Great Encounters #50 — The Night Bill Evans met Woody Herman

“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. This edition tells the story of the evening of the 1963 Grammy Awards, when Woody Herman met Bill Evans.

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October 14th, 2017

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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October 10th, 2017

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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October 1st, 2017

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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August 29th, 2017

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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August 23rd, 2017

“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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August 15th, 2017

“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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August 10th, 2017

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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August 4th, 2017

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

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.”

 

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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

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June 9th, 2017

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)

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May 30th, 2017

Great Encounters #49 — A night at the Turf and Grid with Woody Herman and Serge Chaloff

“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. This edition tells the story of an evening in Washington D.C., starring Woody Herman and Serge Chaloff

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May 2nd, 2017

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.

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