I was about 15 years old, living in Connecticut, when I discovered WKCR. WKCR, or “King’s Crown Radio” is the radio station of New York City’s Columbia University. I spent hour upon hour listening to their spectacular jazz shows, where DJ’s such as the legendary Phil Schapp would introduce each tune with a bit about the musicians and their history. They’d even give insightful musical commentary! (Who else does this???!!!) In short, WKCR gave me a large part of my jazz education. (And Schapp’s still at it. Check out his show “Bird Flight!”)
DJs like that are few and far between, and getting scarcer by the minute. And as good as some Siruis-FM stations and Spotify playlists are, they don’t even begin to give the kind of commentary that a good jazz DJ can.
So…. I thought I’d have some fun and play “Blog DJ” for a bit. I’ll just start with a favorite jazz piano recording of mine, and then let each song lead me into choosing the next one that I’d like to listen to and share with you.
Let’s start with Celia, composed and performed by the great bebop pianist Bud Powell. As much as bebop has a reputation for intricate and convoluted melody lines, Celia is also very tuneful and catchy. I always feel good when listening to this. Enjoy!
Bud Powell: Celia
Now let’s listen to Chick Corea play the same tune. It’s fun to hear a pianist like Corea, who became famous playing post-bop music, fusion, and Latin jazz, go back and become a bebopper for a while. All in his own style, of course.
Chick Corea: Celia
For Chick, let’s go to another of my favorite pianists, the South African pianist composer Abdullah Ibrahim, also known as Dollar Brand. I first heard Ibrahim and his group Ekaya play an outdoor concert at The University of Massachusetts in the mid-1980s. I was studying at a summer jazz workshop with Billy Taylor and Max Roach, but I wasn’t prepared for the unique sounds of this group. This version is from the album Water From An Ancient Well.
Abdullah Ibrahim: The Wedding
Beautiful, right? I could listen to that song every day. Now, let’s stay in the “straight 8th” mode and check out Jacob Collier’s take on Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely. It features a cappella jazz singing with a fun jazz keyboard solo. Stevie Wonder used jazz harmonies in many of his “pop” songs, so it’s nice to see jazz musicians begin to explore the jazz implications of these tunes more fully. If you haven’t heard Jacob Collier yet, you’re in for a treat!
Jacob Collier: Isn’t She Lovely
Let’s finish our brief “jazz radio” set with another one of my all-time favorites. It’s tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter playing his ballad Penelope, from his album Etcetera. Herbie Hancock is on piano, and the piece was inspired by Odysseus long-patient wife, Penelope, from the ancient Greek myth The Odyssey. Shorter likes to use extra-musical images for inspiration, and this one is a masterpiece.
Wayne Shorter: Penelope
I enjoyed putting together this “non real time” set of jazz radio, for you to listen to whenever you happen to stumble across it. Who knows? Maybe I’ll become an online DJ!
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