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Bass Legend Reggie Workman at Harlem Speaks Jan. 25, 2007 6:30 PM

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The Jazz Museum in Harlem
104 East 126th Street
New York, NY 10035
212 348-8300

Bass Legend Reggie Workman at Harlem Speaks

Reggie Workman, Bassist Jan. 25, 2007
George Avakian, Producer Feb. 8, 2007
Bill Hughes, Trombonist Feb. 22, 2007

Reggie Workman, Harlem Speaks guest on January 25, 2007 has long been one of the most technically gifted of all bassists, a brilliant player whose versatile style fits into all jazz settings. He played piano, tuba, and euphonium early on but settled on bass in the mid- '50s. After working regularly with Gigi Gryce (1958), Red Garland, and Roy Haynes, he was a member of the John Coltrane Quartet for much of 1961, participating in several important recordings as well as touring. One of their European television broadcasts (with added guest Eric Dolphy) is currently available on video (The Coltrane Legacy). After Jimmy Garrison took his place with Coltrane, Workman became a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (1962-1964) and was in the groups of Yusef Lateef (1964-65), Herbie Mann, and Thelonious Monk (1967).

Since that time, Workman has been both an educator, most readily associated with The New School, while also serving on the faculty of The University of Michigan, and a working musician, and has played with numerous legendary jazz musicians including Max Roach, Art Farmer, Mal Waldron, David Murray, Sam Rivers, and Andrew Hill. In the 1980s, Workman began leading his own group, the Reggie Workman Ensemble. He also began a collaboration with pianist Marilyn Crispell that lasted into the next decade. During the '90s, Workman was not only active with his own ensemble, but also in Trio Three, with Andrew Cyrille and Oliver Lake, and Reggie Workman's Grooveship and Extravaganza.

In recognition of Reggie Workman's international performances and recordings spanning over 40 years, he was named a Living Legend by the African-American Historical and Cultural Museum in his hometown of Philadelphia; he is also a recipient of the Eubie Blake Award.

On February 8, 2007, Harlem Speaks welcomes legendary producer George Avakian. His contributions to jazz have been huge through the years. A jazz critic as early as 1937, Avakian wrote about jazz for Mademoiselle and Pic during 1946-48, helped revise Charles Delauney's famous Hot Discography when it was first published in the U.S. in 1948 and contributed to both DownBeat and Metronome. He pioneered both reissues (discovering previously unissued Armstrong items from the 1920's) and put together one of the first jazz albums (Chicago Jazz) for Decca in 1940. After World War II, he began producing jazz records for Columbia, becoming quite influential in the 1950s when he also ran the popular music department. Avakian discovered many artists, including Johnny Mathis. He worked closely with Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, and Miles Davis, and he frequently penned insightful liner notes. After leaving Columbia in 1958, Avakian worked for World Pacific, Warner Bros. and RCA, freelanced with many other labels, was an important supporter of the Charles Lloyd Quartet and recently celebrated over 60 years in the jazz business.

Trombonist Bill Hughes, or “Mr. B" as he's affectionately called by the younger membe rs, joined the Count Basie Orchestra in September, 1953 on a recommendation by the legendary saxophonist/flautist Frank Wess. Hughes will be the guest of Harlem Speaks on February 22, 2007. A 1952 product of Howard University School of Pharmacy and self- taught trombonist, Hughes had previously performed with Wess in variously sized groups and in a house band Wess led at the world famous Howard Theater in Washington, DC. It was at that same time Bill was invited to join the Duke Ellington Orchestra but chose Basie where he would be more comfortable with friends like Frank, Eddie Jones and Benny Powell.

Bill played the tenor trombone in a three-man section, which included Henry Coker and Benny. This section was at one time acclaimed as the best trombone section in jazz and their names appeared in several polls then popular in jazz magazines. During this period Bill traveled the world with Basie, including the very first trip to Europe for the orchestra. It was also during this time period Basie was to record several of his timeless hits including “Shiny Stockings", “Corner Pocket" and the famous rendition of the classic “April In Paris." From September 1953 until September of 1957 Bill performed continuously with The Count Basie Orchestra. He took a 6 year break from touring to help raise his family and returned to the road in July 1963 where he has since remained. He took over the directorship of the ensemble in 2004.

Violinist Billy Bang returned from a five-week trip to Vietnam to be the guest of Harlem Speaks on January 11, 2007.

Bang was suffering from serious jet lag, but persevered with humor and grace through the two hour discussion.

He explained that although he was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1947, his family moved to Harlem while he was still a baby. While going to school at JHS 106 he was nicknamed Billy Bang after a cartoon character, and over his initial protests, it stuck. His given name is William Vincent Walker. Around the same time, his primary interest turned to music, and he took up the violin, switching to percussion in the early '60s when he became captivated by Afro-Cuban rhythms.

One interesting note made by Bang was that he was given the violin because of how smart he was--the brighter students were routinely tracked to play European classical music.

While attending a Massachusetts prep school under full scholarship, earned because of his high I.Q., he met and began playing with fellow-student, folk-singer Arlo Guthrie. Drafted into the army following graduation, Bang was sent to Vietnam, a painful experience that profoundly affected his life. Returning home and radicalized, Billy became active in the anti-war movement, and by the late '60s had returned to music.

But how he came back to music was fascinating: “Since I knew about weaponry, I was a favorite of some of the militants. One day we went into a pawn shop to purchase some weapons. I heard a sound, like wind blowing. I looked up and saw a violin. I heard the sounds several more times. No one else seemed to hear this! Although my comrades thought I was crazy, I bought the violin."

He loved the music and approach of Eric Dolphy, and began trying to emulate his intervals and manner of breathing, but on the violin. He attended Queens College on the G.I. Bill, and studied privately with renowned violinist Leroy Jenkins. He also became a key member of the New York avant-garde scene of the '70s. He also recalled practicing in Rucker Park and playing at Minisink in Harlem.

Forming his own group, The Survival Ensemble, and working with artists like David Murray, Frank Lowe, William Parker and the legendary Sam Rivers, Bang began to reach an international audience in 1977 with the String Trio, remaining with the cooperative ensemble for nine years. In 1982 began a ten-year association with the cosmic bandleader Sun Ra, concluding with a 1992 quartet recording for Soul Note, “A Tribute to Stuff Smith," dedicated to the father of the jazz violin.

He discussed other jazz violin greats such as Smith, Stephane Grappelli, and Ray Nance, of whom, Bang admitted, he was jealous of his incredibly beautiful sound and ability to double on the trumpet!

Summoning up the energy for an impromptu performance on a violin brought by one of the guests, Bang closed with an unorthodox and delicate interpretation of a Duke Ellington song, bringing a hush of rapt attention and appreciation from all present.

This story appears courtesy of Jim Eigo, Jazz Promo Services.
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