Archive for “Features”

Features

Louis Armstrong’s personal writings, recordings and artifacts have been digitized

In Sunday’s New York Times, Giovanni Russonello writes a splendid short history of Louis Armstrong, and shares news about how Armstrong’s personal writings, recordings and artifacts have been digitized, allowing people who register access to his great body of work via the Louis Armstrong House Museum’s website.

In addition to Russonello’s report, there are several wonderful short recordings of Armstrong in the

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Features

Historic Venues: Detroit’s Graystone Ballroom

On February 27, 1922, when dancing in giant ballrooms was wildly popular, Detroit’s Graystone Ballroom – a block long structure on Woodward Avenue —  opened with the All-University Ball.  According to Dan Austin of HistoricDetroit.org,  the property’s original owners were planning a ten story building that “was to house a restaurant called the Chinese Gardens,” but the owners ran out of money before it could be constructed.  Enter Detroit bandleader Jean Goldkette, whose investment and vision created an entirely different experience.

In addition to leading a famed Detroit orchestra, Goldkette — who studied piano at the Moscow Conservatory as a child prodigy before his family emigrated to the United States in 1911 (he arrived in Detroit in 1916) — was prominent in the entertainment business during his time, being principal in Jean Goldkette Orchestras and Attractions, which worked out of […] Continue reading »

Features

“Should I sacrifice my life to live half American?”

While the civil rights movement may not have officially begun until the December, 1955 day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, the stage for it was set years before that.  Religious leaders and institutions, jazz and athletics all famously played important roles in building a foundation for the movement, but the hypocrisy of the United States during World War II, when African-Americans were expected to shed blood overseas to preserve freedom for those who often oppressed them in this country, increased pressure on politicians to desegregate the one institution at the center of American life – the military.

In my 2003 interview with David Colley, author of Blood for Dignity:  The Story of the First Integrated Combat Unit in the U.S. Army, he said that by World War II, “blacks had had enough of discrimination and segregation, and with the advent of the war and their continued relegation to second class citizenry — even while fighting allegedly for freedom while they themselves were subjugated — pressure for reform in American society was growing. More people in America were starting to realize that it was just intolerable to

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Features

“Jazz is too good for Americans!”

Being disgusted with Congress is, of course, nothing new…In an excerpt from Dizzy Gillespie’s 1979 autobiography (written with Al Fraser) to BE, or not . . . to BOP, Dizzy reminds us of the thick-headed politicians of 1957 who questioned the “exorbitant” fees paid to him and his band during their 1956 State Department-sponsored tour of Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe and South America.

In this excerpt — from a chapter titled “Higher Than Ike” —  Dizzy cynically writes about the “thanks” he received from members of Congress following the tour, as well as the controversy concerning his

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Features

Aretha and her father — the Reverend C.L. Franklin

      The passing of Aretha Franklin yesterday hits hard on a variety of levels.  I am sure we all have wonderful Aretha memories.  For me, she will always be remembered as the singer who opened my world to the sounds of soul and gospel music, and doing so during the height of the civil rights movement, when so much important work was being achieved — and cutting edge art was being created in response to it — virtually every day.

     Aretha learned to sing at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin, was minister — “the most famous African American preacher in America,” according to his biographer Nick Salvatore.  Franklin’s style of “booming, soaring, flashy and intense” preaching “revolutionized the art, and his call for his fellow African Americans to proclaim both their faith and their rights helped usher in the civil rights movement.”

     Rev. Franklin had an intense influence on daughter Aretha,  …[Aretha] always sang from her inners,” Ray Charles once said.  “In many ways she’s got her father’s feeling and passion,’ [for when C.L.] — one of the last great preachers — delivers a sermon, he builds his case so beautifully you can’t help but see the light. Same when Aretha sings.”

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Features

“It’s Too Darn Hot”

In June of 2017, the American president chose to leave the Paris climate agreement because, he said at the time, it is an agreement that “disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries.”  It seems that climate change knows no borders, and nobody benefits from our dear leader’s willful ignorance — witness the record heat and fires across the U.S., and indeed now all over the globe.

Oh well, we too can willfully ignore climate change today by finding a cool corner of our world and cranking up Cole Porter’s “It’s Too Darn Hot,” a song written for the Broadway musical “Kiss Me Kate” in 1948, and made famous by

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Features

Great Encounters #53: Backstage with Bud Powell and Charles Mingus

“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons.  In this edition, the writer Francis Paudras — a young patron of jazz music in Paris during the 1960’s, and whose devotion, friendship and compassion toward the pianist Bud Powell helped Powell late in his life —  tells a short story about a backstage encounter between Powell and Charles Mingus following a 1964 performance at Salle Wagram in Paris.

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Features

We can learn from how jazz musicians communicate

From Wynton Marsalis’ 2008 book Moving to Higher Ground:  How Jazz Can Change Your Life comes another example of how humanity (and even the world of politics) can learn from how jazz musicians communicate…

 

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At [age] 12, I began listening to John Coltrane, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, and Freddie Hubbard.  Just by paying serious attention to these musicians every day, I came to realize that each musician opens a chamber in the very center of his being and expresses that center in the uniqueness of his sound.  The sound of a master musician is as personalized and distinct as the sound of a person’s voice.  After that basic realization, I focused on […] Continue reading »

Features

On the Turntable — Miles Ahead

I have been fortunate – thus far – to have avoided the many summer colds going around this season, but I have been afflicted, once again, by “Miles Fever.”  Every so often, I am struck by an irresistible urge to dig into the catalog of this artist so present during virtually every season of my life, and rediscover the thrill of his sound, and of his cultural significance.   

I contracted the virus this morning, and spent the morning (in bed, of course) listening to Miles Ahead, the 1957 recording featuring Miles Davis and 19 musicians under the direction of Gil Evans – his first collaboration with Miles since the Birth of the Cool sessions of 1950, and one of his earliest recordings for Columbia Records.  An early example of

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