I love all kinds of music, but there is something about smooth jazz and especially Dave Koz’s music. They brings me such joy, and whenever I see him live it always brings me to tears. If you have not had the chance, please do. He is the benchmark of how concerts should be, especially the Christmas concert.
I've had the pleasure of meeting him and quite a few of our smooth jazz superstars many times. Peter White to Mindi Abair, Jonathan Butler, Rick Braun and Euge Groove--just to name a few. Not name dropping, but they truly are as glad to see us as we are to see them. So many incredibly talented, and incredibly humble people. After giving 110% to us at a show, they always seem to find a little more time and energy to stick around and meet their fans. They are grounded enough to know enough to acknowledge the fans who appreciate them.
To me, that speaks volumes about their character. You don’t find that in most music types at this level of success.
Dave and Friends will be here on the 12th. Get your tickets and don't miss 'em!
Our Smooth Video of the Day: One of the highlights of every Dave Koz Christmas show is his song about Hanukah.
I can see that October is going to be one of those months – with so much happening that by the end of it, we will be happily exhausted with our stomach muscles toned and tightened from so much hopping up and down in excitement.
Tonight, it was the Cubs winning their wild card game!
So I had to research baseball and jazz. I found three songs, but only one that fits the bill for us smooth jazz fans. It’s a bossa nova for which pianist Dave Frishberg wrote both the lyrics and melody. Released in 1969, it was entitled "Van Lingle Mungo." The other song was called "Willie, Mickey and Duke" and is more a showtune than jazz. And lastly, there is the famous Steve Goodman folk song called "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request."
Van Lingle Mungo started as an ear worm then morphed into a song consisting of thirty seven names of major league players, rhymed loosely. Van Lingle Mungo was a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Dave had a melody that he wanted to put lyrics to, but the words were alluding him. After seeing the name in a Baseball Encyclopedia, Dave kept repeating it until he decided to use "Van Lingle Mungo" as the chorus. Trying several times to construct stanzas around it, Frishburg searched for inspiration. He found it in the names of players. Some are quite obscure, but they all sound intriguing when he sings them.
The Cubs are well represented by eight players, starting with Phil Cavarretta, Augie Galan, Frankie Gustine, Stan Hack, Claude Passeau, Howie Pollet, Johnny Vander Meer and Eddie Waitkus.
Not to be outdone, there are also eight White Sox names, if you include Phil Cavarretta, who played most of his career with the Cubs and just two seasons with the Pale Hose. Rounding out the roster are Frenchy Bordagaray, Ferris Fain, Thornton Lee, Hank Majeski, Johnny Sain (manager), Hal Trosky and Early Wynn.
Of all the players mentioned in the song, Eddie Basinski is the last surviving man. He’s 92. Here's the song:
I'm hoping that the Cubs will continue to live by their manager Joe Maddon’s sentiment - “Don’t ever let the pressure exceed the pleasure.” Which is giving me an earworm by Maysa called "Friendly Pressure."
Go Cubs! Win it all! Then we can finally retire Steve Goodman’s folk song, "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request."
It was announced this week that Vanessa Williams is not only going to be a judge for this year’s pageant, but also the Chief Judge. Now there is a controversy hinging on who will apologize to whom before Vanessa is welcomed back to the organization.
Rewind to 1984, when Vanessa won the contest. She was the first African-American woman to become Miss America. In her bow embellished, one shoulder lavender gown and appropriate '80s big hair, she walked the runway thrilled. She did eleven months of her reign before some nude photographs taken years earlier surfaced in Penthouse magazine. She relinquished the crown to avoid dragging herself and the pageant through the mud. We were shocked and amazed. She had done an outstanding job as Miss America, doing more appearances that normal.
But the loss of a crown was a gain for smooth jazz lovers. Vanessa used her music to heal. With the yoke of Miss America’s responsibilities behind her, she went into the studio and put out the aptly titled album in 1988, "The Right Stuff." The song "Dreamin’" hit number one on the pop charts. She went on to give us "Save the Best For Last" in 1991. However, as her music career flourished, calls for her to take on acting roles soared too. She’s been busy on stage and screen, so we haven’t had a CD from her since 2009.
So, if there is an agreement between her and the pageant officials, we will get to see her in a new role, that of judge. I hope everyone will be able to let bygones be bygones. But if not, could there be a new CD?
On stage he’s the tall, thin one on the electric bass, his long hair and magic fingers flying in passionate fury. Verdine’s musical career started back in high school. His father, Dr. Verdine White Sr., was encouraging him to follow in his footsteps and take up medicine, but it was not to be. Verdine tells his musical origin story on his website as follows:
"The instrument (string bass) was standing alone in the corner of the orchestra class....tall, mysterious and majestic, so different from all the others, it called me and the love affair began."
It didn’t stop there. He was so good that he played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for several years while hitting jazz clubs all over the area, perfecting his style on Fender electric guitars. When his brother Maurice, the drummer for Ramsey Lewis’s Trio, decided to start a band in 1969, Verdine joined him. Earth, Wind and Fire was born.
Now, after thirty five years, six Grammy Awards and seventeen nominations, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, he’s still going strong, playing solo and with many others. And through it all, he’s been married to a former Ikette, Shelly (Michelle) Clark.
Still on the road with his band and the band Chicago, Verdine will be in the neighborhood in late August, playing in Aurora at their Riveredge Park. Welcome home and happy birthday, Verdine.
What do you get when you subtract 1935 from 2015? 80.
What do you get when you add 50 to 30? You get 80.
What do 3, 7, 33, 1, 13, 12, 9, 2 add up to? Why 80 of course.
And why is 80 such an important number?
Because this year it is the magical number that belongs to one of the best and most well rounded of Chicago jazz men, Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis. He just turned 80 last month on May 27th.
The second equation represents his big hit "The In Crowd," released on July 31, 1965, when he was 30 years old, and this summer it is marking its 50th anniversary.
The last numerical representation is for three gold records, seven Grammys, thirty three slots on the Billboard 200 chart, one syndicated radio show, thirteen Legends of Jazz PBS television shows, twelve years as on-air host at WNUA, nine years on BET Television hosting and 2 years teaching at Roosevelt University.
And last, Ramsey has over 80 albums stretching from vinyl to CD and back again.
What makes him so important to Chicago jazz fans? Because he got famous and never left us. He might play all over the world, but he lives with us. As artistic director at Ravinia, teacher at Roosevelt University and on air radio host on WNUA, he contributed to our jazz life every day for the last 30 years.
From 1997 to 2009, he talked to us every weekday morning. The show became part of Broadcast Architecture's Smooth Jazz Network, simulcasting on other smooth jazz stations across the country until the unfortunate cancellation in May, 2009, when WNUA switched over to a Spanish format. For those of you listening that day, you will remember that his was the last smooth jazz voice we heard before a painful pause of dead air which was followed by mariachi music.
Happy Birthday Ramsey, Happy Anniversary to the In Crowd and thank you so much.
Stevie Wonder. How can you write a short piece about Stevie Wonder? His name says it all; he is a musical wonder. From his days at Motown as an 11 year old prodigy to headlining the Calgary Stampede this summer, Stevland Hardaway Morris, does it all. Composing music and lyrics, singing, producing and playing a host of instruments, there doesn’t seem to be enough time in any day for all that he has accomplished.
Twenty five Grammy Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Grammy is just the start. He has over two dozen albums with many of them gone Platinum.
His songs are loved worldwide. Most recently, the Royal Artillery Band played "Isn’t She Lovely" to announce and celebrate the birth of Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, the newest heir to the throne of England.
Stevie Wonder turned 65 on May 13. So, I will stop here and say, Happy Birthday, Stevie. You are the sunshine in our lives.
To honor Stevie's milestone birthday, veteran keyboardist Bob Baldwin has a new CD, Mellowonder / Songs in the Key of Stevie, coming out June 16. About it Bob says, "As a budding young musician and keyboardist, the key albums that impacted me the most were Innervisions, Fulfilingness First Finale, Music of My Mind and Talking Book." He continues, "Those projects had a warmth that was unexplainable and, as a result, those four projects are very unique to his entire catalogue, so I wanted to create my own vibe that spoke to his use of the keyboard as an arranging tool which, of course, is miles ahead these days due to the application of digital technology."
Mindi Abair would be a centerpiece of one heck of a fantasy band
In the days of the Big Bands, some of the organizations had virtual revolving doors when it came to the people who played together. Creative minds and bold personalities often clashed, sometimes mixing into a soup of anger and resentment. People walked away, sulked and then found other venues for their talents. Today, we don’t have jazz bands of such size and scale, but if we did, I have a secret weapon to bring such an organization together in harmony, on stage and off.
I’d start with the vibrant Chick Corea on keyboards, paired up with Lionel Richie and Brian McKnight. Lionel would write the songs and share the vocalist spot with two incomparable ladies, Patti Labelle and Gladys Knight. Brian could play any of the eight instruments that he has mastered, but I think I would ask him to be the drummer when he wasn’t collaborating with Chick and Lionel. The sax section would be Kenny G and Mindi Abair. The guitars would be Marc Antoine and Ken Navarro with Christian McBride on bass. I’d finish off my band with Walter Beasley on clarinet and Ramsey Lewis on the Steinway grand piano.
And why would I put all these folks together? Because they are all Geminis, with birthdays starting on the 23rd of May and running to the 20th of June.
According to the traits ascribed to Geminis, it would work perfectly because they are adaptable and versatile, have a strong sense of self, are lifelong learners, great communicators and team players, up for anything. They thrive in social situations. They are big picture folks who don’t get sidetracked, and they are excellent multi-taskers.
So, as soon as I can get their agents and promoters out of the way (and after I win a few million in a lottery) I’m going to hit the road with my experiment, the Gemini Jazz Band. Tickets anyone?
Bright skies and warmer weather bring something called Spring Fever. It’s a condition of the mind which causes you to crave moonlight walks, warm embraces, soft songs and a deep gaze into someone’s eyes. This malady can be traced way back, but I want to take you back to a jazzy origin.
When the first Grammy awards were held in 1959, one of the first songs to be nominated was Peggy Lee’s cover of Little Willie John’s song "Fever." It was placed in the categories of Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Female Vocal Performance.
Miss Peggy was the female version of cool. Blonde, with a beauty mark near her mouth, her elegant wardrobe and flawless makeup exuded sophistication. At the beginning of "Fever," her fingers snap, setting the tempo that leads into one of the best introductory bass licks ever. The trumpet solo adds heat to her sexy low growl. In the middle of the song, there are history stanzas about two famous couples, Romeo and Juliet done in Elizabethan rhyme, Captain Smith and Pocahontas, complete with a double entendre of “Daddy-O, don’t you dare” and a scientific nod to temperature. It’s all Miss Peggy. She wrote those stanzas to replace ones that she didn’t think fit her style and image from the original song. Her version has been covered by Elvis, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Guy, Michael Buble, Madonna and Beyonce.
Born in North Dakota in 1920, Norma Delores Engstrom was half Norwegian and half Swedish. She was renamed by the announcer when she sang live for a Fargo radio broadcast during her high school years. At 17, she left home, headed for California. While singing in a Palm Beach Hotel, she was offered a job at the Buttery Room in the Ambassador East Hotel, here in Chicago. That’s where she was seen by Benny Goodman and became his band singer for two year, until she married band guitarist Dave Bourbon. Since band rules said no married couples, they both quit.
But she didn’t stop performing because of marriage. Her solo career soared. She even worked to make Disney sexy. She was the motivating force behind the movie Lady and the Tramp. She voiced Darling, the wife, Peg, the dog and the two Siamese cats, Si and Am. She co-wrote lyrics for the five of the six songs in the movie. She performed "La La Lu," "He’s a Tramp" and "The Siamese Cat Song," where she recorded two tracks to perform both cat voices.
Through her sixty year career and four husbands, she kept the heat turned up. Working on writing, acting and performing through the late 1990s, she even inspired the Muppets' brassy, bossy Miss Piggy. Champagne and chocolate anyone?
. . . in my car. This is the no-brainer for everyone. Unless you are sitting in the back seat being chauffeured, radio is your best companion. My hubby says if the only thing that was wrong with the car was the radio, I would park the car and take the bus. He’s right.
. . . at the gym. I love to have music as a motivator. Doing the exercises to the beat helps keep me coordinated and makes the workout seem easier.
. . . at my desk. I need to block out the negative noise of the workplace. I need to make the time warp into a smooth groove so that the day will pass quickly and efficiently.
. . . on my headboard. I set my clock to wake me with smooth jazz. Buzzers make me think I’m in the middle of a grammar school fire drill. Talk will incorporate itself into my dreams and often convert them to nightmares. Classical will lull me back to sleep and rock will give me heartburn before I get my breakfast.
. . . doing housework. I hate washing dishes and vacuuming floors, but with smooth jazz I get those chores done without the angst.
. . . gardening. If I have to be pulling weeds and battling insects, I need smooth jazz to make it enjoyable.
. . . bathing. Candles, bubbles (in the tub and in a glass) and smooth jazz are the perfect end to any day.
. . . Where do you use smooth jazz? Comment below or add it to our Facebook page!
Our Smooth Video of the Day: About twenty years ago a listener sent WNUA a CD he made. He titled it Hot Tub Jazz. "Perfect relaxation music for when I'm in the hot tub," was how he described it. This was the first track on the CD.
If you have eggs and something has happened to your hen, you put them in an incubator and it provides the warmth and security to let them hatch. If you have an idea for a business, there are places set up called incubators where you go to learn the craft of doing business and take your idea from a germ to, hopefully, the next Microsoft.
So what do you do when you want a smooth jazz artist? Is there a place where you can incubate such a thing? Absolutely. One place is in the backup band of the rocker turned crooner, Rod Stewart.
How can that be? What’s he got to do with smooth jazz?
Rod’s discography is a who’s who of musicians, good and great, from a wide variety of genres. Reading the personnel list on Rod’s albums, you might be overwhelmed. From both sides of the Atlantic, the best and brightest have participated in his touring bands and recording sessions. For example, two of my favorite artists were part of the machine that was Rod Stewart’s backup crew.
First, the late Jeff Golub was his guitar player for many years before going out on his own into the contemporary jazz world. Jeff started with Rod in 1988, but if you want to be sure you are hearing him play with Rod, you have to go to the album released in 1991 called "Vagabond Heart." On four of the thirteen songs, Jeff is credited as a vocalist, but I am sure that he had his guitar in his hands too. Finally, in 1995, on the "A Spanner in the Works" album, Jeff is credited as a guitarist. Actually, he had left Rod in 1994 to led his own band called Avenue Blue but came back to do the recording with Rod.
Second, there’s Rick Braun, trumpeter extraordinaire, playing behind Rod on tour and several recordings. He first shows up in 1998 on the CD called "When We Were New Boys," the first actual CD released by Rod and Warner Brothers Music, but it’s no secret that he was playing in the band well before that. Rick also branched out with Jeff Golub in Avenue Blue, which served as another incubator of smooth jazz performers like Boney James, Chris Botti and Dave Koz.
However, if you see Bobby Caldwell as one of the band members, don’t get excited. He is not the smooth jazz crooner of "What You Won’t Do For Love" fame, but a hard rocking drummer who was one of the founders of the rock band Iron Butterfly. Which brings up another connection between smooth jazz and rock. Iron Butterfly’s biggest song was called "In-A-Gada-Da-Vida." According to Herbie Hancock in his new book Possibilities, Herbie writes, “Rumor had it that the song was actually titled ‘In the Garden of Eden,' but the singer was drunk and slurred the words.” Herbie, who shared management and the stage with them in the early 1970’s, should know.
With Rod Stewart's having turned 70 years old on January 10, all I want to say is Happy Birthday and Thank You for being the place where some of my favorite smooth jazz artists were allowed to hone their craft and develop their sounds. And Rod, you’re not too shabby yourself.