Orrin Keepnews, 1923 – 2015

I awoke to the very sad news that a prominent figure in the history of jazz music has died. Orrin Keepnews, whose work as co-founder of Riverside Records forever connected him to the lives and spirits of Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Cannonball Adderley, and so many other great jazz musicians of mid-century America, died in California at the age of 91 (a day shy of his 92nd birthday).

Keepnews was a transcendent figure in jazz music, excelling as a journalist, entrepreneur, and producer. The recordings he produced were among the very first to

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March 2nd, 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

A Roy Eldridge story

Happy Birthday #104 to Roy Eldridge, who in addition to being one of the great trumpet players of his time, is known as the “bridge” between Armstrong and Dizzy. I loved the brightness of his playing, and for contributing to one of the great moments in jazz — his vocal duet with Anita O’Day, leading into a seldom-in-a-generation trumpet solo on “Let Me Off Uptown.”

When I was a kid, my dad used to tell me stories about his friendship with “Eldridge,” and in particular one eventful experience he had while he was traveling with his band in Pennsylvania. In 1998, two years before his passing, my father wrote this piece for Jerry Jazz Musician about this very special experience in his life. I hope you enjoy his telling of it…

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January 30th, 2015

Great Encounters #40: In the studio with Bill Evans and Stan Getz

“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. This edition tells the star-crossed story of the 1964 recording session featuring Verve saxophonist Stan Getz and pianist Bill Evans, issued as Stan Getz and Bill Evans.

Excerpted from Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings by Peter Pettinger

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In 1961 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had purchased Verve Records from Norman Granz. Creed Taylor became the new executive director, and made a number of crucial policy decisions, including the sacking of the majority of Verve’s contract artists. One of a handful to survive was Stan Getz, who had been recording for the company since

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January 29th, 2015

Revisiting the 1964 Playboy panel “Jazz — Today and Tomorrow”

For those of us who bought it “for the articles,” it was easy to see that few publications supported and promoted jazz music during the 50’s and 60s quite like Playboy magazine. Among its many endeavors involving jazz, Playboy, Inc. produced festivals and concerts, featured artists on its late-night television programs, invited readers to vote for their favorite performers by instrument, and released record albums. The music was a passion of founder Hugh Hefner,who found that its aesthetic fit in well with those of other “products” pitched to the sophisticated and elite male of the era. Jazz conversations were often found within the pages — the first of the now famous Playboy interviews featured Miles Davis in a 1962 conversation with a young Alex Haley.

In February, 1964, Playboy published a remarkable conversation on jazz. Hosted by journalist Nat Hentoff, “The Playboy Panel: Jazz — Today and Tomorrow” included the musicians

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January 28th, 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

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

Vince Guaraldi — a career beyond “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

Arguments abound about what is hip and what isn’t when it comes to Christmas music, but few can argue that Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas remains a breath of fresh air in a world otherwise dominated by recordings by Kenny G, Mannheim Steamroller, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Certified “triple platinum” by the Recording Industry Association of America, and ranked by Sound Scan as the #10 best selling Christmas album since 1991, A Charlie Brown Christmas — and his association with Peanuts creator Charles Schulz — is what Guaraldi is best remembered for.

What few of us probably know about Guaraldi, however, is that he was actually a self-proclaimed “reformed boogie-woogie player” who got his start filling in for

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December 25th, 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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