Archive for “Features”

Features

Dizzy is 100 today

Dizzy Gillespie — born 100 years ago today — recalls his childhood in this excerpt from his 1979 autobiography, To BE, or not…to BOP

 

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The pictures show me as a very beautiful boy, but I was the last of nine children and my arrival probably didn’t excite anybody. So many people had been born at our house before. I don’t think Mama felt too blessed about having nine children, unless “blessed” means “wounded” like it does in French. She probably figured someone had put the bad mouth on us.

Every Sunday morning, Papa would whip us. That’s mainly how I remember him. He was unusually mean; and hated to see or hear about his

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Features

A Moment in Time: Artie Shaw and Roy Eldridge, 1944

In the fall of 1944, shortly following his medical discharge from the Navy, Artie Shaw formed a 17 piece band (without strings) that featured Barney Kessel on guitar, Dodo Marmarosa on piano, Ray Coniff on trombone, and the brilliant trumpeter Roy Eldridge, famous for his work with Gene Krupa’s band in the early 1940’s.  The band, according to noted critic Leonard Feather, was “quite impressive” and exhibited “a refreshing lack of bad taste and bombast.”

This era of Shaw’s band resulted in several excellent recordings, among them

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Features

Monk is 100 today

We have stood over record bins, thumbing through his records, moved by his breathtaking originality and creativity.

We have made friends over his music, made love to it, cruised in the car to it, introduced our children to it, and defended it against those who don’t quite comprehend his genius.

We love the emotions his music brings out in us – joy, tears, humor, inspiration.

We continue to sit up when we hear “Straight, No Chaser,” marvel at the brilliance of

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Features

The December 1960 Down Beat story on Bill Evans

I’ve been on a Bill Evans kick of late.  Call me “crazy” but I just find his music an island of hope and reason in a world fraught with daily “craziness.”  And, it is wonderfully low-tech in today’s frantic environment that requires seemingly constant and needless stimulation, created by bots and provocateurs.  His music is so…human.

Simultaneous to my kick on Evans is my renewed interest in the writings of the late jazz critic Gene Lees, whose award-winning career included that of biographer, songwriter/lyricist, and editor of Down Beat.  His 1988 collection of essays on jazz – Meet Me at Jim and Andy’s – is loaded with remarkable insight laced with knowledge, charm, and appropriate sentimentality (his piece on Woody Herman, for whom Lees gave the full biography treatment in 1995, is noteworthy in that regard).  A standout piece worth reading is the tragic story of the trombonist Frank Rosolino, who suffered greatly from depression and whose desperation was so intense that he ultimately shot his two sons before killing himself.

In Lees’ essay “The Poet:  Bill Evans,” he writes of his discovery of the great pianist in 1959, as editor of Down Beat, when he noticed, “among a stack of records awaiting assignment for review a gold-covered Riverside album titled Everybody Digs Bill Evans…I took the album home and, sometime after dinner, probably about nine o’clock, put it on the phonograph.  At 4 a.m. I was still listening, though by now I

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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