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Steve Turre At Yoshi's, With Pharoah Sanders

Steve Turre introduced the conch shells to jazz in 1981.
David Redfern
Referns/Getty Images
Steve Turre introduced the conch shells to jazz in 1981.

Remember the Y2K scares? Yes, there was apprehension, but at Yoshi's in San Francisco, the occasion was magical. Emcee Alfredo Cruz, in for Dee Dee Bridgewater, remembers a packed house and stage — five trombones, sax and trumpet, piano and bass, a djembe player from Senegal, a conguero from Puerto Rico, a timbalero from New York and a drummer from Cuba. At the center, from oceans around the world, sea shells of all sizes rested on a table. Musicians blowing through those shells created vibrations to lift this room from century to century and into the new millennium.

Steve Turre composed the music to fit all of these parts together — "like a big band, but not," Turre says. The brass/shell players lay down harmonized sound pads and sweet riffs.

"The drummers learned each other's beats — the clave and Abdul M'boup's [African] rhythms," Turre says. "I wrote the music to fit with the influence of the blues. To me, it's 'world music jazz.' "

Turre introduced sea shells to his jazz in 1981 at Soundscape in New York. You can see the shell in the illustration on his 1995 album Rhythm Within and in a photo on Sanctified Shells from 1993. Both albums feature shell-playing trombone sections.

Asked how it felt to make music with this magnificent group, Turre recalls "spirit, energy, collective consciousness, smiles and serious faces, trance-like; we were in the zone." They extend those feelings past the edge of the bandstand, to encompass everyone at Yoshi's and beyond. It happens again, 10 years later, this week on JazzSet.


Thanks to everyone at Yoshi's Jazz Club — Yoshie Akiba, Kaz Kajimura, Hiroyuki Hora, Jason Olaine, Leila Chambers, Marshall Lamm. NPR's Tim Owens, Leo del Aguila. The live mixer was Phil Edwards. Thanks also to the many who were in the crew and our station partner KCSM in San Mateo. Our Surround Sound remix is by Duke Markos.

Copyright 2009 WBGO

Becca Pulliam, JazzSet