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'Fresh Air' remembers the jazz notables who died in 2021

Earlier this year, Kevin Whitehead noted the passing of Chick Corea and Mario Pavone. Now he remembers a few more players who died in 2021, including Milford Graves, Ralph Peterson and Dave Frishberg.



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Other segments from the episode on December 22, 2021

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 22, 2021: Interview with Penelope Cruz; Fresh Air remembers jazz notables we lost in 2021; Review of The Tragedy of Macbeth.



This is FRESH AIR. Earlier in the year, our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead noted the passing of jazz musicians Chick Corea and Mario Pavone. Now he's going to remember a few more jazz players who died in 2021, starting with a couple of drummers.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Drummer Milford Graves with Albert Ayler, 1967. Even in the roaring '60s, Milford stood out for his log rolling momentum and hollow-sounding drum tone. He took the bottom heads off his drums for a clearer sound, like Cuban tabales, and he didn't use a snare drum. Soon after, he began his long-time work integrating drumming and natural healing. Milford Graves loved the syncopated beauty of cardiac arrhythmias. His slippery, irregular pulsing reflected and sought to influence the human body's ever-shifting tempos and polyrhythms. Here's Milford Graves in 2016.


WHITEHEAD: Other drummers who left us in 2021 include the tasty swingers Jerry Granelli and Dottie Dodgion, who also left us an upbeat new book, "The Lady Swings: Memoirs Of A Jazz Drummer."

And we lost the great Ralph Peterson, one of the standouts of the 1980s' Young Lions movement. Peterson hit the drums so hard, you'd fear he'd knock them over. But he could hear and instantly react to any little detail another musician played. He led many bands and faced daunting challenges, including a long bout with cancer, and kept roaring back. Listen to Ralph Peterson punctuate and punch up trombonist Frank Lacy in 1989.


WHITEHEAD: Drummer Ralph Peterson. The Philadelphia guitarist Pat Martino had a spectacular medical setback in the middle of his career. A 1980 brain aneurysm gave him partial amnesia, and he had to relearn to play guitar. That second layer of learning only helped. Martino had terrific rhythm and might pepper fast, stinging melody lines with quickly dashed-off propulsive riffs. Here's Pat Martino in 2000.


WHITEHEAD: Howard Johnson was a multi-instrumentalist brass man for pop stars like Taj Mahal and the band and a charming, funny man. Johnson as much as anyone brought the tuba into the modern era, even before leading the six-tuba band Gravity. For instance, there's his 1974 arrangement of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" for Gil Evans' big band or Howard Johnson's rough and rangy tuba aims for the raunch of Jimi's guitar.


WHITEHEAD: In 2021, we lost too many jazz notables to tally - among saxophonists, Sonny Simmons, Jemeel Moondoc and Mark Whitecage; among bassists, George Mraz, Paul Jackson and Juini Booth; among bandleaders, Chris Barber, Jim Knapp and Greg Tate; plus a couple of trombonists who came up playing soulful hard bop in the 1950s, Slide Hampton, also a prolific arranger and the much sought after Curtis Fuller. He enriched The Jazztet, Jazz Messengers and countless other bands and recorded some with John Coltrane early on. On 1957's "Blue Train," Curtis Fuller put a little field hollering into his blues.


WHITEHEAD: Pianists who died in 2021 include Bobby Few, Freddie Redd, Burton Greene and most recently bebop institution and influential teacher of generations of Detroit and then New York jazz musicians Barry Harris.


WHITEHEAD: And finally, we remember a fine band pianist with a second career as a jazz singer-songwriter. Dave Frishberg wrote his own witty lyrics about baseball players or ham or how a bill becomes federal law. He also crafted his own tunes, sometimes cobbled together from bits of recorded horn solos or big band charts such as the song we're about to hear. His nebbishy voice was the perfect delivery system for his verbal humor. So let's have Dave Frishberg take us out.


DAVE FRISHBERG: (Singing) You knock back the schnapps. You talk back to cops. You walk in the room and conversation stops. I can't take you nowhere. No, I can't take you nowhere. You stagger. You sag. You're half in the bag. One glass of beer and you're a total drag. I can't take you nowhere. No, I can't take you nowhere. I buy three or four. You mooch plenty more. The check comes around and you are out the door. I can't take you nowhere. No, I can't take you nowhere.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of the book "Play The Way You Feel: The Essential Guide To Jazz Stories On Film." And he writes for Point of Departure and The Audio Beat. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be journalist Ryan Riley. Nearly 700 of the January 6 Capitol rioters have been arrested. He's been reporting on how the FBI has tracked them down, sometimes with the help of a large, loosely organized group of independent online sleuths. He's also been reporting on the trials and sentences. Riley is senior justice reporter for HuffPost. I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director is Audrey Bentham. Our engineer today is Adam Staniszewski. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Thea Chaloner directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.


FRISHBERG: (Singing) That's right. I cannot take you nowhere. I'd like to take you somewhere. But I don't know a place where you can show your face. And any way, I'd just like to say so sad... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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