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Witchi Tai To

from Crestone by Paul Winter

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    Grammy® Award-winning CRESTONE celebrates Colorado’s San Luis Valley, featuring Apache musician John-Carlos Perea, who sings in the Northern Plains Indian tradition; the voices of Mountain Bluebird, Red-winged Blackbird, Whooping Crane, Meadowlark, Sandhill Cranes, Coyotes, and Buffalo; and the Consort, including Paul Winter on soprano sax, Paul McCandless, oboe and bass clarinet; Eugene Friesen, cello; Glen Velez, percussion, Koji Nakamura, Japanese taiko drum.

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The Saga of a Song: Witchi Tai To is one of these rare, timeless songs that just seem to travel on, and it has made its way around much of the world since Indian saxophonist Jim Pepper wrote and recorded it in the 1970s. A succession of jazz musicians took up the song, among them Don Cherry, who taught it to Norwegian saxophonist Jan Gabarek, whose recording of it was heard by the members of the quartet Oregon, in whose repertoire it has lived for many years, featuring the oboe of Paul McCandless.

Paul Winter: “I first played Witchi Tai To as part of a grand jam session in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2000, at the end of the Native American Music Awards (the ‘NAMMYs’). Jim Pepper was being honored, posthumously, with the NAMMY Hall of Fame Award, and I had been invited to come to present the award to Jim’s mother, Floy Pepper. Bassist Ed Schuller was there, who had been in Jim’s band when they made their famous recording of Witchi Tai To, and he taught the song to the eclectic group of presenters, including singer Rita Coolidge and drummer Mickey Hart, who were to perform in the finale. We played Witchi Tai To for a very long time, with a myriad of variations and solos, and I remember being so swept up in it that I felt we could have gone on all night. After that first experience with this song, I looked forward to the opportunity to play it someday with the Consort.

“When I met John-Carlos Perea, and talked to him about the Crestone project, and the diverse heritage of Indian cultures on this land, I asked him if he was familiar with Witchi Tai To. John-Carlos laughed and said: ‘Yes I am. It happens that I’m doing my doctorate in ethnomusicology at U.C. Berkeley on the music of Jim Pepper.’ But John-Carlos expressed his wish that we do the song in some new way. In the perspective of Crestone’s international embrace, I imagined my Brazilian friends providing the rhythmic magic carpet for Witchi Tai To, and our original three Consort ‘horns’ – sax, oboe and cello – interweaving with the voice of John-Carlos. Witchi Tai To feels like an appropriate finale for our Crestone journey. I hear it as a song of gratitude, celebrating the communing of spirits of all the peoples and creatures who have, and who will, come together on this land.”


from Crestone, released December 17, 2007
Written by: Jim Pepper (Jobete Music, Inc., ASCAP)

John-Carlos Perea, voice
Paul Winter, soprano sax
Paul McCandless, oboe
Eugene Friesen, cello
Oscar Castro-Neves, guitar
Webster Santos, guitars
Sizão Machado, bass
Bre, and Guello, percussion
Glen Velez, shakers
Don Grusin, keyboard


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Paul Winter Litchfield

Paul Winter is a seven-time Grammy-winning saxophonist, whose sextet was the first jazz group to perform at the White House in 1962. His second group, the Paul Winter Consort, interweaves sounds from the natural world with classical and ethnic traditions, and the spontaneous spirit of jazz. Their annual Winter Solstice Celebrations and Earth Mass are among the most popular events in New York. ... more

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