Archive for “Features”

Features

Poet Jack Hirschman’s “Rifficals” and memories of Keystone Korner

In an enlightening essay found in Kathy Sloane’s entertaining history of Keystone Korner, the famed ‘70’s – 80’s North Beach San Francisco jazz club, the poet Jack Hirschman writes that “post-World War [II] jazz, abstract expressionism, and what I call field composition in poetry represent for me the trinity of essential American idioms that really are the foundation of not merely my work, but the work of virtually a whole generation of writers and musicians.”  Hirschman writes that he found inspiration for his poetry in the music of Monk (“he was like a poet writing in musical notes”), Charlie Parker and Cecil Taylor (“also a writing poet [who] fills the plane up and all the spaces”) and produced what he called “rifficals,” countless improvisations inspired by jazz that he passed out to the audience at the Keystone.

Like many of us, Hirschman believes jazz is a centerpiece of our cultural history.  “The African American dimension has been a major influence on virtually all the artists in this country,” he writes, “even if people

[…] Continue reading »

Features

Dick Gregory

The comedian Dick Gregory, who died last week at the age of 84, lived a full and important American life as a comic, candid social satirist, and political activist (who famously ran for president in 1968).  He once said he earned $5,000 a week “for saying out loud what I’d always said under my breath.” Gregory earned a living as a first class headline interpreter who was able to communicate his satire to an appreciative, integrated audience during fractious times.   His work influenced countless comedians, including Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor.

In the liner notes to Gregory’s 1961 (and first) comedy album Dick Gregory in Living Black and White, Alex Dreier wrote that Gregory is “neither Ralph Bunche nor Amos ‘n’ Andy.  Gregory’s humor is not

[…] Continue reading »

Features

“Kenny Dorham: Be-Bop royalty from East Austin”

      Being retired allows the occasional opportunity to lay around and revisit favorite music.  Today was such a day…

     My key takeaway from today is a reminder that the late trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s music absolutely smokes!  For evidence of this, revisit his 1961 album Whistle Stop (including Hank Mobley on tenor) which jazz critic Gary Giddins calls “one of the great jazz albums,” and Una Mas from 1963, featuring the recording debut of tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson.   

      In the midst of all this listening, I ran across a colorful and short web biography of Dorham, a native of Austin, Texas.  Written in the late-2000’s by

[…] Continue reading »

Features

“Peace Piece” — for musical escape

To understate the obvious, our world has not been the same since January 20.  Science has become fiction, democratic institutions are being threatened, global relationships that have been nurtured for generations are devalued and misunderstood, and our world is in complete turmoil.  Like Hillary or not (and God, how I liked her – her grace, intelligence, experience, resilience, strength, and compassion – all qualities we are starved for today), it is tough to argue with what is now clearly the most honest assessment of Donald Trump during the campaign, when she said, “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”  Alas, this most basic and obvious warning — which should have elicited a major national conversation before the election — got lost in the noise of campaign coverage more concerned with her oh-so-scandalous emails!  

So this is where we are, living on the brink of catastrophic war due to our man-child president’s narcissism, his endless lies, and his addiction to

[…] Continue reading »

Features

A Moment in Time: Josephine Baker, Vienna, 1928

The brilliant entertainer Josephine Baker was among the world’s most celebrated figures of the jazz age, headlining groundbreaking revues during the 1927 Folies Bergere (while costumed in little more than a girdle made of bananas) and challenging racial and gender stereotypes at virtually every step of her career.  Her artistry also intensified the discussion of morality and entertainment. 

This extended excerpt from Ean Wood’s 2000 biography The Josephine Baker Story looks at the debate surrounding this issue that took place in Austria during her 1928 tour.  The fascinating story — featuring economics, politics and religion — is a reminder of the complexity of the time in which she lived, and ends with a wonderfully ironic punchline.

[…] Continue reading »

Features

Liner Notes:  The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco:  Live at the Jazz Workshop – by Ralph J. Gleason

In this edition, Ralph J. Gleason’s liner notes to this classic 1959 recording describe the epic four week stint of Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet in San Francisco’s Jazz Workshop, as well as the vibrant late-50’s jazz scene in the city’s North Beach neighborhood.  

Gleason — who at the time was a music critic at the San Francisco Chronicle — would go on to co-found Rolling Stone Magazine.   North Beach (particularly Broadway) — while forever bohemian — would subsequently became the home to Carol Doda and a boundary-breaking strip club scene.

[…] Continue reading »

Features

How Billie became “Lady Day”

Having just published Arya Jenkins’ excellent new short story “Foolish Love,” in which Billie Holiday’s music plays a central role in the life of the story’s main character, this piece, excerpted from Bill Crow’s 1990 book, Jazz Anecdotes, is a wonderful reminder of how Ms. Holiday became known as “Lady Day.”  The story is set up by Crow and stories about nicknames created by “Prez.”

 

__________

 

Lester Young made up names for many of his friends, and everyone used them.  He called Count Basie “The Holy Man,” (shortened by the band to “Holy”) because he was the

[…] Continue reading »

Features

Carl Jung on Drumming

“Drumming, which does not speak the language of the head, appeals to an even deeper layer than the language of the heart. It speaks the most ‘ancient language of the belly and solar plexus’ right from the deepest layers of the human soul: the layer of the primeval ancestors and the layers below.”

– Carl Jung (founder of analytical psychology)

[…] Continue reading »

Features

Ella is 100

2017 is the 100th birthday year of several jazz immortals – among them Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, and, today, Ella Fitzgerald.

As a young and naïve jazz fan in the 1960’s, like Louis Armstrong, Ella seemed “square” to me – her voice too sweet and happy for my ears, especially when compared to the singer who most moved my soul to discover more of the music, Billie Holiday.   Plus, the Songbook series she became internationally famous for seemed too smartly packaged, slick in a Madison-Avenue-way that tore me away from the bins that stocked her record albums.

Over the years, however, I eventually came to appreciate and cherish her, especially as I learned the courageous and inspirational nature of her biography, and played her recordings with Chick Webb, and dug the collaborations with the Ink Spots, Louis Jordan, and eventually, of course,

[…] Continue reading »