Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dec. 4: Grammy award winning jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson is 55 today.


Cassandra Wilson is a jazz musician, vocalist, songwriter, and producer from Jackson, Mississippi. She incorporates country, blues and folk music into her work. She has won two Grammy Awards.
Cassandra was first exposed to jazz at age five when her father, a bassist, introduced her to Miles Davis’s masterwork Sketches of Spain. Within a year, she had begun formal training in classical piano, and as a budding musician, she taught herself guitar—a tool she often relies on to work through new material.

Throughout her childhood and teenage years, Wilson longed to write and perform music for a living. Her decision to attend Millsaps College was a pragmatic one inspired by her mother’s encouragement to pursue something that provided a more secure lifestyle. She later transferred to Jackson State University, where she earned a mass communications degree, and then landed a job in public affairs at WDSU, a television station in New Orleans. But by the following year, in 1982, she had already begun seeking gigs in New York City clubs.

(Continued below video and CDs ...)




HIGHLY Recommended (Press album covers for direct links to Amazon):
LoverlyNew Moon DaughterBlue Light Til DawnTraveling MilesBelly of the SunThunderbird

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Wilson met alto saxophonist Steve Coleman,  in the early ‘80s during a Charlie Parker birthday celebration at a club on Manhattan’s Greene Street. They became fast friends and Coleman introduced her to members of his M-Base Collective, an assemblage of talent that included acclaimed pianist Geri Allen and bassist par excellence Lonnie Plaxico. 

Coleman encouraged her to look beyond the standard jazz repertoire in favor of developing original material. A tireless innovator, Coleman pushed the envelope as far as any of his contemporaries with his incorporation of unconventional time signatures and atonal note sequences.

Wilson rarely plays guitar during performances, but many of her records include her guitar work on at least one song. “Find Him,” a folk-blues original from her 1995 album New Moon Daughter, featured her on acoustic guitar, and she enhanced her lovely, harrowing reinterpretation of Jakob Dylan’s “Closer to You” with some fingerpicking on Thunderbird, a 2006 release.

Wilson’s appreciation for free music is evident on her 1985 debut album Point of View, which Coleman produced. It’s a collection of loosely structured songs that provide considerable room for the musicians to improvise.  Wilson’s voice  exhibits a tremendous range and supremely original free-form style, meandering through Coleman’s offbeat metric structures and exploring sonic terrain vastly different from her other releases. Wilson’s 1988 album Blue Skies, an assortment of jazz standards, took her in a more traditional direction and broadened her fan base.
Projects like New Moon Daughter, which won the 1996 Grammy award for best jazz vocal performance, and Thunderbird synthesize her experimental acuity and brilliant songwriting. Thunderbird also makes use of technologies like sampling and programmed beats.


In 1997, she recorded and toured as a featured vocalist with Wynton Marsalis’ Pulitzer Prize winning composition, "Blood on the Fields."

The late Miles Davis was one of Wilson's greatest influences. In 1989 Wilson performed as the opening act for Davis at the JVC Jazz Festival in Chicago. In 1999 she produced Traveling Miles as a tribute to Davis.


The album developed from a series of jazz concerts that she performed at Lincoln Center in November 1997 in Davis' honor, and includes three selections based on Davis' own compositions, from which Wilson adapted the original themes.
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