From What the Eye Hears — when the connection between jazz music and tap dancing became strained

I have been spending some time recently with an excellent new book, What the Eye Hears — A History of Tap Dancing. Written by New York Times dance critic Brian Seibert, the book — recently named a finalist for the National Book Critics Award in Nonfiction — is an informative, entertaining history of tap dancing, and a reminder of its central role in American popular culture. A particularly interesting part of its history is its relation to jazz music, especially in the vaudeville circuit and in the nightclubs of the early twentieth century.

Regarding this, Seibert wrote in an email to me: “Jazz and tap dancing grew up together. Both came, in W.C. Handy’s words, ‘down the same drain’ of minstrelsy, and origin stories for ragtime include the syncopated stepping of

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March 15th, 2016

Gil Scott-Heron and the influence of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme on his life

Yet more evidence demonstrating the influence John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme has had on musicians…This book excerpt from Marcus Baram’s excellent biography, Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man demonstrates how Coltrane’s legendary recording “inspired Gil with his mercurial independence in the face of criticism” at a time when the creative artist was contemplating his future as a novelist, poet, musician, and

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May 13th, 2015

Sammy Davis, Jr. and seeking white acceptance in an “independent and assertive way”

This excerpt from cultural historian Gerald Early’s essay from The Sammy Davis Jr Reader is a provocative reminder of Davis’ important role in breaking down racial barriers, and how the racism he faced led to his rebellion against it that was “couched in terms of seeking the acceptance of whites, but seeking

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May 6th, 2015

Live From New York, it’s Saturday Night Live, featuring musical guest…Gil Scott-Heron

Tonight, NBC presents a 40-year anniversary show on Saturday Night Live, which, during that time has presented many cutting-edge (and let’s face it, at times very drab) comedic moments and personalities. While the show is known for its comedy, musical performances have at times made the show staying up past normal bedtime hours a worthwhile option. One of those moments was a December, 1976 SNL hosted by Richard Pryor, who hand-picked his musical guest, the soul/jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron. That memorable appearance is reported on by Marcus Baram in this excerpt from his biography Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man:

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In the fall of 1975, Gil got a call from Richard Pryor, who invited him to be a musical guest on an upcoming episode of Saturday Night Live, which Pryor was going to host in a few weeks. Pryor invited him after hearing a story about Gil that impressed the comic: A few months earlier, Gil had been invited by singer Roberta Flack to perform on

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February 15th, 2015

Johnny Otis on Lester Young and the racism that territory bands encountered

In his 1993 book Upside Your Head! Rhythm and Blues on Central Avenue, the jazz and blues musician and impresario Johnny Otis writes primarily about the music scene in Los Angeles during the 40’s and 50’s. Otis — who discovered the likes of Big Mama Thornton, Jackie Wilson and Etta James, and who is considered one of the most prominent white figures in the history of R & B — also devotes substantial portions of his book to the toxic white racism so prevalent in American entertainment in the first half of the 20th Century.

The following excerpt — which begins and ends with an homage to Otis friend Lester Young — describes the experience of

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January 26th, 2015

Fletcher Henderson and “Christopher Columbus”

I can’t let Columbus Day go by without paying homage to the Chu Berry/Andy Razaf song that was a “novelty hit” for Fats Waller and the theme song of Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. Recorded and performed by countless artists from Louis Armstrong to Lawrence Welk, Jeffrey Magee, author of The Uncrowned King of Swing: Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz, tells the story of the song’s origins, and how it became “another focal point of frustration to those around [Henderson].”

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October 14th, 2014

Hampton Hawes writes about the “dependability” of the piano

I am in the early stages of reading pianist Hampton Hawes’ 1972 autobiography (written with Don Asher) Raise Up Off Me, which Gary Giddins called, in his introduction, “the first book to give an insider’s view of the most provocative and misunderstood movement in jazz — the modernism of the ’40s, bebop.” It is incredibly entertaining and a witty, lucid, and smart read.

In a paragraph representative of the book’s quality, Hawes writes about his respect for and appreciation of his instrument’s dependability:

The piano was the only sure friend I had because it was the only thing that was consistent, always made sense and responded directly to what I did. Pianos don’t ever change. Sittin’ there every day. You wanna play me, here I am. The D is still here, the A flats still here, they’re always going to be there and it don’t matter whether it’s Sunday, Ash Wednesday or the Fourth of July. Play it right and it comes

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October 4th, 2014

Miles Davis on almost playing with Barbara Streisand

From Miles: The Autobiography, Miles Davis recalls an evening that could have had him on stage with a very young Barbra Streisand


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One night we were playing at the Village Vanguard, and the owner Max Gordon wanted me to play behind a singer. So I told him I didn’t play behind no girl singer. But I told him to ask Herbie [Hancock] and if Herbie wanted to do it then it was okay with me. So Herbie, Tony [Williams], and Ron [Carter] played

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September 29th, 2014

Lose weight with the Duke Ellington “simply steak” diet!

In his 1973 autobiography Music is My Mistress, from a chapter titled “The Taste Buds,” Duke Ellington writes about his special diet, losing thirty pounds while on it, and the resulting onstage antics.

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In 1955 my doctor, Arthur Logan, told me I would have to take off twenty-two pounds. I tore up his suggested menu and made one of my own. Mine was simply steak (any amount), grapefruit, and black coffee with a slice of lemon first squeezed and then dropped into it. With the exception of a binge one day a week, I ate as much of this and as often as I please for three months.

When we returned to the New York area, my first date was

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September 20th, 2014

A Journey Into Jazz: Anecdotes, Notes and Photos of a Jazz Fan

Lee Santa, who calls himself “simply a fan of jazz who is also a photographer” and whose life has been “heavily influenced by jazz’s sounds, structures and impressions,” recently reached out to me via email, informing me that Roundbend Press has just released his collection of photographs, A Journey Into Jazz: Anecdotes, Notes and Photos of a Jazz Fan.

Along with his entertaining introduction to the book, Santa sent me several photographs from the book — all of which I have never seen before. For example, there is Ornette Coleman at Berkeley’s Greek Theater in the turbulent year of 1968, Pharoah Sanders at the Village Gate in 1970, Sam Rivers playing outdoors (maybe at the Jazz Festival?) in Portland, 1979, and one of Mose Allison in Seattle in 1988 (about the same time I recall seeing him at a club in Portland).

Santa’s background story is very cool, and is told in his introduction and in Terry Simons’ publisher’s note, both published here. At the end of Santa’s introduction, you will find several photos

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August 26th, 2014

Remembering Cannonball Adderley — an appreciation by Quincy Jones

Cannonball Adderley was an endearing, charismatic and cutting-edge musician who, as Adderley biographer Cary Ginell writes in the introduction of Walk Tall: The Music and Life of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley “brought an enthusiasm for his music to nightclubs around the world, expanding jazz’s boundaries with a fresh exuberance as the music progressed from the bebop of the 1940s and ’50s to combine with gospel and soul to help pioneer the subgenres of hard bop and soul jazz in the ’60’s.” His signature sound — though cut short at the age of 46 in 1975 — remains an essential ingredient of the music’s past, present and future.

I am in the process of working on an interview with Ginell, which I expect will be published sometime in August. Meanwhile, the book’s Foreward — a fond remembrance of Adderley by his friend Quincy Jones — is published here in its entirety,

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August 1st, 2014

The “perplexing” and “puzzling” Buddy Bolden photograph

While reading through Donald Marquis’ outstanding In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz (1978), I was reminded about the only photograph in existence of Bolden — perhaps the most famous photograph in the history of jazz. Here is what Marquis learned about it while writing his book…

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May 24th, 2014

In This Issue

This issue features a roundtable discussion about how the world of religion may have impacted the creative lives of Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison. Also, previous winners of the Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest reflect on their winning story; three new podcasts from Bob Hecht; new collection of poetry; recommendations of recently released jazz recordings, and lots more.

Short Fiction

"The Wailing Wall" -- a short story by Justin Short

Interviews

Three prominent religious scholars -- Wallace Best, Tracy Fessenden and M. Cooper Harriss -- join us in a conversation about how the world of religion during the life and times of Langston Hughes (pictured), Billie Holiday and Ralph Ellison helps us better comprehend the meaning of their work.

Poetry

Nine poets contribute ten poems celebrating jazz in poems as unique as the music itself

Short Fiction

In celebration of our upcoming 50th Short Fiction Contest, previous contest winners (dating to 2002) reflect on their own winning story, and how their lives have since unfolded.

The Joys of Jazz

In this edition, award winning radio producer Bob Hecht tells three stories; 1) on Charlie Christian, the first superstar of jazz guitar; 2) the poet Langston Hughes’ love of jazz music, and 3) a profile of the song “Strange Fruit”

On the Turntable

25 recently released jazz tunes that are worth listening to…including Bobo Stenson; Medeski, Martin and Wood; Muriel Grossman and Rudy Royston

Features

Chick Corea, Rickie Lee Jones, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Randy Brecker and Tom Piazza are among those responding to our question, "What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings of the 1940's?"

Poetry

"Billie Holiday" -- a poem (with collage) by Steve Dalachinsky

Coming Soon

Thomas Brothers, Duke University professor of music and author of two essential biographies of Louis Armstrong, is interviewed about his new book, HELP! The Beatles, Duke Ellington, and the Magic of Collaboration; also, Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell, author of An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden, in a conversation about the brilliant 20th Century artist

In the previous issue

This issue features an interview with Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins; a collection of poetry devoted to the World War II era; and a new edition of “Reminiscing in Tempo,” in which the question “What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings of the 1940’s” is posed to Rickie Lee Jones, Chick Corea, Tom Piazza and others.

Contributing writers

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