Spoleto Festival USA: Now You Has Jazz (1981) | ETV Classics

Against the sound of a lone jazz piano played by Columbia, SC local Brian Honess, Spoleto host Bob Edwards reminds us that jazz is uniquely American music and that has its place on the Spoleto stage alongside operas and concertos. Edwards notes that jazz is music that makes you feel, makes you think, and it fills an empty space. Billy Taylor, pianist, composer, author, and critic kicks off the program. The Randy Weston Sextet is up next with the signature African rhythms that set his music apart from all others.  Legendary jazz singer Betty Carter and her Trio continue the program. Already considered the best tenor saxophone player in the jazz world, twenty-six-year-old Ricky Ford has his debut on the Spoleto stage. Bob Edwards observed that the blues is the earliest form of jazz, and the program concludes with Taj Mahal bringing down the house with his bluesy singalong to the delight of the Spoleto audience. 

Side Notes:

  • Billy Taylor (July 24, 1921 – December 28, 2010) was an American jazz pianist, composer, broadcaster, and educator. He was the Robert L. Jones Distinguished Professor of Music at East Carolina University in Greenville, and from 1994 was the artistic director for jazz at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. A jazz activist, Taylor sat on the Honorary Founders Board of The Jazz Foundation of America, an organization he founded in 1989, to save the homes and the lives of America's elderly jazz and blues musicians, later including musicians who survived Hurricane Katrina.

  • Randolph Edward "Randy" Weston (April 6, 1926 – September 1, 2018) was an American jazz pianist and composer inspired by his ancestral African connection. Weston's style was also influenced by Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, and Earl Hines. Described as "America's African Musical Ambassador", Weston once said: "What I do I do because it's about teaching and informing everyone about our most natural cultural phenomenon. It is really about Africa and her music.”

  • Betty Carter (born Lillie Mae Jones; May 16, 1929 – September 26, 1998) was an American jazz singer known for her improvisational technique, scatting and other complex musical abilities that demonstrated her vocal talent and imaginative interpretation of lyrics and melodies. Vocalist Carmen McRae once remarked: "There's really only one jazz singer—only one: Betty Carter." Mentored by bebop architect Dizzy Gillespie, she got her big break with Lionel Hampton’s band in 1948 and began her recording career as a solo artist in the mid-fifties. Carter began touring with Ray Charles in 1960, then making a recording of duets with him in 1961 (Ray Charles and Betty Carter). She was renowned as a jazz teacher and talent spotter, often allowing up-and-coming musicians to highlight their talents in her band (including pianists John Hicks, Mulgrew Miller and Cyrus Chestnut).  In 1997 she was awarded a National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton, which she considered to be the most important of the many awards that she received in her lifetime. 

  • Ricky Ford was born in Boston, Massachusetts and studied at the New England Conservatory. In 1974, he recorded with Gunther Schuller and then played in the Duke Ellington Orchestra under Mercer Ellington from 1974 to 1976. Thereafter, he played with Charles Mingus, Dannie Richmond, Lionel Hampton, and then in the Mingus Dynasty. He also played with Abdullah Ibrahim (1983–90) and Mal Waldron (1989–94) and recorded with other notable musicians including Yusef Lateef, Sonny Stitt, McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, Amina Claudine Myers, Sathima Bea Benjamin, Steve Lacy, among others. Settling in Paris, France, in the 1990s, from 2001 to 2006, Ford taught at Istanbul Bilgi University. In 2009 he founded the Toucy Jazz Festival in Yonne, France. His acclaimed The Wailing Sounds of Ricky Ford: Paul's Scene recording came out in 2022.

  • Taj Mahal (Henry St. Claire Fredericks Jr.) is an American blues musician who plays the guitar, piano, banjo, harmonica, and many other instruments. Mahal has done much to reshape the definition and scope of blues music over the course of his more than 50-year career by fusing it with nontraditional influences including sounds from the Caribbean, Africa, India, Hawaii, and the South Pacific.  He has worked with such musicians as Ry Cooder, Jessie Lee Kincaid, Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy, Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Cyndi Lauper, Willie Nile, Joan Osborne, Rob Hyman, Garth Hudson,  Levon Helm, Bonnie Raitt, Joe Walsh, Sheila E., and Lizz Wright. In June 2017, Mahal appeared in the award-winning documentary film The American Epic Sessions, directed by Bernard MacMahon, recording Charley Patton's High Water Everywhere on the first electrical sound recording system from the 1920s. Mahal appeared throughout the accompanying documentary series American Epic, commenting on the 1920s rural recording artists who had a profound influence on American music and on him personally. Taj Mahal has won 4 Grammys including his nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album for Get on Board, a collaborative effort with Ry Cooder, which he won on Feb 5, 2023.

  • Clifford Brian Honess died at the age of 81, May 14, 2015. Mr. Honess was born in 1933 and studied at the Detroit Conservatory of Music. He attended Muskingum College and thereafter studied math and electrical engineering at the University of Michigan. Brian joined a special service group in the U.S. Army, traveling the world playing the piano. Eventually Honess joined the faculty at the University of South Carolina. According to his obituary “For 30 years Prof. Honess taught thousands of students at USC. He wrote seventeen textbooks and many popular magazine articles on a variety of computing topics. He earned three undergraduate degrees, an MBA, and an honorary PhD. Mr. Honess retired at age 59 as an Emeritus Distinguished Professor.“ https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/columbia-sc/clifford-honess-6452521

  • Bob Edwards, the veteran broadcaster and longtime host of Morning Edition who left an indelible mark on NPR's sound, died February 10, 2024. He was 76 years old. NPR's Susan Stamberg says Edwards' voice became part of the morning routine for millions of Americans. "He was Bob Edwards of Morning Edition for 24 1/2 years, and his was the voice we woke up to," she says." Read more.