Liner Notes: The Pee Wee Russell Memorial Album, by Dan Morgenstern

    In the early evening of March 29, 1960, I walked into Beefsteak Charlie’s, a midtown Manhattan bar frequented by jazz musicians.  With some surprise, I spotted a familiar figure at the bar – familiar, but not at Beefsteak’s.

     Pee Wee Russell, who’d turned fifty-four two days before, didn’t hang out there – or in any other bar, for that matter.  He’d done his share of that sort of thing – more than his share – but after his miraculous recovery from a near-fatal illness some years before, he had stopped.

     But here he was, by himself, having a quiet drink.  I didn’t yet know Pee Wee well in those days, though I’d been

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June 25th, 2018

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.

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July 26th, 2017

Liner Notes: The New Wave in Jazz, by LeRoi Jones and Steve Young

On March 28, 1965, a concert benefiting the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School was held at New York’s Village Gate. Featuring John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra (he played but his music didn’t make the album) and Albert Ayler – artists described by Black Arts Music Coordinator Steve Young as “The Beautiful Warriors” and “magicians of the soul”– the performance was recorded and subsequently released on Impulse Records as The New Wave in Jazz.

This recording is significant for its brilliant “free jazz” performances, but also for Amiri Baraka’s (known as LeRoi Jones at the time) liner notes’ connection of music and politics. It is a reminder of the historic, turbulent times in which this music was created. The Selma to Montgomery marches took place in March, 1965. Malcolm X was assassinated in February. The war in Vietnam was dramatically escalating. And, jazz music was continuing to evolve, the most obvious example being the

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February 1st, 2016

Liner Notes: Bill Evans’ Peace Piece and Other Pieces — by Orrin Keepnews

In the days of the LP – and in particularly during the 1970’s – reissue or compilation releases were a great way to be introduced to artists, or to expand a personal collection. These compilations were generally two LP sets, which not only meant there was a lot of music, but also that the gatefold package allowed for extensive liner notes. When you bought an album like this, you knew that the writer had space to write meaningful biographical sketches, tell personal stories, and wax philosophically about the artist’s overall contribution to the music.

This weekend I spent some time with several of these compilations, and the one that caught my interest was the 1975 Milestone Records Bill Evans compilation titled Peace Piece and Other Pieces. The package features the music originally released on

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December 14th, 2015

Liner Notes — Miles Davis In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at The Blackhawk, San Francisco

On the evenings of April 21 and 22, 1961, Miles Davis and his quintet recorded at San Francisco’s The Black Hawk nightclub, a longtime Tenderloin neighborhood establishment described by Bay area music writer Ralph J. Gleason as “gloomy, dirty and unattractive” -– a club kept proudly “repulsive” by its owner, Guido Caccienti, who claimed to have “worked and slaved for years to keep this place a sewer.”

Written by San Francisco Chronicle music critic (and eventual co-founding editor of Rolling Stone) Ralph J. Gleason in a typically witty and often derisible tone, the liner notes to Miles Davis In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at The Blackhhawk, San Francisco are compelling not only because they were authored by Gleason, but also because they are comprised of two distinct biographies -– Miles Davis as “social symbol” of the early 1960’s, and The Blackhawk as an “oblong, corner-saloon-with music” that attracted a “most incredible cross section of American society.”

The recording itself was

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January 23rd, 2015

Liner Notes: Ornette Coleman’s Change of the Century, written by Ornette Coleman

In an essential jazz history book Jazz, co-written by Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux, the authors describe Ornette Coleman as being “universally revered as one of American music’s most original figures,” and whose influence is “beyond calculation.”  In addition to his musical significance, his six albums recorded for Atlantic Records from 1959 – 1961 “generated a cultural storm, not least for album titles that continued to lay emphasis on the group’s challenging attitude, which — without once mentioning the civil rights struggle — seemed to incarnate the authority of the New Negro: The Shape of Jazz to Come, Change of the Century, This is Our Music, and Free Jazz.”   Those Atlantic albums are creative and emotional landmarks, and for open-minded musicians and listeners, continue to be indispensable material for measuring our respective aesthetic boundaries. 

The importance of these recordings heightens the influence of their liner notes.  But, which liner notes best characterize Ornette Coleman’s work on Atlantic?   Focusing on the first three of the recordings, in the liner notes to the first,

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October 5th, 2014

Liner Notes: Dexter Gordon’s Doin’ Allright — by Ira Gitler

Although Dexter Gordson’s influence was felt by many of the great tenor saxophonists of the 1950’s, due to what is often described as “personal demons,” he was pretty much overlooked throughout the decade. “Dexter was able to consolidate his substantial progress only during the first couple of years in the fifties,” wrote Stan Britt, author of Dexter Gordon: A Musical Biography. “Thereafter, his was to become something of a half-forgotten name among jazz personalities of the decade.” At the root of this inactivity was, of course, that “demon” — heroin. His two year incarceration for heroin possession, followed by the death of his close friend Wardell Gray was, Britt wrote,

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July 29th, 2014

Liner Notes: Miles Davis’ ‘Round About Midnight — by George Avakian

For the five years prior to the 1955 recording of ‘Round About Midnight, Miles Davis had, according to John Szwed, author of So What: The Life of Miles Davis, “gained the reputation of an unreliable junkie who blew gigs, missed notes, and couldn’t hold a band together.” It was also a time that Miles would regularly try to convince Columbia Records producer George Avakian to sign him to his label — the era’s gold standard of recording companies. After sorting out his contractual obligation to Prestige Records, Avakian was able to do so. Now, Davis had to put a band together. It is what led to the collaboration of Miles and John Coltrane. Szwed tells the story:

On Tuesday, July 19 [1955], Miles met with Avakian for lunch, bringing along his friend Lee Kraft and his lawyer, Harold Lovett. Bob Weinstock (president of Prestige) had bought the idea of Miles recording for Prestige and Columbia simultaneously. As part of the arrangement for signing with Columbia,

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June 6th, 2014

Liner Notes — We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite, by Nat Hentoff

Thanks to this week’s public airing of the racist thoughts attributed to Donald Sterling — the Neanderthal owner of the Los Angeles Clippers — bigotry, hatred and ignorance have been on full display this week. Sterling’s discussion with his equally insipid companion is most obviously insulting and hurtful to African Americans, but it is also abhorrent to everyone who had the courage to challenge the thinking of fellow members of the boomer generation — as well as (and especially) those in our parents’ generation — who grew up in a world of segregation, taking part in or witnessing the insensitivity and bigotry that is a product of it on a daily basis.

At times like this it is helpful to be reminded of moments in our history when heroic community leaders and artists encouraged our society to rise above the Donald Sterling’s of the world

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April 30th, 2014

Liner Notes — The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall, by Orrin Keepnews

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1960’s and early 1970’s afforded me access to incredible, cutting-edge radio. It was the height of the progressive FM radio era, and no station in the country understood its market opportunity better than KSAN, rock radio legend Tom Donohue’s creation that gave a musical platform to breaking local and national acts who remain the backbone of the “classic rock” radio format.

international acts who remain the backbone of the “classic rock” radio format.

While the bulk of the programming exposed rock and roll recordings introduced by the local hip DJ (the voice of Bob McClay referring to KSAN as the “Jive 95” lives on in my unconscious), for a year or two I looked forward with great enthusiasm to the Sunday evening jazz show hosted by Orrin Keepnews, the co-founder of New York’s Riverside Records — by then long in bankruptcy but whose recordings were already a staple of recorded jazz history. His shows weren’t solely responsible for introducing me to the artists on his labels (including Milestone at the time — an offshoot of Berkeley’s Fantasy Records, where Keepnews was head of A & R), but they were a culprit for perpetuating my curiosity of them.

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February 28th, 2014

Liner Notes: LeRoi Jones on John Coltrane’s Live at Birdland

Political, fiery, critical, poetic, inspirational…All of this shows up in Amiri Baraka’s brilliant liner notes to the 1963 recording of John Coltrane’s Live at Birdland. At the time known as LeRoi Jones, Baraka’s liner notes to this album were the first time the jazz writer Stanley Crouch “had seen that kind of poetic sensibility brought to the discussion of jazz. It was as new to me as the way Coltrane and his band were reinventing the 4/4 swing, blues, ballads, and Afro-Hispanic rhythms that are the four elements essential to jazz…His was the first Negro voice that sailed to the center of my taste by combining the spunk and the raw horrors of the sidewalk with the library, for an elegant manhandling of the form.”

These notes were written at the time of Jones’ 1963 Down Beat essay “Jazz and the White Critic,” which, in the words of Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and its Critics author John Gennari, was a “challenge to jazz writers of all backgrounds to reckon with the lived experience of black Americans and to consider how this experience had been embedded in the notes, tones, and rhythms of the music.” Keep that in mind when reading these notes…

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January 31st, 2014

Liner Notes — Joel Dorn on Yusef Lateef’s 1963 recording Jazz ‘Round The World

In his New York Times obituary of Yusef Lateef – who died on December 23rd at the age of 93 – Peter Keepnews describes him as a “decidedly unconventional musician,” and quotes Lateef as saying “My attempts to experiment with new instruments grew out of the monotony of hearing the same old sounds played by the same old horns. When I looked into those other cultures, I found that good instruments existed there.”

Keepnews also writes that Lateef “professed to find the word ‘jazz’ limiting and degrading; he preferred ‘autophysiopsychic music,’ a term he invented. He further distanced himself from the jazz mainstream in 1980 when he declared that he would no longer perform any place where alcohol was served. ‘Too much blood, sweat and tears have been spilled creating this music to play it where people are smoking, drinking and talking,’ he explained to The Boston Globe in 1999.”

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December 27th, 2013

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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