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.

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.

[audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2011_12/diaa_bekheet_miguel_zenon_jazzbeat_24dec2011.mp3]

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.

[audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2011_12/Jeff_Lorber_Jaaz_Club_USA_1990s.mp3]

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.

Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz

Posted December 1st, 2011 at 7:10 pm (UTC+0)
7 comments

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.

[audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2011_12/Louis_Armstrong_Duke_Ellington.mp3]

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)
1 comment

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)
1 comment

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)
1 comment

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)
6 comments

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:

[audio: http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2011_10/ron_carter_on__jazz_american_oct_2011.mp3]

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)
1 comment

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.

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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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