Written by Becca Pulliam from WBGO-FM
It’s New Year’s Eve at The Blue Whale, a “live jazz + art space” in the Little Tokyo section of downtown Los Angeles. Founded in 2009 by singer Joon Lee, this is a listening room. There’s food at the bar, poetry (Rumi!) on the ceiling, and wall-to-wall people. The Blue Whale has been sold out for days, and the phone keeps ringing off the hook because everybody wants to be on the air, cheering for Billy Childs live on NPR’s Toast of the Nation.
Pianist Billy Childs was 21 in late 1978 when the high-profile, high-register trumpeter Freddie Hubbard hired him.
“I can’t imagine the patience that [Hubbard] must have exercised while trying to solo while I am ‘helping’ him with my youthful comping [accompanying] ideas, which a lot of times meant just playing all over his solo,” Childs tells JazzSet. “I feel fortunate to have been brought up in that time, because that was the way you learned jazz. [You] learned by doing it.”
Beyond jazz, Childs has composed for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Detroit Symphony and the Kronos Quartet (Music for Two Quartets for the Monterey Jazz Festival), to name three. He calls his recent music for jazz group and string quartet “Jazz Chamber Music.”
Live on Toast of the Nation from NPR Music, Dee Dee Bridgewater emcees the show at The Blue Whale, with the Grammy-winning Childs and his quartet. Reedman Bob Sheppard pulls four times his weight, performing on soprano, alto and tenor saxes, as well as playing flute in “Quiet Girl.”
More than 20 Decembers ago, Sheppard was in a Freddie Hubbard group, live on NPR’s New Year’s Eve Coast to Coast from Catalina’s in Hollywood. Hubbard played “Bolivia” by his long-ago bandmate, pianist Cedar Walton, to ring in 1991.
At 11:45 New Year’s Eve on NPR’s Toast of the Nation 2011-12, Childs calls for “Bolivia,” too. It’s a coincidence, but still a handshake across the decades, as Hubbard and Childs both recognize a great tune for intensifying our happiness as we say goodbye to the old year and celebrate the new.
Live set produced by Joon Lee, proprietor, with Rocco Somazzi of Angel City Arts. Recording engineer Phil Edwards with Bruce Edwards, as well as Peter Baird of Remote West. Technical director Leo Del Aguila from NPR West. Assistance from Alex W. Rodriguez and Rachel Cantrell. Surround Sound mix by Duke Markos.