Dan Morgenstern

NEA Jazz Master
Dan Morgenstern
Photo by Tom Pich

Transcript of conversation with Dan Morgenstern

Jo Reed:  That was flutist, Hubert Laws. Hubert was named a 2011 NEA Jazz Master, which is the highest honor that our nation bestows on jazz artists. Welcome to Art Works,  the program that goes behind the scenes with some of the nations great artists to explore how art works.  I'm your host, Josephine Reed.

On January 11, 2011, the 29th class of NEA Jazz Masters will be given their awards at a ceremony and rocking concert that will take place at Jazz at Lincoln Center. In case you missed the announcement, Hubert Laws will be joined by saxophonist, David Liebman; Composer and arranger, Johnny Mandel; Producer Orrin Keepnews and The Marsalis Family. Today, we're going to take a look at each of the Jazz Masters' contribution to this uniquely American Art form, and who better to talk about jazz masters than a Jazz Master.  In this case, Mr. Dan Morgenstern. Dan is a  gammy award winning  jazz historian, author, editor, and educator who has been is the Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University since 1976. Dan is the recipient of the 2007 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy.  But his relationship with Jazz masters goes back much further than 2007.

Dan Morgenstern:  I was kind of in on the ground floor, insofar as I was-- I'm the NEA Jazz Panel, when it was decided to start the, the Jazz Masters Award, and I remember the first year, it was Roy Eldridge, and Dizzy Gillespie, and Sun Ra, and it was a very, very satisfying thing to- to do for the United States, to officially recognize this great music, and to honor musicians, and also in some cases, give them some you know, w- welcome cash as well.  Of course the- the program has grown from there, so many great people have been honored.

Josephine Reed: Well let's talk about the 2010 class of Jazz Masters, and why don't we begin with David Liebman?   David plays practically any style of jazz, and his instruments are the tenor and soprano sax.

Dan Morgenstern:  He is equally adept at both of them. He is of course maybe best known to the general public for his association with Miles Davis, you know, working with Miles is always this kind of imprimatur, you know, and that- that stays with you. But David is a very original, very imaginative musician, and as you say, no, he- he is at home in many styles, but he's really sort of always on the cusp. He's- he's definitely a contemporary player, and he is also a great educator, he is wonderful with young people. He is very articulate, and currently working on his autobiography. That book should be something very interesting. Dave has been all over the world, and has a very fine output of recordings, and he's a major figure, and he's really a very original stylist on both horns, both tenor and soprano.

Josephine Reed: And he also founded-- we mentioned him as a jazz educator. He's the founder of the International Association of Schools of Jazz.

Dan Morgenstern: Right.

Josephine Reed: Yeah.

 Dan Morgenstern: And that is the-- that is significant even though great jazz musicians are now you know, originate in other countries, America is still the beacon, and to have somebody like Dave going to various countries and being active on the educational front is a very- a very important thing to do.

Josephine Reed: We're going to hear a piece by Dave Liebman, called, "There Will Never Be Another You."  <playing music track>

Josephine Reed: Dan, what are we listening to?

Dan Morgenstern: There Will Never Be Another You, is of course a standard. It's part of what we call the Great American Songbook, and it has been interpreted by oh, many people, but what Dave was doing there was very original, and he is working, playing his tenor saxophone, which, it's got a great sound there, with just bass and drums which is demanding. That's something that Sonny Rawlins really pioneered, and it's demanding because you don't have the kind of harmonic bed, you know, that a pianist who accompanies you, or a guitarist can furnish, so you have to have very good ears to stay in the correct harmonic climate there, and of course Dave does that. And he's got a wonderful kind of vocal quality on his horn, and great range, very expressive, and also with a constant pulse, which is something that we expect from jazz.

Josephine Reed: You know, and it's easy to see, Dan, why you've won seven Grammy awards for your liner notes.

Dan Morgenstern: Well thank you.

Josephine Reed: You're welcome.

Dan Morgenstern: Actually- actually, it's eight.

Josephine Reed: Eight, excuse me. I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to take one away.

Dan Morgenstern: No, but that's the database is not up to date, no, but I got one- I got one at last year's Grammys I got one, yeah, yeah.

Josephine Reed: Johnny Mandel is another winner. He's a composer and arranger. And he is-- he has worked with everyone in every field in jazz, in pop, in film music. The breadth of his work is-- it's really impossible to exaggerate it.

Dan Morgenstern: Yeah, well Johnny is- is one of the, you know, one of the really great composer-arrangers, I think, a lot of people will know him, if- if for nothing else, from "The Shadow Of Your Smile," which was the theme from The Sandpiper, before somebody put lyrics to it. One of Johnny's great film scores he is an outstanding example of how you can apply compositional skills to jazz. I mean, he's written t- tunes like Shadow Of Your Smile, which have become standard, but he started out actually, playing an unusual instrument, which was like a valve bass trombone, and played in some big bands as a young man, and including Count Basie, and he wrote a lot of stuff for Basie, some great things for Basie, and even though he made a career in Hollywood, in writing for films and television, so on, he always remained true to his heart, which is really in jazz, and he's a- he's a wonderful, wonderful writer. His arrangements are, you know, you can always tell that it's Johnny, you know.

Josephine Reed: Well we're going to hear one of his arrangements now. This is, actually, "Let's Fall In Love," - the singer, Frank Sinatra.

<playing music track>

Dan Morgenstern: We heard the verse, which is unusual. You know, most popular songs have something called a verse, that is to say, popular songs in the Great American Songbook tradition. Today, who knows from verses, you know, but what we heard there was- was the verse, which is seldom heard, but Sinatra likes to do verses, and what you heard there was great background that Johnny Mandel created for him. The thing about writing for singers is that you don't want to dictate, you want to enhance and that's what Johnny was doing there and you can tell from the sound of the orchestra, you know, his mastery as an, as an orchestrator. And it's interesting to hear him writing for Sinatra. Of course we know about Nelson Riddle who was writing for Frank and this is different. And just as great.

Josephine Reed: And when you listen to it, you can tell that it's Johnny Mandel who's done the arranging?

Dan Morgenstern: Yes he has, he has a characteristic way of phrasing for a band. You know it's just like- it's just like a great instrumentalist who has his own way of phrasing and his own sound so great arrangers have that same kind of stamp that identifies their work.

Josephine Reed: Another Jazz Master is flutist Hubert Laws. And he has a background in classical music. He's played with the New York Phil and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestras. But he is a great, great jazz player.  You really don't hear jazz and flute together that often. It's not an instrument one thinks of when one thinks of jazz.

Dan Morgenstern: Flute was a relatively late arrival in jazz. There were some isolated examples … the great drummer Chick Webb. Chick had a saxophonist in his band who doubled flute and they had a little group of you know they had these bands within the bands like the Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet, and Artie Shaw's Gramercy Five and so on. And Chick Webb had a group called Chick Webb and His Little Chicks and that was a combination of clarinet and flute. That was very interesting, but that was very unusual and the flute did not really come out into jazz until the '50s. The pioneer was Jazz Master Frank Wess who was with Count Basie and played tenor but also doubled on flute, and really put the flute on the jazz map. Now Hubert Laws, Hubert came along and came along with his own sound and his own facility on the instrument which is very impressive, and also with a solid background in classical music and Hubert is a wonderful player with a- with a beautiful sound on that instrument.

Josephine Reed: Here's an excerpt from Hubert Laws playing "Amazing Grace".   <music>

What a sound that is.

Dan Morgenstern: That's a beautiful warm sound and what Hubert Laws is playing there is an alto flute. The flute like saxophones and clarinets you know comes in different editions, different registers. The alto flute has a deeper and warmer sound than the most commonly used flute which is the C flute so there is also a bass flute which is very rarely heard. But what Hubert does there is he creates such a beautiful warm sound and that's characteristic of, of his playing. He has- he has a beautiful sound. He's also a fine jazz player. We didn't hear that on "Amazing Grace" but he can improvise and he can swing.

Josephine Reed: Yeah, he certainly can. He can do it all. And we have your counterpart, the recipient of the 2011 AB Spellman Award for Jazz Advocacy, Mr. Orrin Keepnews.

Dan Morgenstern: Well there is no counterpart to Orrin. Orrin is unique. <laughs> But but we happen to be very good friends and we have done a lot of work together. I mean I have done lots of liner notes for Orrin who is one of the great producers in jazz. And no mean writer himself and actually one of the best editors I ever had. He was editor of called The Record Changer. That's how he really entered the jazz scene officially and  that was a magazine that went from being a record collector's traditional jazz magazine to actually printing the first really intelligent article about Thelonious Monk which happened to be by Orrin himself.

Josephine Reed: And here's what we're going to hear. We're going to hear something obviously that Orrin produced and this is "More Than You Know" with Jimmy Heath.


Josephine Reed: Dan, what makes a good producer a good producer?

Dan Morgenstern: Well the most important thing is to have good taste and have a good ear and to be able to you know, really relate to musicians and to kind of not be a dictator but a facilitator. And Orrin has marvelous taste and what we heard there by the way was Jazz Master class of 2003 Jimmy Heath, one of the famous Heath Brothers, his older brother Percy who is no longer with us also was a Jazz Master and one of the great bassists of all time. And his younger brother Tootie, not yet in the Jazz Masters I think but he's due. Great- great- great drummer. Jimmy is an example of another aspect of a great producer's virtues which is loyalty. Jimmy made many albums for Orrin at a time when you know he wasn't that famous and still Orrin stuck with him through thick and thin and that's something that is very commendable. And in the end of course it turned out to be a positive thing to do all around. But this is loyalty to artists which is very important for a producer, and Orrin has other talents which is he also very often did his own liner notes which he did just as well if not better than many writers. He's a writer, and of course he started out as a publisher's editor and that's how he came to be the editor of The Record Changer and then one thing led to another. There's a very funny interesting story which may take us too far a field but uh.. you know the way uh.. Orrin and his partner at at The Record Changer, Bill Grauer, became involved in making records was that there was a period in the early days of LPs when bootlegging started and there was an LP label that called itself Jolly Roger which <laughs> showing the flag for sure. But the interesting thing was that The Record Changer magazine the investigative journalism so to speak <laughs> which was not notable in jazz circles found out that the Jolly Roger recordings were being pressed by RCA Victor no less. So they were <laughs> they were doing this in some cases pressing their own bootlegged materials. So this became a kind feather in the cap of The Record Changer and Orrin and Bill Grauer who were then asked by RCA Victor to start a reissue program which was called Label X and produced some wonderful reissue recordings. And that's how they came into starting their own label, Riverside, and that's how Orrin became eventually a major producer of new recordings and one of the first people he recorded actually was Jazz Master Randy Weston.

Josephine Reed: Indeed and that was the first time Randy Weston was ever recorded was with Orrin.

Dan Morgenstern: I think so yes that's correct that is right.

Josephine Reed: Finally we have for the first time a group that's honored with the award, a family the Marsalis family. We have Ellis, Wynton, Delfeayo, Jason, and Branford Marsalis.

Dan Morgenstern: Yes, that is amazing and needless to say it was also you know a bit of a surprise but it seems like a wonderful thing to do. I think we should make it clear though which is something that I didn't know initially is that Ellis is the one who is getting the 25,000 dollar award. I think it was a wonderful idea because it is such an amazing, an amazing family and Ellis of course is the you know the the father who uh.. knew how to raise his sons, no question about that.

Josephine Reed: That's right he has six sons and four of them are jazz musicians. Ellis is a wonderful pianist aside from being an educator. He's the Director Emeritus of Jazz Studies at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts but in his own right a wonderful pianist and kind of swimming against the grain down in New Orleans, really wanting to bring bebop to New Orleans.

Dan Morgenstern: Well yes he did that and he is somebody who has very strong opinions and knows what he wants to do and always has managed to do it. And uh.. he you know became a very influential educator in New Orleans no question about that. One of his students I believe was Harry Connick Junior.

Josephine Reed: That's right.

Dan Morgenstern: I remember a wonderful little duet that the two of them did on two grand pianos down in New Orleans. I was there. I witnessed that and that was also- that was the prelude at the concert to a reunion of the brothers which hadn't taken place at that time for- for some time and that was also really wonderful. 

Josephine Reed: Well the brothers as we said Branford is the oldest, then Wynton, Delfeayo is a jazz producer, and-

Dan Morgenstern: And a pretty good trombonist too.

Josephine Reed: And I was about to say and a trombonist, and Jason is the youngest and a drummer. And they also what they learned from their father was how to listen. What a gift.

Dan Morgenstern: That is a great gift and it's a gift that they've all …. Wynton started with winning unprecedented Grammy awards for both jazz and classical and of course is an accomplished classical trumpeter and Branford is a very accomplished classical saxophonist who has done beautiful recordings by Mio and Debussy and so that's another aspect of being great listeners. And Delfeayo has produced some massive amount of recordings. He's a great record producer. He's won Grammy awards for that. Among other people he has recorded is Marcus Roberts and Harry Connick, Junior. And and Ellis and Branford and Wynton and and the youngest

Josephine Reed: Jason.

Dan Morgenstern: Jason by the way is also an excellent uh.. vibes player. He's not just a drummer.

Josephine Reed: That's right.

Dan Morgenstern: He plays very good vibes, yes.

Josephine Reed: Well we're going to hear the whole family and what we're about to hear is "Sultry Serenade".

Dan Morgenstern: That piece "Sultry Serenade" is an Ellington piece. Actually composed by a at that time an Ellington trombonist Tyree Glenn and Delfeayo really gets Tyree's sound there. It's remarkable. And that's a charming little tune, isn't it? Yeah.

Josephine Reed: Yeah, I like it a lot. 

Josephine Reed: Well 2011 certainly has a great class of Jazz Masters.

Dan Morgenstern: Yes indeed.

Josephine Reed: Dan Morgenstern, I want to thank you so much for giving me your time on a wintry day. And I look forward to seeing you in New York.

Dan Morgenstern: Yes indeed.  Thanks for having me.

Josephine Reed: That was 2007 Jazz Master, Dan Morgenstern.  We were talking about the current class of jazz masters who are being honored with a ceremony and star-studded concert on January 11.  You can join the festivities because we are live streaming the concert from Jazz at Lincoln Center. Just visit our website ---arts.gov---on Jan 11 and grab a front-row seat!  We have 7:30 pm start time.

You've been listening to Art works produced at the National endowment for the Arts.  Adam Kampe is the musical supervisor.

Excerpt from: "All Soul" from the cd The Laws of Jazz / Flute By-Laws, performed by Hubert Laws, used courtesy Atlantic recording

Excerpt from: "Amazing Grace" from the Cd The Best of Hubert Laws, performed by Hubert Laws, courtesy Sony Music Entertainment

Excerpt from: "There Will Never Be Another You" from the cd Return of the Tenor – Standards used courtesy of Double-time jazz

Excerpt from: "Let's Fall in Love," from the album Ring a Ding Ding sung by Frank Sinatra, used courtesy of Warner brothers music

Excerpt from: "More Than You Know," from the cd Swamp Seed, perfomed by Jimmy Heath and Brass, used courtesy of Fantasy.

Excerpt from: "Sultry Seranade" from the cd The Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration, performed by the Marsalis Family, used courtesy of Marsalis music

Excerpt from: "Duke in Blue" from the cd Duke in Blue, performed by Ellis Marsalis, used courtesy of SBME.

The Art Works podcast is posted every Thursday at www.arts.gov. And now you subscribe to Art Works at iTunes U….just click on Beyond Campus and look for the National Endowment for the Arts.  

Next week, a conversation with novelist Luis Alberto Urrea.

To find out how art works in communities across the country, keep checking the Art Works blog, or follow us @NEAARTS on Twitter. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I'm Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.

Dan Morgenstern, recipient of the 2007 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy, discusses the 2011 class of NEA Jazz Masters. [27:27]