Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz

Posted December 1st, 2011 at 7:10 pm (UTC+0)
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Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz

Book cover

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – If you surf the Internet for articles about jazz and photography, you might find a few. But a recently-released book compiles accounts and rare expressive photos of jazz greats Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Billie Holiday and others.

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. It also introduces the readers to some great jazz photographers, including Herb Snitzer, Francis Wolff, Roy DeCarava, William Claxton, Gjon Mili, William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard and others.

I talked with the author, Benjamin Cawthra, who is Associate Professor of History at California State University, Fullerton, and Associate Director at the Center for Oral and Public History. He told me he worked on the book for more than 10 years to offer an account of the partnership between two of the 20th century’s innovative art forms: photography and jazz.

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It all started when Cawthra was working at a museum at St. Louis, Missouri and had the brainstorm of doing an exhibition on jazz great Miles Davis, a native son of St. Louis area.

“It seemed that he’d never taken a bad picture, and so many photographers had taken his pictures,” noted Cawthra who was struck by some extraordinary images that were part of the exhibition.  “So, when I went to do my dissertation at Washington University at St. Louis I was just thinking: where did these really great photographs come from? Why would they taken? What impact, if any, did they have at the time they were taken? And how they become such classic, iconic images and photographs of jazz musicians?”

Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz recounts more racism stories related to jazz greats, including Davis. Miles Davis was performing at a club in New York. He was taking a break to escort a “pretty white girl named Judy” to a Taxicab between sets. A white police officer told him to move along — to keep the sidewalk clear. Davis, who was famous at the time, explained to the situation to the officer, but it tuned into a scuffle.

“A second detective comes along and starts beating him on the head with a baton,” explained Cawthra. “So, the next image we see of Miles Davis is him with a blood-spattered jacket, a bloody scalp and being booked at police headquarters. And again here’s a moment where the social tension and the difficulty of race in America are impinging on the jazz image.”

Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz also shows the links between diverse photographers, examining their common interest in jazz as a subject. In addition, the book sheds light on their “substantial differences” in terms of approach as jazz itself underwent stylistic changes and cultural repositioning against the backdrop of the modern civil rights movement.

Ben Cawthra - Courtesy Don Peterson

Cawthra opens his book by looking at a powerful moment in 1960 when African-American jazz icon Louis Armstrong actually lets his guard down for a photographer named Herb Snitzer who was working for the jazz magazine Metronome. Armstrong was on a tour in the Northeastern United States with his All-Stars band. He was probably the most famous entertainer in America — maybe in the world — not named Charlie Chaplin in the 1920s and the 1930s, Cawthra explained.

“And yet as [photographer Ralph] Ellison suggests in his novel [Invisible man,] which was published in 1952, during that year Louis Armstrong – the real Louis Armstrong – was not really visible, he’s invisible because he has to play a role,’ the book author elaborated. He has to smile, he has to play a particular role that’s expected of him from his audience, especially his white audience and that just the way it was,” the author said.

“He was on tour with Armstrong in Connecticut. He took some extraordinary photographs of Louis Armstrong in which he’s not smiling, he’s not the gregarious entertainer that we think of, and he came to find out later that Armstrong had been denied the use of restroom facilities on the tour,” said Cawthra. “That was really affecting his mood, and that’s perhaps why he has this look on his face.”

In Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz, Cawthra writes: “Surely Armstrong was acutely aware of his own invisibility – his second-class status as a man – during those early years. After all in ‘Black and Blue’ he sings ‘I’m White Inside,’ which Ellison may have read not as a sellout but as the strongest assertion of equality a black singer could have made in the early 1930s.”

The book has some of the most extraordinary and famous photos, which didn’t receive much play in the press between the 1940s and 1960s, nor in some of the leading jazz magazines of the time. Among them are photos of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington,  Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday, which in 1996 became a U.S. postage stamp.

Profile songs by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington on my Jazz Club USA & Down Memory Lane in 1999, follow Arabic introduction.

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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.

Violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, One of the Jazz Fusion Fathers

Posted November 21st, 2011 at 8:22 pm (UTC+0)
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French violonist Jean-Luc Ponty performs during the Nice Jazz Festival on July 23, 2008

French violonist Jean-Luc Ponty performs during the Nice Jazz Festival on July 23, 2008

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Jean-Luc Ponty is described as the “undisputed master of violin in the arena of jazz and rock.”

The French-born violinist and bandleader is one of the best jazz improvisers you can listen to.

Many people know him from his work in the 1970s with guitarist Frank Zappa, who left an impact on him, he says.

Ponty was a special guest on VOA’s Jazz America with my colleague Russ Davis.

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The circumstances that introduced me to Jean-Luc Pony were a bit strange. It was 8:00 a.m. on April 16, 1986, the day after the U.S. bombed targets in Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya. At the time, I was inside a tall building in downtown Cairo where I worked for the West German Press Agency, DPA. I received a call from the BBC host of “The World Today” asking for comments on “Operation El Dorado Canyon,” the U.S. airstrike campaign against Libya. The strike was launched in response to Gadhafi’s alleged role in the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing.

I was tuning in to Libya’s radio stations to monitor the situation, so I could speak knowledgably about the Libyan position and reaction. But while dialing, I heard a violinist playing on one of the stations.  The music was great, and the artist was Jean-Luc Ponty. The song was: “Mirage”.

That was my first exposure to Ponty, one of the fathers of jazz fusion.

Ponty celebrated his 69th birthday recently.  He was born on September 29, 1942 in Avranches, France to a father who taught violin and a mother who taught piano. He studied music in France and at the age of 18, graduated from the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris with the highest award, Premier Prix. Given his superior achievements and excellent grades, he was immediately hired by Concerts Lamoureux, one of the major symphony orchestras in France.

Ponty has released 49 albums and collaborated on hundreds of recordings.

In September 2009, he performed as a guest of the Chick Correa – Stanley Clarke – Lenny White Trio along with Chaka Khan for a special evening at the Hollywood Bowl.  Stevie Wonder showed up for a surprise jam session at the end.

Ponty is currently touring South America with a project called “The Atlantic Years,” featuring William Lecomte on keyboards and members of his American band from the 1980s: Jamie Glaser on guitar, Baron Browneon bass and Rayford Griffin on drums. He has performed at concerts in Argentina and Chile, and will soon be on his way for more performances in Brazil and Peru. Earlier, he toured with the new “Reutrn To Forever 4” group led by jazz icon Chick Corea (keyboards), Stanley Clarke (bass), Lenny White (drums), Frank Gambale (guitar). They first toured in Australia in February and for a series of additional concerts in Canada, Europe, Israel, USA, Japan and Corea between June 24 and October 14.

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.

Charlie Bisharat, a Brilliant Jazz, New Age Violinist

Posted November 10th, 2011 at 7:21 pm (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Grammy-Award winning violinist Charlie Bisharat is a very popular sessions player in new age and soft jazz circles. The dynamic Palestinian-American composer sometimes blends his new age and jazz with Middle Eastern flavors in an effort to bring different cultures and peoples together.  In 2008, he performed with other international artists at “One Night in Jordan: A Concert For Peace,” a musical event held at The Roman Amphitheater in Jordan, where a large Palestinian population lives as citizens or refugees.

Bisharat was born in Inglewood, California in 1963.  His Palestinian father, a surgeon, is from Jerusalem and his mother is from the northeastern U.S. state of Pennsylvania.  He picked up the violin for the first time when he was four years old, and grew up playing classical music. Bisharat was a member of Shadowfax, a new-age music band formed in Chicago in 1972 by saxophonist Chuck Greenberg, guitarist G.E. Stinson, and bassist Phil Maggini. He won a Grammy with the group in 1988 for Best New Age Performance for Folksongs for a Nuclear Village.

Bisharat’s unique style makes him popular as he gently swings and skillfully interplays with other musicians at concerts. His music covers a wide range of musical traditions, from Middle Eastern to Latin American music.

Charlie Bisharat released sweeping solo album, Along the Amazon, in 1993. Since then, he has become extensively busy performing, recording or touring around the U.S. and the world with numerous great jazz, pop, fusion and new age artists. Among them: Burt Bacharach, Michael Jackson, John Tesh, Yanni, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Neil Diamond, Jessica Simpson, Mariah Carey, Ricky Martin, Rod Stewart, Shadowfax, just to name a few.

I first heard Bisharat in 1990 on “Twilight At The Zuq” from Strunz and Farah’s album, Primal Magic, and I found it hard to forget. He plays with feeling, heart, and passion. It was amazing to watch him switch between  acoustic violin and Japanese percussions on Matzuri Live In America with new age pianist/keyboardist Kitaro.

 

Bisharat’s violin music can be heard on hundreds of recordings, and in the soundtracks of dozens of Hollywood films and television series, including Swordfish, Titanic, The Drew Carey Show, Austin Powers in Goldmember and Friends. He also wrote a book called Beyond Classical Violin, described as a book/CD pack that offers every violinist the tools and skills necessary to play improvised 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.

George Benson, a Legendary American Guitarist

Posted November 3rd, 2011 at 7:38 pm (UTC+0)
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Guitar Man by George Benson

Guitar Man by George Benson

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Contemporary jazz guitarist and vocalist George Benson has released a new album titled Guitar Man. It’s a collection of great music showcasing his unparalleled guitar playing. Primarily arranged by musical director and pianist David Garfield, Guitar Man includes the funky “Tequila” featuring piano work by Joe Sample and percussion by Lenny Castro.

The album has 11 other re-imagined smooth jazz and pop songs by great musicians, such as ”Naima“  by saxophone great John Coltrane, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles, “My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder, Latin-tinged “Fingerlero” by Ronnie Foster and “Don’t Know Why” by Norah Jones.

The accomplished Benson skyrocketed to fame, using vocal techniques. Considered one of the most successful jazz guitarists, he started his first group in New York in 1965, and achieved more success than any of his ‘comrades’ at the time. In 1967, Benson was invited by jazz legend Miles Davis to play with him before the jazz fusion explosion. They recorded the great hit album, Miles In The Sky. Since then, Benson has become one of America’s most successful and accomplished guitarists.

He recorded the monster hit album Breezin’ in 1976, which has sold more than 10 million copies. Benson never limited himself to jazz music, but expanded to include pop and R&B throughout his 50-year career, during which he recorded more than 35 albums and won 10 Grammy Awards.

Benson has developed a style that appeals to a broad mainstream audience. My colleague Russ Davis recently talked with Benson about his new album Guitar Man, two other new releases and his audience. Benson explained why he thinks a lot of people thought of him more as a vocalist than an instrumentalist.

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Guitar Man was recorded with the collaboration of a solid team of jazz icons, including Joe Sample, keyboardist and musical director David Garfield, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Harvey Mason.

I profiled George Benson twice in the mid 1990s on my Jazz Club USA show. He told me then that he believes it’s the audience that gives a musician an identity and a stature in the world. Benson’s music follows my Arabic narration.  You will also enjoy songs by Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington in the “Down Memory Lane” segment of the show.

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Brilliant improviser and vibrant entertainer George Benson says continuous practice is the key to mastering an instrument. Once in control, it’s easy to communicate with any other musician in any country, he advises. Benson has collaborated with many other acclaimed vocalists, including Pavarotti, Diana Krall and Erykah Badu.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw8unhPYEWw

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.

Ron Carter, a Prolific, Smart and Funky Jazz Artist

Posted October 27th, 2011 at 7:22 pm (UTC+0)
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Ron Carter's Great Big Band

Ron Carter's Great Big Band

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – American jazz bassist Ron Carter is a smart, elegant, and funky composer, who has been playing bass since 1955.  In fact, Carter is considered one of the most influential bassists in the history of American jazz. Critics say he’s the world’s most prolific jazz bassist with more than 2,000 recordings under his belt. Carter’s most recent album, The Great Big Band, was recorded in June last year.

Carter started playing Cello when he was 10. At the age of 17, he switched to bass. Carter says he originally wanted to be a classical musician, but got attracted to jazz when he found himself surrounded by so many jazz legends in the 1950s. He first rose to national prominence in 1963 after appearing on the album Seven Steps to Heaven with jazz icon Miles Davis and his second great quintet, which also included jazz greats Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams. Carter also performed with a range of great musicians from Antonio Carlos Jobim, Chet Baker, Coleman Hawkins, to, Eric Dolphy, Aretha Franklin, and A Tribe Called Quest.

I profiled Ron Carter on my Jazz Club USA in Arabic In 1993. He had just won a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Group, for his “Miles Davis Tribute”. Carter’s long and versatile career includes teaching and lecturing. Although he recently retired as a Distinguished Professor and head of the Jazz Program at the City College of New York, he’s still on the board of directors of the Harlem Jazz Music Center.

Here’s a recent interview with the great bassist Ron Carter done by Russ Davis on VOA’s Jazz America:

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The great jazz bassist, who received two honorary doctorates and France’s premier cultural award, appears in two films about jazz music: Ron Carter & Art Farmer: Live at Sweet Basil, filmed in Sweet Basil, New York in 1990 with Art Farmer, Cedar Walton and Billy Higgins. And second is Herbie Hancock Trio: Hurricane!, a live concert of spectacular compositions and improvisations featuring an elegant and magnificent interplay between Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Billy Cobham on the drums in 1991.

Ron Carter, who just wrapped up a trip to Brazil, is now on a European tour that will take him to Hungary, France, Germany, and Poland. The jazz innovator will also perform in Japan in December.

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.

Spalding Donates Nobel Dress to Women in Jazz Initiative

Posted October 20th, 2011 at 4:15 pm (UTC+0)
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Esperanza Spalding, right, talks with John Hasse (AP)

Esperanza Spalding's dress. Spalding, right, talks with John Hasse, curator of American Music at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Washington, Oct. 17, 2011 (AP)

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Grammy Award winning bassist Esperanza Spalding has donated the dress she wore for her performance at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for President Obama to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

The jazz artist’s donation was collected last Monday as part of the museum’s women in jazz initiative, which began this past April with Jazz Appreciation Month.

I tried to get her on the line to talk about it, but she’s busy on a tour.

Earlier this year, the acclaimed bassist-singer-composer Spalding made history at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards, becoming the first-ever jazz artist to win “Best New Artist” of the year, topping teen idol Justin Bieber, among others.

Spalding’s Solo Albums

  • Junjo April, 2006
  • Esperanza May, 2008
  • Chamber Music Society August, 2010
  • Collaborations:16 other albums with various musicians

Spalding, already a young influential African American, blends jazz, folk and world music with classical chamber music traditions.

Spalding has three solo albums, including Chamber Music Society (2010), which remained at No. 1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Albums charts for ten consecutive weeks. She also collaborated with other musicians on 16 other albums.

Next February, she plans to release her fourth album, Radio Music Society.

 

Born in Portland, Oregon, the 26-year-old talented Spalding studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston. She graduated at the age of 20, and was immediately hired by the college, becoming one of the youngest professors in the institution’s history.

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.

Guitarist Al Di Meola’s European Jazz Tour

Posted October 13th, 2011 at 7:35 pm (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – American guitar wizard Al Di Meola is currently touring Europe for concerts and performances as part of a whirlwind European tour. Last June, Di Meola traveled from Europe to the Middle East to perform at the Beirut Music and Arts Festival.

A prolific composer with more than 20 recordings under his belt, Di Meola is known to many jazz fans in the Middle East as a man with artistic excellence for finely mixing American jazz and Arabian music, as in Egyptian Danza.  One of the many reasons he is much favored by Middle Eastern fans is his “ability to bring different culture closer with his music.”

The blazing jazz fusion guitarist performed in Egypt with Cairo’s top jazz pianist and Grammy winner Fathy Salama. “Music has no compass. It has no borders,” Salama said on Egyptian television while explaining Di Meola’s music approach and style.

http://www.myspace.com/video/vid/62338799

Given his skillful and dazzling technique, Di Meola has performed with many music stars, including Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Frank Zappa, Paul Simon, Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Page, Tony Williams, Jaco Pastorius, Luciano Pavarotti and many more. His epic album ‘World Sinfonia‘ He sold millions of records worldwide since the 1970s.

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.

Piano Great Chick Corea Continues World Tour

Posted October 6th, 2011 at 7:48 pm (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Jazz piano master Chick Corea is now in Japan for concerts and performances in Shizuoka, Tokyo and Hibiya before he travels on to South Korea next week. The trips are part of a “World Tour” by the gifted composer, who has 110 CDs under his belt.  Corea is touring with members of his new group RTF-IV or Return To Forever IV. RTF-IV is Corea’s 4th incarnation of his original 1972 jazz-fusion electric band known as Return To Forever (RTF). The group will release a DVD chronicling this six-month long World Tour, which is its longest and biggest tour of the year in jazz.

The original RTF has cycled through a number of different members, but the only consistent band member since its inception is the multi-talented bass guitarist and composer Stanley Clarke. In addition to Corea and Clarke, the group currently includes drummer Lenny White, virtuoso violinist and composer Jean-Luc Ponty and Australian jazz fusion guitarist Frank Gambale. My colleague, Russ Davis, recently met the group and blogged about his experience with them in Austin, Texas.

Before adding Ponty and Gambale to the group, Corea (together with Clarke and White) released a two-CD album earlier this year titled Forever . The album included special guests like, singer Chaka Khan and original Return To Forever guitarist Bill Connors.

In the mid-1990s, I profiled Chick Corea twice on my Jazz Club USA show in Arabic. I included two back-to-back shows for you to enjoy four songs from his album, Time Warp. On the “Down Memory Lane” segment, you will listen to the “Maple Leaf Rag” an 1899 masterpiece by Ragtime icon and pianist Scott Joplin. You will also hear Duke Ellington’s Take The A Train. Music follows Arabic narration:

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The 15-time Grammy Award winner was born Armando Anthony Corea in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1941.  At the age of four, Corea began studying piano, hoping to become a famous musician like his father – who was a bassist and bandleader.  Early on as he grew up, he was influenced by jazz greats and pianists Horace Silver and Bud Powell.  The music of Beethoven and Mozart also inspired his compositional instincts at an early stage. Corea’s first major professional gig was with singer, performer and bandleader Cab Calloway. He also worked with Latin bands led by Afro-Cuban Latin jazz percussionist Mongo Santamaría and American jazz percussionist Willie Bobo. One of Corea’s great strengths is his ability to play most genres of jazz piano and a variety of fusion, Latin, orchestral and chamber music.

In mid-1960s in New York, Corea worked with trumpeter Blue Mitchell and saxophonist Stan Getz. In 1968, he joined legendary trumpeter Miles Davis, and then left him in 1970 to work with the free, avant garde jazz group Circle, with saxophonist Anthony Braxton and bassist Dave Holland.

In 2008, Corea’s double album, The New Crystal Silence, with vibraphonist and longtime collaborator Gary Burton won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album.

On the album, Corea and Burton re-imagined their 1972 classic “Crystal Silence”, their first joint production that set a standard for a new and modern chamber approach to jazz.

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.

Jessy J, Blends Jazz, Latin, Samba & Immigration Politics

Posted September 28th, 2011 at 10:06 pm (UTC+0)
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Jessy J at the Sept. 2011 Smooth Jazz Festival in Augsburg, Germany (photo by Peter Boehi)

Jessy J and guitarist Paul Brown at the Sept. 2011 Smooth Jazz Festival in Augsburg, Germany (photo by Peter Boehi)

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Sax sensation Jessy J has just returned from Germany, where she performed at the Smooth Jazz Festival in Augsburg, and grabbed audience attention with her authentic Latin-zing.

The rising star, whose songs zip up the smooth-jazz charts, also promoted her new album Hot Sauce. The CD features a rich, sizzling mix of jazz, hot beats, Latin and samba tunes – among them: “Till You Make Up Your Mind”, “Rio Grande”, “Remember The Night”, and Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood”. Eight of the album’s 10 songs are original compositions.

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I talked with Jessy J about her trip, her international tour, and her performance at the Dubai Jazz Festival in the United Arab Emirates. She talked about her collaboration with Joe Sample, and her Broadway lifestyle.  Also included are two of her compositions – one of my favorites is the politically-motivated “Rio Grande”.

“The reason I wrote (Rio Grande) is because of the [U.S.] immigration laws that are on the table right now for becoming a U.S. citizen — who is allowed to stay and who has to go home,” Jessy explained. “So, being a fresh generation of a Mexican father, I feel that everyone should have a passageway to the U.S. citizenship because if my father would not have moved as an immigrant, I wouldn’t have been born here in the United States, and I would not have heard Jazz. I feel it’s a way for people to have a new life, a new opportunity to live the American dream.”

The Rio Grande river is known in Mexico as “Río Bravo del Norte.” It flows from the southern Rocky Mountains of southwestern Colorado in the United States to the Gulf of Mexico.  The last 2,400 km of its course stretches along the border between Texas and Mexico.

Jessy J at the Sept. 2011 Smooth Jazz Festival in Augsburg, Germany (photo by Peter Boehi)

American Jessy J at the Sept. 2011 Smooth Jazz Festival in Augsburg, Germany (photo by Peter Boehi)

Jessy was born in Portland, Oregon in 1982, and was raised in California. Her mother is from Texas, and her father is from Sinaloa, Mexico. They both listened to a blend of Mexican and American music at home, giving young Jessy a rich culture that led her to explore music.  It also allowed her to develop an affinity for music from both sides of the border.

“I grew up playing classical music, like George Gershwin, Bernstein, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, I grew up playing all the classical music,” recalled Jessy.  She learned to play the piano at age four. Later on, Jessy listened to jazz greats and Avant-garde artists. She loved improvisation. When she went away to college in Los Angeles, she got into pop music. Drawing on her extensive Mexican-American experience, Jessy found it easy to blend modern jazz with spicy Latin and Samba.

“It is easy because of people like Stan Getz and Sergio Mendes, and people who have been doing it for long, “ the saxophonist noted, “João Gilberto, even now the Brazilian singers that are still doing it, that are still wonderful at it. I feel very inside of the two melt together, such a great blend. And even as a singer, I do listen a lot to the great Brazilian singers because of the way that they phrase and storytell during the song.  I really try to remake that sound from the 1960s. It’s a very soft sound, but it also fits perfectly into the music.”

Here’s a mix of jazz, and samba by two musicians who influenced Jessy J: Julian Cannonball Adderley and Sergio Mendes. This is “Groovy Samba”.

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.

Fathy Salama, Fusing Jazz, Folk and Traditional Music on the Nile

Posted September 23rd, 2011 at 10:49 pm (UTC+0)
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Egyptian musician Fathy Salama

Fathy Salama

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Fathy Salama, Egypt’s best known jazz musician, Grammy winner, pianist, composer and arranger has also established himself as an influential force in contemporary and traditional Arabic music. When Egyptians revolted against the nearly 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak, Salama went into action, writing music for the young poets and singers of the revolution.  Concert admission was free or at a nominal fee at Al-Azhar Park’s Genaina Theatre and at the Cairo Opera House, open air theater.

I talked with Fathy Salama about his latest jazz projects and his work for the Egyptian revolution poets. He talked about his jazz/roots music blend, his American experience and his cooperation with international musicians.

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Although jazz is not as popular in Egypt as American pop, Salama is trying to educate the audience. He wants to bridge the gap between modern and traditional music through performances with artists from different countries – among them: Cubana Son, guitar wizard Al Di Meola and other well-known European and American jazz icons.

Fathy Salam’s Discography

  • Camel Dance 1991
  • Color Me Cairo 1994
  • Camel Road 1996 – it’s dedicated to Somali journalist Ilaria who was killed in action in Somalia
  • Don’t Climb The Pyramids 1998
  • Maqsoom & Mashy El Hal 2003
  • Egypt (Allah) with Youssou N’Dour 2004
  • Sultany 2006
  • Nha Sentimento by Cesaria Evora – Salama arranged three songs on the album
  • Salam’s Compilations

  • Egypt, music of the Nil from the desert to the sea 1997
  • Cairo to Casablanca, an Arabic musical odyssey 1998
  • Ottomanic (Irma) 2004

Fathy Salama was born in Shobra, a city known as the ‘Harlem of Cairo,’ — international star Dalida was also born there.  He grew up listening to his family’s favorite traditional music by legends like: Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Farid el Atrash, the Arab Diva Umm Kulthum, or Kawkab Al-Sharq (Planet of the East), profiled here by Egyptian movie star Omar Sharif.

Salama took piano lessons at a very young age and started performing gigs at age 13. He says he listened to a variety of international and traditional music as well as jazz programs by international broadcasters such as the Voice of America (VOA).

In the early 1990s, I profiled Salama on my VOA’s Jazz Club USA show in Arabic, after his group, Sharkiat first became popular. Parts one & two:

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Salama studied jazz in Egypt, then, traveled to New York to study with jazz legends Sun Ra, Hal Galper, Malik Osman, Barry Harris and Pat Patrick.

Salama is the only Arab composer to win a Grammy Award. He won the coveted prize for an album he recorded with Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour.  The album has two names “Allah” “Egypt,” and mixes traditions from Senegal and Egypt. Salama has also won the prestigious BBC Music Award, and other prizes for two Egyptian movie soundtracks.

Fathy Salama

He is currently holding a two-week international music workshop, on the banks of the Nile, sponsored by Mawreds and the Agha Khan Association for Arts.  The endeavor involves about 20 musicians from central Asia, including Afghanistan and Azerbaijan. The workshop will end with two concerts bringing together the 20 participant artists.  One performance will be held in Aswan, southern Egypt and the other in Cairo.

Fathy Salama’s Sharkiat (Septet) Group:

Percussion: Ayman Sidki
Arabic Percussions: Ramadan Mansoor
Accordion: Salih El Artist
Electric Bass: Amer Barakat
Riq, Tama and Vocal: Wael El Fashn
Guitar: Mohamed Adel
Keyboard, piano: Fathy Salama

Here’s more info on Jazz, Pop and Roots music by Fathy Salam.

Next week, an interview with Mexican-American saxophonist Jessy J.

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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