Saturday, January 21, 2012

Willis Conover alert, and "Indian" jazz at Blues Alley

Willis Conover (1920-1996) was the Voice of America's legendary music broadcaster, (see previous VOAWM posts below), and as this blog is relaunched in the New Year, we'll introduce a regular feature of linking to references to Willis, whose influence throughout the world (and particularly the jazz world) is still remembered with reverence and gratitude 15 years after his death. The most recent is in a blog by Matthew Kassel, a New York-based blogger on Cold Jazz; his latest posting is about the four-time Grammy Award-winning Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés. Kassel quotes Valdés as saying "We used to hear jazz on shortwave radio, the Voice of America 'Jazz Hour,' hosted by Willis Conover. . . . . I would write out transcriptions of the music on paper for myself, so I could figure out what they were doing."

Another reference to Conover's broadcasts is in an op-ed piece, expressing his own opion, by a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Gregory L. Garland, in American Diplomacy, published by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: "Thanks to the gift of a shortwave radio, I grew up [in Florida] listening to the Voice of America (VOA). . . . .Just like tens of millions of listeners in the former Soviet Union, I set my watch to VOA jazz master Willis Conover’s nightly broadcasts that made him a hero there while he remained unknown in his own country."

Speaking of jazz, this past week has been a busy one for me, in covering four nights of fine performances at Washington's historic Blues Alley, which the New York Times has called "The Nation's Finest Jazz and Supper Club," and which is the oldest such institution in the U.S. since its founding by Harry Schnipper in 1965. In a five night sequence title "Indian Jazz Series", the club featured jazz vocalist Sachal Vasandani on Monday, local guitarist Sanjay Mishra and Friends on Tuesday, guitarist Rez Abbasi on Wednesday, and Rudresh Mahanthappa (and Rez again) on Thursday and Friday.

This blog will feature a forthcoming radio interview with Sachal and a joint television interview with Rudresh and Rez (see photo below), as well as some comments on their performances.

Here are links to previous entries on Willis:

The Daily Kos: Another take on Willis Conover

Willis Conover Hosts Duke Ellington 5: "Rose of the Rio Grande"

Willis Conover Hosts Duke Ellington 4: "Flaming Sword"

Willis Conover Hosts Duke Ellington 3: " Sepia Panorama"

Willis Conover Hosts Duke Ellington 2: "Boy Meets Horn"

Willis Conover Hosts Duke Ellington 1: "Sidewalks of New York" and "Sophisticated Lady"

Note: Each of the above five entries features Ellington discussing with Conover the recordings in question, with many fascinating revelations emerging from their conversation. The recordings, unheard before Conover's interview with the jazz giant, became classics, with many subsequent reissues on LP and CD.

Willis Conover in his own words: From an interview with Gerry Mulligan

Music at VOA: Willis Conover - 3: An audio feature by VOA'S Special English

Music at VOA: Willis Conover - 2: A remembrance video by VOA's Russian Service

Music at VOA: Willis Conover - 1: Introduction and VOA video on "Willis Conover Day"

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