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

“Vatican is Asked to Rule on Jazz”

     In the April 30, 1957 New York Times article headlined “Vatican is Asked to Rule on Jazz,” Paul Hoffman reports on the attack on jazz music made by Catholic leaders who felt that it was “music of materialistic and Dionysiac orientation,” and how this view might result in a curtailment of radio time devoted to serious jazz music.  This was of particular interest as jazz music was beginning to infiltrate the services of the 1950’s, which was, unsurprisingly,

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June 19th, 2018

“One for (my) Daddy-O”

Besides doing his best to help raise three kids, during my 1960’s childhood my father worked his heart out at two jobs — one of which was as owner of a restaurant on Oakland’s Telegraph Avenue, and the other as a musician, playing trumpet and viola throughout the San Francisco Bay area, mostly on evenings and weekends in “casual” jobs. For years he was part of a strolling quartet that entertained San Francisco’s elite at the World Trade Club — an ensemble that at its peak toured the Philippines, playing to an audience that included

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June 17th, 2018

William Gottlieb’s “Elusive Pianist”

Jazz photography has played an important role in the development of jazz, and, along with the art found on the record albums of the 1940’s – 60’s, is a visual window into the history of the culture.  The work of photographers like Herman Leonard, William Claxton and Lee Tanner impacted me pretty deeply, and led me deep into the record bins in search of the music they so effectively portrayed.  Leonard and Tanner, in fact, were major influences on my work on this site, and Tanner was indeed a personal mentor whose voice of encouragement remains in my head long after his 2013 passing.

Among the first interviews I ever did was in 1997 with William Gottlieb, best known as a

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June 1st, 2018

“War Comes to 52d St.”

     In Arnold Shaw’s biography of New York’s 52nd Street, 52nd Street:  The Street of Jazz, he devotes an entire chapter to the impact World War II had on “The Street,” its musicians, and ultimately on American society.  

     “…World War II came to 52d St.,” Shaw writes, “bringing not only a curfew, entertainment tax, rationing and an influx of sailors and soldiers on leave, but a rash of striptease joints, tab padding and other sharp practices, fistfights and sluggings, racial conflict, and even attacks on

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May 9th, 2018

Great Encounters #52: Monk, Hawk, and Coltrane in the studio, 1957

“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons.  In this edition, Art Blakey tells a story of Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane that took place during the 1957 recording session of Monk’s Music.

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April 19th, 2018

Aaron Copland’s favorite jazz musicians

     Aaron Copland, the mid-century classical composer whose work was greatly influenced by American life, had an interest in jazz, particularly, as he told Don Gold in a May, 1958 Downbeat article “the marriage – the fact that the young jazzmen are composers, often bridging the gap between fields. “  He also had some sympathy for jazz musicians because “they have the same trouble getting a big audience we have.”

     The article, titled “Aaron Copland: The Well-Known American Composer Finds Virtues and Flaws in Jazz,” is of special interest because

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April 13th, 2018

Artie Shaw and his “chamber-music group in a house packed with jitterbugs!”

     In an historic December 2, 1939 “rags to riches” piece in the Saturday Evening Post titled “Music is a Business,” Artie Shaw writes about his participation in what was billed as “New York’s…first Swing Concert” — presented at the Imperial Theater on May 24, 1936 — and how his formation of an unusual ensemble for the evening resulted in only short term opportunity, but ultimately led to wild success.

     “I had always felt that a string background for a hot clarinet would wed the best of sweet and swing as it was being interpreted at the moment,” Shaw wrote of the ensemble idea he had for the “Swing Concert” performance. “At least, it would be novel and might attract some

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April 12th, 2018

Masters of Jazz Photography: Susanne Schapowalow

In the 1940’s and 50’s, as her career as a freelance photographer was developing, German-born Susanne Schapowalow took intimate and brilliant photographs of jazz musicians in the hotel lobbies and jazz clubs of Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Paris and New York, and in concert settings like Jazz at the Philharmonic, German jazz festivals, and during Quincy Jones’ 1960 European tour.

Over thirty of these photographs – all apparently unpublished and featuring artists like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Lester Young, and Bud Powell – reside in slide show form on a website devoted to her work, a collection described as a “rediscovered jazz life of a

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April 7th, 2018

Gary Giddins…on Cecil Taylor

In 2003, as part of the Jerry Jazz Musician “Conversations with Gary Giddins” series, I was fortunate to interview Giddins — his generation’s most esteemed jazz writer — about Cecil Taylor, who died earlier today at age 89.  It is an excellent read for anyone with an interest in Cecil (or Gary). You can access it by

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April 6th, 2018

“The girl in Bennett’s who knows about jazz” — a story about Elvis Costello’s mother (and the smuggling of Lennie Tristano recordings!)

     On a whim I recently picked up the rock musician Elvis Costello’s 2015 biography, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, a strange and (as far as I can tell — only 100 pages into it) occasionally brilliant reflection on his life.  

     Costello, born Declan Patrick MacManus in 1954, began his career in London’s pub scene before becoming an important contributor to the British punk and new wave movement of the mid-1970’s.  Long a darling of rock critics, Costello was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, and is known to contemporary jazz fans as the husband to popular pianist/singer Diana Krall.

    The following excerpt from the book is a colorful story of Costello’s mother Lillian’s employment as a clerk in the record departments of two Liverpool retailers — first, Rushworth & Dreaper (a renowned seller of musical instruments), and three years later, Bennett’s, a smaller shop that catered to musicians.  Along the way, you will discover how

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March 29th, 2018

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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