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Jazz Bassist Charles Fambrough Dies

Philadelphia-based acoustic bassist performed with McCoy Tyner, Art Blakey and Wynton Marsalis

Bassist Charles Fambrough died on January 1, 2011. He had been ill for last few years, battling end stage renal disease, congestive heart failure and pulmonary hypertension. He had been receiving dialysis treatments as well. He was 60 years old at the time of his death.

Fambrough was born in Philadelphia on August 25, 1950. Originally trained on the piano, Fambrough received a scholarship to study classical music, but picked up the bass at age 13, eventually leaving school to pursue his true passion in jazz as a bassist. By 1968 he was performing professionally in various pit bands around the city.

In 1970 Fambrough joined Grover Washington Jr.’s band with whom he played for over three years, while the saxophonist experienced his first commercial success. After a stint with Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, he then joined the band of fellow Philadelphian McCoy Tyner, appearing on Tyner’s albums Focal Point, The Greeting, and Horizon. He later joined the Art Blakey Jazz Messengers in the early 80s, when that band featured Wynton and Branford Marsalis. When Wynton Marsalis left Blakey to record and tour as a leader, Fambrough was a part of his group, and was featured on Marsalis’ Fathers and Sons album for Columbia.

Fambrough also had considerable experience playing Latin jazz, as a sideman with Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, as well as Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band. Fambrough also regularly performed and recorded with pianist Bill O’Connell.

Fambrough recorded over six albums as a leader, including The Proper Angle and Blues at Bradleys for CTI, City Tribes on Evidence, Upright Citizen on NuGroove, and Live at Zanzibar Blue on Random Chance. He was a first-call bassist in his hometown for his entire life, backing artists such as Shirley Scott and Bootsie Barnes at local venues like Ortliebs, Zanzibar Blue and Chris’s Café.

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Dr. Billy Taylor, Jazz Pianist, Dies

Pianist also hosted various radio and TV shows

Dr. Billy Taylor, a jazz pianist who was there at 52nd Street for the birth of bebop and modern jazz and who went on to become a long career as both musician and radio/TV broadaster, died on Tuesday, December 28 in Riverdale, New York. According to his daughter Kim Taylor Thompson, the cause of death was a heart attack. Dr. Taylor had been ailing with heart and circulatory issues over the last 3 months. He was 89 years old. The death was confirmed by the Kennedy Center, where Taylor had been an artistic director of jazz for many years.

Like several of the giants of the bebop era including Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and the Heath Brothers, Taylor was born in North Carolina. In Taylor’s case, he was born in Greenville in the eastern part of the state on July 24, 1921. However, when Taylor was young, his family moved to the Washington, DC area, where his grandfather was a co-founder of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church, located near the Howard Theatre, which was one of the stops on the T.O.B.A. circuit of venues for black performers.

Taylor told JT’s Geoffrey Himes in 2005 that the music played in those two seemingly different environments helped to form him as a musician. “For a long time, I didn’t separate pop music from classical music and church music,” Taylor said. “It was all part of our environment. All of us sang in church. We had two organists in the family and a vocal quintet made up of the family’s male members. But because I grew up in Washington, I also saw people who looked like me playing European classical music as expertly as the people I saw in the movies and concert halls. And every week we had a different band playing at the Howard. You talk about an education: I heard Earl Hines, Chick Webb—people who looked like me and could play so well. I wanted to be one of them.”

Taylor was just seven years old when he told his family that he wanted to play like those jazz musicians he had been seeing and hearing at the Howard and other local venues. His Uncle Robert gave him 78s by Fats Waller and Art Tatum and advised him to immerse himself in their music. And Taylor started to take lessons from a neighborhood woman named Elmira Street, who introduced the youngster to the fundamentals of the piano.

“She taught me in a very traditional way,” Taylor told Himes. “We did scales and arpeggios, simple pieces by Haydn and Bach, learning pieces that we could do in her studio. I learned how to read music, the whole idea of how music was put together, the idea that a piece of music has to start somewhere, go somewhere and reach somewhere. She said, ‘Don’t just bang on the notes; it’s got to be music. Make me feel something.’”

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Ahmad Jamal Album Tops in Jazz Radio Airplay in 2010

Jazz pianist’s A Quiet Time was spun 3,742 times by jazz radio stations during the past year

JazzWeek has recently released its Top 100 for 2010, its annual survey of 98 jazz radio stations in the U.S.. At the top of the chart is Ahmad Jamal, whose A Quiet Time on Dreyfus received 3,742 spins from radio stations during the year. Trombone Shorty’s Backatown on Verve Forecast was number two with 3,550 spins. Rounding out the top five were albums from John Pizzarelli, Tia Fuller and Mike LeDonne.

Ed Trefzger, editor and publisher of JazzWeek, says that the airplay is tracked by an ASCAP subsidiary Mediaguide. Using radio receivers to feed audio into software housed in computer hardware in each of over 125 markets in the U.S., Mediaguide matches broadcast audio to a database of "fingerprints" of songs to automatically record airplay.

A studied look at the chart tells any informed observer that jazz radio tends to play straight-ahead and mainstream jazz albums more often. In contrast to, say, the JT Critics Picks which included Jason Moran’s Ten, Charles Lloyd’s Mirror and Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green’s Apex as its top three albums of 2010, the JazzWeek chart’s Top Ten featured albums from John Pizzarelli, Curtis Fuller, Mike LeDonne, Steve Hobbs, John Stein and Kenny Burrell, none of whom were recognized by the JT crtiics. Whereas Moran (27) and Lloyd (65) did not rate nearly as highly in the radio chart and the Mahanthappa/Green album was not even on the chart at all.

“The top 100 does tend to be straight-ahead and mainstream,” says Trefsger. “I think that's been the trend for many years. But I don't think that's necessarily an indication that jazz radio is getting more conservative. If you look at our weekly top 50 charts, you'll see non-mainstream releases represented, but not in numbers that would put them in a yearly top 100. Over the course of a year about 700 albums will make the weekly top 50.”

Trefsger says that jazz programming has been affected by inroads made by other music genres such as world music, plus the usual news and talk shows so ubiquitous on public radio, on which much of jazz is played. He also notes that the limited airtime for jazz combined with the rise in DIY releases means that competition for airplay is fiercer than ever. “Those 700 albums that chart in the course of a year are part of about 2,000 or so received by radio stations to be considered for airplay,” he explains. “It's a daunting, if not impossible, task for radio to audition that much music, and so radio promotion becomes a vital part of getting attention for a CD by helping bring music to the attention of music directors at stations. That tends to focus attention on more established labels or artists, which will tend toward the mainstream.”

Trefsger says that programmers often have much broader taste than what they play on the air, but they have to be cognizant of their target audience. “In general, jazz radio needs to reach more than the hardcore jazz aficionado to be viable,” he says. “If you ask program directors and music directors what their favorite CDs of the year are, they are likely not to line up with what their stations played, simply because they have to program to a bit broader taste than that of the really serious jazz fan. What is played on the air is not a reflection merely of artistic merit, but radio also has to consider what will draw an audience of casual jazz listeners without turning away the serious jazz fan.”

And forget trying to match up the preferences of either critics or radio programmers with the best-selling albums of the year. Number one, two and three on Billboard’s charts for 2010 were albums from Michael Buble, Harry Connick, Jr. and Barbra Streisand, none of which showed up on JT’s or JazzWeek’s list for the top albums of 2010.


Kevin Eubanks
Zen Food
Mack Avenue Records

Upside of a heavy, high-profile regular gig on network television: a fat paycheck, free admission to households all across the country, more than a little bit of name recognition. Downside: little time, or incentive, really, to pursue one’s own musical projects. Eighteen years after signing on with the Tonight Show band—all but three of those years as bandleader—guitarist Kevin Eubanks has given up the sure thing in order to resume a performing and recording career in earnest.

Eubanks was last heard leading a studio session for a name label on his 1993 Spirit Talk album and its sequel; for Zen Food he reconnects with Tonight Show bandmate Marvin “Smitty” Smith, the often-explosive drummer from those albums. The two are joined by saxophonist Bill Pierce, keyboardist Gerry Etkins and bassist Rene Camacho for a set of originals that are intriguing and well played, if perhaps a little overproduced. A certain sonic slickness occasionally distracts from the impressive goings-on.

That said, the musical synchronicity on display is often dazzling, as on “6/8,” its twisting guitar riff followed by Pierce’s long notes and sprawling solo, Eubanks’ fluent turn and Smith’s extended, funky work out. There are other uptempo gems here, too, including “Das It,” a brief if fierce riff-and-roll outing, and the laidback-to-swinging “Los Angeles,” which morphs into fusion and features some of the leader’s most intense, dramatic playing.

Several pieces aren’t easily categorized. A starting-stopping guitar line centers the quick-shifting “Spider Monkey Café,” while “The Dirty Monk” floats a bit before building into a low-slung bluesy jam. The quietest, most compelling pieces here may be the acoustic-oriented ballads, including the flickering, chiming “Adoration” and “Offering,” with its oozing guitar lines, melodic theme and Etkins’ intense piano work-out. As comebacks go, this one is promising if not exactly earth-shattering.

 Teena Marie May Have Had Seizure


More information is coming in regarding the sudden death over the weekend of singer Teena Marie. reports that the 54-year old may have suffered a grand mal seizure, since relatives note she had had several in the past.  The most recent one was a month ago and was so severe, she suffered two broken ribs.  The singer had been prescribed the anti-seizure medication diazepam, but had stopped taking it because of the side effects.  She was so concerned about her condition that she regularly had someone sleep in the same room with her; friends say that someone did sleep over on Saturday night and left on Sunday morning.  She returned to bed Sunday afternoon and her daughter later found her unresponsive.

George Duke's Music Lesson

George Duke's latest album is called Deja Vu -- and ironically, one of the key moments of his career foreshadowed the changes presently sweeping the music industry.  Speaking with, Duke recalls that none of the record labels had a clue as to what to do with the song "Sweet Baby," which he did with Stanley Clarke.  "The pop music department said,'You guys are jazz artists.'  The jazz department said, 'It's not a jazz record.'"  The two artists wound up promoting the song using their own money until it took off and became a hit. "We had no choice but to step outside the system," says Duke.  The experience left a lasting impression, especially after witnessing how that "outside the box" approach worked  for one particular artist.  "Working with Frank Zappa had an influence on me.  He was the only musician I met [who] was that self-contained. Zappa knew...about the recording studio, had the business aspect together and could play the crazy music that he made...[and] He had this huge audience.  I took something from that."

Oasis Smooth Jazz Awards On the Way


Nearly 50 leading artists will be appearing and performing at the upcoming Oasis Smooth Jazz Awards, slated for March 10-13, 2011 in San Diego.  While the nominees won't be announced until next week, event organizers have revealed an all-star lineup for the event.  Among those scheduled to perform are Rick Braun, Richard Elliot, The Rippngtons, Kim Waters, Jonathan Butler, Mindi Abair, Peter White, Brian Culbertson, George Duke, Kirk Whalum and Keiko Matsui.  Jeff Lorber will serve as Musical Director.  In addition to concerts [one which will take place aboard the flight deck of the carrier USS Midway], fans will be treated to meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, workshops and much more.  For information, hit the website.


Dave Koz' Travel Tips

Dave Koz is just off of his annual holiday tour and taking a time-out.  But for a working musician, the next trip is never far away. Speaking with the Chicago Tribune, Koz shared that his favorite place to head to -- performing or not -- is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. "I once went there for a week's vacation in October, and as soon as I returned, booked another trip for January. That city has such an intense pull...I became an addict."  Koz also noted that he loves New York, Prague and Paris, but for weekend jaunts, northern California is just right.  "I can always find what I need in Sausalito...the trees, the water, the lushness everywhere.  I've found it to be a very spiritual place as well."  As for the must-have road items?  "My own hair dryer. I know that's a bit diva-ish, but you can't trust hotel hair dryers."  He also admits to bringing way too many clothes.  "As someone who travels for a living, I should be a better packer, but I like to have options."  Koz will be heading back out soon to continue promoting his top-selling album, Hello Tomorrow.





In 1940, Duke Ellington was working with what many critics call his best band ever. He was touring the country far and wide; one of his tour stops fell in the northern U.S. outpost of Fargo, N.D. in early November.

A couple of Ellington enthusiasts and audio engineers made the trip to record the orchestra on a common medium of the day: aluminum discs coated with acetate, an enormous 16 inches in diameter. Jack Towers and Dick Burris once worked at the college radio station of South Dakota State University. They didn't have any initial plans for their recordings, other than personal enjoyment, and didn't really make any for about 40 years. The acetates sat in Towers' basement, unknown to anybody other than their friends and jazz insiders.

Eventually, Towers dedicated himself to remastering old jazz recordings. His 1940 Ellington discs were obviously a priority; he cleaned up the surface noise of the acetates, and the whole thing was released commercially. That set won a Grammy Award, and is generally revered as one of the best (and most important) live recordings in jazz, ever.

Towers died in late December; a Washington Post obituary has more details about his fascinating life. But long before he left, he spoke to NPR engineer Jim Anderson about the process of making, then restoring his Grammy-winning recording. That story aired on Morning Edition on March 6, 1980. And you can hear it above.

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