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An Interview with Grace Kelly

23 Aug

This morning I had the opportunity to speak with 19-year-old jazz saxophonist Grace Kelly by phone. Grace has won numerous awards and released several albums already, as well as being a very talented vocalist, pianist and composer.

Grace will be coming to Seattle for the first time, performing at Tula’s for two nights as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival in November.

In this audio blog, Grace discusses how she went from being a clarinet player at 10 years old to having her first album recorded at age 12, being mentored and collaborating with the likes of Lee Konitz, Harry Connick Jr., Cedar Walton, and Wynton Marsalis, and being treated like a rock star in Montreal.

She also discusses her work and relationship with Phil Woods and being given his legendary hat, giving advice to young fans, and some surprises she has learned along the way.


“I still get butterflies when meeting the people who inspire me, and I think that is the way it is going to be for the rest of my life.”

An interview with Anton Schwartz

18 Aug

Photo by Wade Lagrone

I had the opportunity this week to speak by phone with tenor saxophonist Anton Schwartz.

Anton recently moved to the Seattle area. I had the chance to ask him about what brought him to the Puget Sound, and how he has networked himself into the local jazz scene so far.

We also talked about the differences between a jazz scene like Seattle versus the scene in New York, his recent project with vocalist Ed Reed, being in a high school band with Larry Goldings and Peter Bernstein, and leaving the world of artificial intelligence.

Click here to listen to this audio blog.

“(Artificial intelligence) just seemed like the funnest thing to do at the time…but it just wasn’t really the life I wanted to lead. When I decided to quit that, I didn’t actually know that I was going to do music instead. That just kind of became apparent over the course of time.”

A Love Letter to New Orleans – An interview with Irvin Mayfield

Five reasons why Memphis should get props for the blues

27 Jun

Another great conversation between KPLU’s Kirsten Kendrick and Nick Morrison. Enjoy!

Five reasons why Memphis should get props for the blues

By Kirsten Kendrick and Nick Morrison

A blues joint on Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn. Bo Nash / Flickr


Memphis, Tenn., is known as the birthplace of rock ‘n roll. But KPLU’s Nick Morrison says it should also be known for the blues.

Nick gives five examples of how Memphis and its neighbor, West Memphis, Ark., rank right up there with the Mississippi Delta and Chicago when it comes to launching the careers of influential blues artists.

I always learn a lot when Nick and I talk about the blues. There is so much history and so much good music.

A tale of two cities and two radio stations

This time around, I learned that there are two radio stations where many blues legends got their starts. One is KWEM in West Memphis, Arkansas. That’s where Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson II had radio shows.

Nick says B.B. King got his first exposure to a broad public on Sonny Boy Williamson’s show on KWEM. He later went to have his own show on the Memphis station WDIA (and that’s where Riley B. King became B.B. King).

Five songs that highlight Memphis blues

Below are five songs that Nick chose to highlight the impact Memphis and West Memphis had on the blues. My two favorites on the list are from Sonny Boy Williamson and B.B. King.

Williamson’s “Mighty Long Time” is very sparse (a sorrowful voice, harmonica and bass played by mouth), but it’s very powerful. It evoked some strong emotions in me – see what it does for you. And, you’ll be amazed by the high-pitched voice of a young B.B. King in “Crying Won’t Help You.”


  • Cannon’s Jug Stompers – Album: Complete Works, 1927-1930. Song: Prison Wall Blues
  • Sleepy John Estes – Album: I Ain’t Gonna Be Worried No More 1929-1941. Song: Milk Cow Blues
  • Sonny Boy Williamson II – Album: King Biscuit Time. Song: Mighty Long Time
  • Howlin’ Wolf – Album: Memphis Days: Definitive Edition, Vol. 1. Song: How Many More Years
  • B.B. King – Album: Original Greatest Hits. Song: Crying Won’t Help You

For links to the music and history of the artists, go to Nick’s blog post on A Blog Supreme/NPR Jazz.

If you love the blues, be sure to check out the All Blues show with your host John Kessler every Saturday and Sunday night from 6 p.m. to midnight on 88.5 KPLU – and streaming live at

A Love Letter to New Orleans – An interview with Irvin Mayfield

9 May

I spoke by phone today with New Orleans trumpeter and educator Irvin Mayfield about his beautiful new book, “A Love Letter To New Orleans”.

Mr. Mayfield talks about the beauty of being influenced by the film Mo Better Blues, musical and cultural similarities between NOLA and places like Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, and the beauty of New Orleans and the people of the city.

Click below to listen to the interview, and find a link at the bottom of the page to purchase the book.


About the author

Irvin Mayfield was born and raised in New Orleans. In keeping with the continuing Jazz legacy of New Orleans, Mayfield began studying trumpet at the young age of 9, created and led his first brass band by the age of 12 and recorded his first record at 20. With 15 albums to his credit, Mayfield is a Grammy Award and Latin Billboard Award winning artist. He currently is a professor at the University of New Orleans where he also serves as Director of the New Orleans Jazz Institute. Mayfield is the founding Artistic Director of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and currently serves as the Artistic Director of Jazz for the Minnesota Orchestra. Mayfield was nominated to the National Council on the Arts by President George W. Bush and was subsequently appointed to the post by President Barack Obama. Mayfield resides in New Orleans and is the proud father of two sons, Irvin III, and Richard.


Joe Lovano Us Five – Taking Bird to new heights

7 May

Joe Lovano paid us a visit in our KPLU performance studio on April 29th. Check out the audio, photo, and video below!

Joe Lovano Us Five – Taking Bird to new heights

By Justin Steyer, Abe Beeson and Nick Francis


Live sessions in the KPLU Performance Studio are always fun.  However, when saxophonist, Joe Lovano, stopped by with his group, Us Five, it was more than fun.  It was also an honor.

New York Times jazz critic, Ben Ratliff, put it very succinctly:

“It’s fair to say that (Lovano’s) one of the greatest musicians in jazz history.”

Usually in our studio sessions we begin with a song from the visiting artist, chat for a moment, hear another song, chat again, hear another song and that’s that.  Joe, though, wanted to go about it a bit differently….a few introductory remarks and then an uninterrupted four-song mini-set of Charlie Parker compositions (reflecting the content of his current tour and his latest CD, Bird Songs), so that’s the way we rolled.

As far as we’re concerned, Joe Lovano can do it any way he wants to. With Us Five, Bird lives…and soars to new heights.

The Band:

  • Joe Lovano: Saxophone
  • James Weideman: Piano
  • Peter Slavov: Bass
  • Otis Brown III: Drums
  • Francisco Mela: Drums


  1. Yardbird Suite
  2. Koko
  3. Donna Lee
  4. Barbados

In the studio with Kurt Elling – The complete jazz singer

22 Apr

Kurt Elling stopped by our performance studio on April 15th. Check out the audio and video from the performance below.

In the studio with Kurt Elling – The complete jazz singer

Kurt Elling performing live in the KPLU Seattle studios on April 15, 2011. Justin Steyer / KPLU


Some jazz singers excel at singing standards. Others excel at scat-singing or vocalese (writing lyrics for instrumental improvisations and singing them). However, Grammy award-winning vocalist Kurt Elling can do it all.

He easily proved it in front of a small studio audience of Leadership Circle members on April 15th with along with two long-time musical colleagues; pianist, Laurence Hobgood, and guitarist, John McLean.

The first song of the day, Samurai Cowboy, is Kurt’s vocalese reworking of a composition by Marc Johnson called Samurai Hee-Haw (See video below).

He followed that with Estate, featuring lyrics by one of Elling’s major inspirations (and one of the originators of vocalese), Jon Hendricks.

To wrap things up, Kurt, John and Laurence launched into a good, old-fashioned jam with Kurt showing his mastery of scat singing.

Between songs, Kurt talked about his youth as a singer in his father’s church choirs and, more recently, the benefits of working with producer extraordinaire, Don Was, on Elling’s latest CD, The Gate.

John Pizzarelli’s box lunch serenade

14 Mar

In addition to being a popular jazz host on KPLU, Dick Stein also has a weekly conversation about food with Seattle Times food blogger Nancy Leson.

In addition to being a popular jazz musician, John Pizzarelli also loves food.

The three met up after Pizzarelli performed live in KPLU’s performance studio. Below highlights part 1 of 2 of their discussion.

By Dick Stein and Nancy Leson


The only difference between John Pizzarelli and a real ham is…

A real ham can be cured.  And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

After a tuneful 20 minute live studio session with Abe Beeson last week, the singer, guitarist and son of famed rhythm guitar master Bucky Pizzarelli joined us for a box lunch in the KPLU offices.

Of course he brought his guitar and serenaded us with music from the Great American Songbook and his own compositions — including his hilarious Garden State anthem I Love Jersey Best.

Knowing that Nancy was the number one Pizzarelli fangirl I made sure to alert her to this appearance.  What I hadn’t realized was that she and he had been corresponding for some time about food and cooking.

After lunch she, John and I stepped into a studio and recorded this Food for Thought.  We had so much fun  that I’ve made it into a two-parter.

I hope that listening,  you’ll feel yourself in the room with us as we all have great time chatting about food and music — but of course, mostly food.

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