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]

[audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2012_03/Grover_washington_jr_Dec1999_JC-USA.mp3]

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.

[audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2012_03/Drummer_Tony_Williams_Ella_Fitzgerald_JazzClubUSA.mp3]

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.

[audio: http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2012_03/Lester_Young.mp3]

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.

Whitney Houston Smooth Jazz Tribute

Posted February 23rd, 2012 at 8:59 pm (UTC+0)
6 comments

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.

[audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2012_02/db_GM_Western_Schwartniger_whitney_1993.mp3]

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)
3 comments

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.

[audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2012_02/1999-TimHagans__-_Tom_Jones_Delilah.mp3]

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)
2 comments

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)
2 comments

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)
1 comment

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.

[audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2012_01/rez_abbasi_jazzbeat_diaa_bekheet_jan2012.mp3]

“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:
[audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2012_01/rez_abbasi_jazzbeat_diaa_bekheet_jan2012.mp3]

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)
7 comments

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.

[audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2012_01/yanni-Jazz-Beat-2012.mp3]

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.

[audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2012_01/Yanni_louis_Armstrong_Hello_Dolly_01jan2000_new_year.mp3]

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.

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VOA’s music bloggers bring you info about all kinds of music. Katherine Cole will keep you up-to-date on the world of Bluegrass and Americana music while Ray McDonald rocks the Pop charts and artists. Diaa Bekheet  jams with you on Jazz.  Visit us often. Your comments are welcome.

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