Annual DownBeat magazine readers poll.  In addition, last November Spalding won the Jazz Artist of the Year award at the annual Boston Music Awards ceremony.

One of the biggest breakout stars of 2011, Spalding has two other albums: Esperanza (2008) and Junjo (2005).

The multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, composer and singer grew up in the King neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. Her mother raised her and her brother as a single parent. She says she has a diverse ethnic background, noting that her mother is Welsh, Hispanic, and Native American, and her father is African American.

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.

Gerry Mulligan, Birth of the Cool & West Coast Jazz

Posted January 6th, 2012 at 12:10 pm (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – American baritone saxophonist and clarinetist Gerry Mulligan was one of the founding fathers of “Cool Jazz,” a new music style that turned jazz on its head in the late 1940s when the influence of bebop was sweeping the scene. Mulligan’s rhythmic agility, harmonic brilliance and arranging skills so impressed the trumpet great Miles Davis that he decided to add him to his band.

In fact, the talented arranger and commanding composer played a pivotal role in developing the sounds of “Cool Jazz” when he joined Davis’ nonet. Billed as the “Miles Davis Band”, the nonet also grouped Alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and trombonist Mike Zwerin,  pianist John Lewis, bassist Al McKibbon, and drummer Max Roach with Bill Barber on tuba, Junior Collins on French horn. They all gathered in brainstorming sessions, and the result was Birth of the Cool album in 1948. Mulligan wrote and arranged several tracks. Those sessions also marked the arrival of a new generation of jazz greats who would later have a great influence and impact on the world’s music scene.

Described as the most famous of all jazz baritone saxophonists, Mulligan is also considered one of the major pioneers of West Coast jazz, along with jazz giants Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, Shorty Rogers, Paul Desmond, Bud Shank, Russ Freeman, and Bill Holman.

I profiled Mulligan on my Jazz Club USA twice.  The first show was Jazz masters of the fifties, but here’s a show on the All-Star Tribute to him. Music follows Arabic narration.

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Mulligan was born in New York in 1927. At the age of 14, he began studying clarinet at the hands of a little-known musician, Sammy Correnti, who also taught him the basics and rudiments of arranging. At 17, he started to arrange music for WCAU radio in Philadelphia.

The gifted baritone player and bandleader started his famous ‘piano-less’ quartet in 1952 with the “Prince of Cool” trumpeter great Chet Baker, bassist Bob Whitlock and drummer Chico Hamilton. Since the 1950s, he led quartets, quintets, and big bands. He was a featured member of the All-Star group. Many of his compositions are now a permanent part of the jazz repertory.

In 1981, Mulligan won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Big Band, for his lightly swinging arrangements written for Walk On The Water. In 1982, his album Re-Birth of the Cool was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Two years later Mulligan himself was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.

Mulligan appeared in several movies and short films, including Follow That Music in 1946 with Gene Krupa’s bop-tinged band. He played alto saxophone. He also appeared as a jazz combo member in I Want to Live! (1958), The Rat Race (1960), The Subterraneans (1960) and Bells Are Ringing (1960).

He also appeared in a number of American and French films, including A Thousand Clowns (1965), La Menace (1977) and Les Petites galères (1977).

The jazz scene’s top “bari” player has left hundreds of compositions and 33 albums. He died in Connecticut in 1996.

Although Mulligan‘s baritone might be missing, some say his music does live on.

 

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.

Miguel Zenon, The Puerto Rican Songbook

Posted December 26th, 2011 at 5:15 pm (UTC+0)
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Alma Adentra: The Puerto Rican Songbook

Preserving the early 20th century’s musical heritage of Puerto Rico, great compositions written by great icons, including Rafael Hernandez, Pedro Flores, Sylvia Rexach, Bobby Capo and Tite Curet.

By Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC

One of the great jazz albums of 2011 is Alma Adentra: The Puerto Rican Songbook. It’s a brilliant idea by acclaimed saxophonist Miguel Zenon to preserve the early 20th century’s jazz heritage of his native Puerto Rico.  The album is modeled on The Great American Songbook, which features an entire century of American music from such masters as Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, Kern, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bernstein and others. Zenon follows the footsteps of such great American composers and songwriters to offer the jazz public some of the 20th century’s best songs that represent the sounds of Puerto Rico.

“The album is basically a tribute to the Puerto Rican Songbook,” said Zenon in an interview with VOA’s Jazz Beat. “When I started thinking of the relationship that jazz has with The Great American Songbook of Cole Porter, Gershwin, Irving Berlin and all the great composers and how, you know, all this Puerto Rican Songbook in this case could sort of translate in the same way. I thought of exploring it that way and eventually became a recording.”

I talked with Zenon about the album, Alma Adentra: The Puerto Rican Songbook. He said he wanted to bring the music of the great Puerto Rican songs to young people today, hoping to preserve it for future generations. Here’s the interview in full with three newly-arranged songs from The Puerto Rican Songbook.

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Zenon’s idea was to take songs written by some of the greatest and most recognized Puerto Rican songwriters and composers in the 20th century from his early childhood, the time of his parents and grandparents, explore those compositions and translate and arrange them into a style he usually performs with his band.

This is the second time Miguel Zenon’s reimagines and rearranges the music of his native Puerto Rico. His 2004 album, Jibaro, was a courageous attempt to reinterpret Puerto Rico’s rural music. The album’s success, along with the Puerto Rican Songbook will become Zenon trademark.

Meanwhile, Jazz made new history in 2011 when jazz singer and bassist Esperanza Spalding was named the year’s Best New Artist at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards.  It was the first time ever that a jazz artist won the award.

Jazz Beat’s Artist of the Year:

Ron Carter, a prolific, smart and funky jazz icon, is considered one of the most influential bassists in the history of American jazz. He has with more than 2,000 recordings under his belt.

Jazz Beat’s Activist of the Year: Herbie Hancock.  The jazz pianist was “glued” to television, watching live coverage of Tahrir Square protests demand the removal of the regime in Egypt. The world peace advocate praised the peaceful, anti-social injustice protests in Egypt as he attended the Grammy ceremony on February 13; two days after President Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign.

 

Jazz Beat’s Book of the year:

Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz, by Benjamin Cawthra, charts the development of jazz photography from the swing era of the 1930s to the rise of Black Nationalism and the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

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

 

Happy New Year

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.

Jeff Lorber Fusion’s Galaxy

Posted December 13th, 2011 at 6:38 pm (UTC+0)
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Galaxy by Jeff Lorber Fusion

Galaxy by Jeff Lorber Fusion

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Acclaimed jazz fusionist Jeff Lorber is set to officially release his new album, “Galaxy,” next month. The album is sure to take his fans down memory lane.

During the good old days of jazz fusion, between the 1970s and 1990s, Lorber helped to pioneer and expand the music style’s improvisatory approach.

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“It was about time to bring back the spirit of that early fusion jazz,” Lorber told me, while taking a break from his European tour this week.

“This new album, Galaxy, is sort of a further evolution of the concept that we started with [2010 album] ‘Now Is The Time’ and I think it’s a little more focused, a little more energetic and a little more exciting than the previous record, although the previous one was my favorite still,” he explained.

Released last year, Grammy-nominated Now Is The Time, recaptures the spirit of fusion. It revisits materials produced by Lorber during the past 30 years of his career as a keyboardist-composer.  One of the really great songs on the album is “Mysterious Traveler” by saxophone great Wayne Shorter.

Lorber talked to me about Galaxy, his career in music and his legendary style. During the interview, you will enjoy two full songs from the album: “Live Wire” and “Horace,” which is named after the legendary jazz fusion pianist, composer and bandleader Horace Silver.

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Galaxy, features 11original recordings and marks the reincarnation of Lorber’s funk-fusion group “Jeff Lorber Fusion”. He formed the original group in Portland, Oregon in 1975, featuring very influential names in today’s jazz world – among them legendary pianist Chick Corea. The group released their self-titled debut album in 1976 and quickly became one of the most popular acts on the jazz fusion scene. But the group faded out after the mid-1980s.

“I stopped using that name [Jeff Lorber Fusion] in the 80s, in 1985. It was actually from doing this type of touring in Europe that we kind of came up with the idea of calling it Jeff Lorber Fusion again because the European promoters like to use that name to promote my shows,” explained Lorber. “And we just thought it was about time to bring back the spirit of that early fusion jazz music that’s very adventurous, very up-tempo, it’s very interesting harmony and improvisation.”

Lorber studied music at Berklee College of Music. In his 20s, Lorber listened extensively to two jazz piano icons and jazz fusion pioneers, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. He says he was heavily influenced by them.

Lorber also works with other artists doing some writing and producing. Earlier this year, he teamed up with Grammy-nominated saxophonist Patrick Lamb to produce a new album titled: It’s All Right Now. The breakout CD features stellar LA musicians like Paul Jackson and JR from the popular NBC television program The Tonight Show.  He also produced an album for saxophonist Richard Elliott.

Lorber uses his improvisational skills to blend old school R&B rhythms with modern jazz. “Well, I think the Blues is really at the heart of jazz. It’s at the heart of popular music in general,” said Lorber. “I have a tremendous love for the blues, and I think it would be impossible to listen to anything that I’ve ever played or recorded for more than, you know, ten seconds [laugh] without hearing some kind of blues in there somewhere.”

He believes the blues is universal. “When I take piano students on, the very first thing we study is the blues. That’s what everything comes from,” he noted.

Listen to Lorber’s skillful fusion in Pacific Coast Highway & Cat Paws on Jazz Club USA from the 1996. Music follows Arabic narration. On the show, Lorber explains jazz fusion. You will also enjoy clarinet great Artie Shaw’s Temptation in the Down Memory Lane segment at the end of the show.

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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.

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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