A Tribute for Gil Evans on His 100th Birthday

By WGBH Jazz   |   Monday, May 14, 2012
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May 14, 2012


Gil Evans at the office studio of Artists House on West 37th St. in New York City. Photo by Carol Friedman, 1978.

BOSTON — Sunday marked the 100th birthday of the late jazz legend Gil Evans. He is best known for his compositions and arrangements, and worked with Miles Davis on several albums for Columbia Records in the 1940s and 50s.
As a young man growing up in California, Evans said it was radio broadcasts of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and the Casa Loma Band that inspired him to become a musician. With no means for real music training, Evans depended on informal piano lessons from friends and taught himself by copying what he gleaned from record albums.
WGBH host Steve Schwartz, on his Friday night jazz show, talked about Evans' gift for unusual instrumentation and arrangement.
“He used a lot of low brass in his arrangments: tuba and French horn, bass clarinets and oboe and baritone saxophone, English horns and the like, in addition to the standard saxophones, trumpets and trombones. But he got that beautiful color and texture from using those [additional] instruments,” Schwartz said.

The Gil Evans Orchestra will celebrate the legacy of its namesake this May 21 with a centennial celebration in New York City. Paul Shaffer will emcee the event at the Highline Ballroom, with appearances by Jimmy Cobb, Airto Moreira, Lenny White, Will Lee, John Simon and Matthew Garrison.
WGBH Radio continues its tribute to Evans as WGBH jazz host Eric Jackson devotes his entire Monday night broadcast to the work of Evans and Miles Davis, with songs from the Columbia albums the collaborated on: Birth of the Cool [1957], Miles Ahead [1957], Porgy and Bess [1958] and Sketches of Spain [1960].
Listen to Dee Dee Bridgwater's tribute to Evans on her show Jazzset, and listen to WGBH Jazz hosts Steve Schwartz and Eric Jackson celebrate his centennial on 89.7 FM.

Eric Jackson: A Tribute to Gil Evans

Jazz With Steve Schwartz: Gil Evans Centennial

Q & A with Scott Alarik on Pete Seeger

By WGBH News   |   Wednesday, May 2, 2012
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May 3, 2012


Pete Seeger, center, joins Occupy Wall Street in New York on Friday, Oct. 21, 2011. Protesters sang his songs on the march and in Columbus Circle he sang his songs with accompaniment from other musicians, notably his grandson, Tao Rodríguez-Seeger, far left. (AP Photo/Stephanie Keith)

BOSTON — May 3 is the birthday of an extraordinary American artist. Pete Seeger was born in 1919, and he turns 93 this year. WGBH's Bob Seay spoke with folk music writer Scott Alarik about Pete Seeger and his relationship to Boston and Cambridge, part of the big folk music revolution in the 1960s.  

SEAY: Tell us about Pete Seeger and Boston and Cambridge.

ALARIK: I can tell you from interviewing [Seeger] for many years for the Boston Globe that he had a real soft spot for Boston and Cambridge. He really loved this town and the people in it, and he loved to perform here. He went to Harvard to study journalism, but then the music just swept him away. He told me his aunt misguidedly offered him $5 to sing at her school and he walked back to Harvard thinking, "Why am I going to Harvard when I can make $5 going to my aunt's school and singing folk songs?" Then next thing he found out he could make $10 some places, and the music just drew him away. But he always had a great respect for the cultural curiosity of the Boston–Cambridge area, and how open-minded people are, and how curious they are, how willing to hear something new. It's an important part of who Pete is, the way he values people who are just willing to try something new.

SEAY: When I think of Pete Seeger, I think of singing along.

ALARIK: Pete Seeger likes to turn performances into a show where he's not performing at an audience but with them. I think with Pete, that gets to something very central about who he is and his tremendous importance as a modern music performer. Because Pete believed not only that these folk songs are common possessions, and he gets on stage and he wants to return them to their rightful owners, but also he believes that sharing music in a communal way is a powerful way for us to realize (as President Obama loves to say) that what unites us is much more important than the things that separate us.

SEAY: Now what about Pete Seeger in his later years. Here's a performer that keeps performing right into his 90s.  

ALARIK: Yeah, he's indefatigable. He's made a career out of just being himself, and it's a lot easier to keep going when you're just being yourself all the time. It's like I remember when people would ask the great comedian George Burns in his 90s if he planned to retire. He would look at them quizzically and say, "Retire from what?" You know, because this was just his life. And Pete — I think this is one of the great rewards of a commitment to this kind of authenticity. That Pete just kept being Pete. Everybody gets to know him now. He's sung "This Land Is Your Land" at the inauguration of the first African American president, and he's become the embodiment of the great tradition of folk music, and he gets to just be who he is and doing what he's always done.  I doubt that Pete sees much different about what he is doing in his 90s than what he was doing in his 40s.  

SEAY: Tell us about the recording that you have of Pete Seeger.

ALARIK: In the early '90s, Pete wanted to do a concert showing his techniques of group singing: how he brought people together and how he got people singing. He wanted it basically for other performers to be able to use all of his tricks. He recorded it at the Sanders Theatre in Cambridge in 1992. There is a version of him singing his own "If I Had a Hammer" with the audience in full swing, and it is just Pete at his Pete-i-est.

Scott Alarik is a folk music writer and author of Revival: A Folk Music Novel. This interview has been condensed and edited.

About the Authors
The WGBH News team comprises the WGBH radio newsroom, The Callie Crossley Show, The Emily Rooney Show and WGBH Channel 2 reporters and producers from Greater Boston and Basic Black. 


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