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Eight Forty-Eight

Music Thursdays with Tony Sarabia and Richard Steele: International jazz

Tony Sarabia:

We’re jazzing it up this week with a celebration of jazz from around the globe.

April 30th is the first annual International Jazz Day. The celebration is the brainchild of Chicago native Herbie Hancock; the man that brought us "Watermelon Man" and "Rockit." The idea, says UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, is to “celebrate and learn more about heart of jazz, its roots and its impact.”

My music Thursday co-host Richard Steele and I will be taking a look at the impact jazz has had around the world with some cuts that illuminate the influences jazz has had on other musical traditions.

We'll also have two Chicago musicians joining us in the Jim and Kay Mabie Performance Studio. They may come from different places but they've been described as two voices that belong together: Polish born singer Grazyna Auguschik and guitarist/singer Paulinho Garcia, a native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, have been collaborating for about a dozen years. The Euro-South American blend goes down easily, which, from a Brazilian’s perspective isn’t so surprising since the country thrives on antropofagia -- the cultural and musical cannibalism of all societies.

Their latest project is a cover of Beatles songs with a decidedly Brazilian flavor and with Grazyna singing in Portuguese. She gets high marks from Paulinho who calls her pronunciation perfect.

We’ll talk with them about jazz in their respective countries and hear some tunes from The Beatles Nova.

And as usual, Richard and I each have some picks for our theme. I’ve gone to South Africa and India -- musically -- for my tunes.

South African jazz of the late 1960s thru the late '70s can best be summed up as a frustration with restriction of movement and expression. There was a time when black South Africans could work in the country’s urban centers as jazz musicians but as the police state and apartheid began to rear its ugly head more forcefully those artists were forced to go underground.

Many of them went from full-time musician to picking up gigs where they could. Even airplay of songs they had recorded was stifled in an attempt to push them into a narrowly defined “tribal” music. (That would be akin to forcing Iggy Pop to learn the music of Pete Fountain.) Many of the younger musician from cities like Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg did not want to play their grandfathers' music. Political and cultural strangulation by the white minority rulers went hand in hand.

But the jazz musicians we not about to have their creativity shackled. One such band was the Heshoo Beshoo Group, formed in 1969. Heshoo Beshoo means moving with force and according to the only surviving member; it captured the band’s drive for self-determination, creativity and freedom during the brutality of Apartheid. The music is influenced by everything from Kwela Jazz which is happy sounding dance music popular in the 1950s, to American avant garde and Blue Note soul jazz.

It’s that latter sound that dominates the song "Emakhaya" from the band’s 1970 release Armitage Road (note the Abbey Road nod on the album cover). The beginning of the song has some beautiful mellow and soulful guitar lines from composer and arranger Cyril Magubane before it breaks into a nice shuffle with the horns and drums. A South African groove for everyone’s ears.

T.K. Ramamoorthy is a South Indian film music composer who first learned the complex art of Carnatic music; Indian Classical Music  that evolved from ancient Hindu traditions. T.K. took up the violin when he was six years old and was playing solos by the time he was 16 years old.

In 1969, T.K. set out combine Carnatic music i.e. ragas, with jazz. The result was his album, Fabulous Notes & Beats of the Indian Carnatic Jazz.  Both idioms share something in common: improvisation.

Indian elements in jazz weren't new at the time of this release but what was untried until  Fabulous Notes was using accomplished Indian musicians to adopt jazz elements. These were artists who were trained in the strict discipline of the traditional Carnatic system.

The foundation of the music on this album is Carnatic, with the rules of the raga: ascending and descending modes. The instrumentation is a mix of Indian, such as the stringed gotuvadyam, and the percussive mud pot or ghatam (and trumpets, bongos and piano). 

The tune I chose-- "Udaya Ravi Chandrika"-- calls to mind Stan Kenton, the American band leader and composer who in the mid-1940s was calling his brand of jazz “progressive jazz.” He too incorporated into his jazz music Latin rhythms (he had a bongo player), Western Classical and a touch of exotica before there was a name for it. Listening to the song with my eyes closed, I can envision a cadre of Bollywood dancers in some faux Latin locale; all that’s needed are the vocals of Asha Bhosle.

Richard Steele:


Dizzy Gillespie was a trumpet virtuoso and improviser. He’s also considered to be a major figure in the development of be-bop and modern jazz, and helped fuse jazz with Afro-Cuban and Afro-Latin music. During the 1980s, Dizzy led the United Nations Orchestra, which was populated with players from Cuba, Brazil, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The composition “Tin Tin Deo” was co-written by Chano Pozo, one of the most recognizable Cuban conga players to come to New York in the 1940s. He died in 1948, but his legacy includes the jazz classics “Manteca” and “Tin Tin Deo.”            

Herbie Hancock is a native Chicagoan who was a piano prodigy and performed a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he was 11. He’s an alumnus of Hyde Park High School. Herbie was one of the stellar players with Miles Davis for a number of years. His fame is in both acoustic and electronic jazz. For this performance he teamed up with Lang Lang, who is a young Chinese-born classical piano virtuoso with rock-star status. He and Hancock had their first collaboration when they performed Rhapsody in Blue at the 2008 Grammys. That led to a 2009 tour, including a performance at the Hollywood Bowl. This particular performance of Rhapsody in Blue took place at the 10th Annual Classical Brit Awards in 2009. 

Barbara Dennerlein is, without question, one of the best jazz organ players in the universe, known to a growing number of hip Americans. Her dazzling performances have been talked about on both sides of the Atlantic. This German-born phenom became proficient on the Hammond B-3 organ at an early age and began playing in hometown jazz clubs when she was only 15. She’s described locally as the “Organ Tornado From Munich.” On this track, which is titled “Farewell to Old Friends,” you might think you’re listening to soulful players like Jimmy Smith or Jack McDuff. In reality it’s a 48-year-old German woman from the country’s 3rd largest city where “soul jazz” is probably “not” the number one music choice.  

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