With the Miles Davis and Chet Baker films now in distribution, there is a marked increase in traffic on this website’s content that is devoted to them, including several interviews that we conducted with biographers and family members. I have chosen five of them for you to consider spending some time with, featuring Ashley Kahn, James Gavin, John Szwed, Carol Baker and Gerald Early.
Fans of the saxophone may enjoy reading a January, 2004 interview I did with critic Gary Giddins on underrated jazz musicians. (This was part of my 15 part series of interviews with him called “Conversations with Gary Giddins.”) In this snippet from the interview, Giddins talks about George Coleman, Booker Ervin, Paul Gonsalves, Charlie Rouse and others who he considered “underrated.”
“If you look at the Grove Dictionary of Jazz, it is three volumes of jazz history and it embodies a never-ending challenge to discover all those artists. I think the important thing is to look beyond the most celebrated names. In this regard, jazz is profoundly different from nineteenth century classical music, where the pantheon has proven remarkably stable. A jazz listener will want to hear Miles Davis — his reputation is there for a reason — but so much of the fun in jazz lies in finding those distinct personalities who were extremely individual and inventive, yet abide in relative obscurity.”
This comment was made by the most eminent jazz writer Gary Giddins during our “Conversations with Gary Giddins” series, in which he talked about underrated jazz musicians. This particular conversation — from 2004 — concerns underrated jazz guitarists.
I got caught up into listening to Booker Ervin this morning, and was reminded about my first experience listening to him as a leader — on a big band session he led called Booker ‘n’ Brass, a 1967 Pacific Jazz recording that has found its way to my turntable for the first time in probably 25 years. Forty-eight years since its recording, Ervin’s crisp attack over the top of the stalwart Teddy Edwards-led band on songs like “St. Louis Blues,” “Baltimore Oriole,” and “Harlem Nocturne” sounds as good as it did when I first discovered this record in a Portland used record shop for $2.99 , c. 1980.
Getting into Ervin again reminds me of a conversation I hosted in January, 2004, with the most eminent jazz critic of his era, Gary Giddins, who shared his thoughts with me in a three part series regarding the jazz musicians he deemed as being “underrated.” Here is the part where he talks about […] Continue reading »
Historian Douglas Brinkley discusses the life of Rosa Parks _____ For years, we have published exclusive interviews with prominent historians on a variety of figures and topics essential to American history that can also be put into the “American American History” category. Some examples: Musicians: Biographers discuss John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, […] Continue reading »
Ask just about any jazz musician, scholar or fan for a list of the greatest jazz albums ever recorded, and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme — recorded 50 years ago today — resides on it. My own first experience with it was in 1975, on a late evening in a dark, smoke-filled, back alley cottage on North Oakland’s Alcatraz Avenue. My listening was guided by a dear friend who understood that this was not just music — it is what happens when musical genius meets intensity, sensitivity, and spirituality. So many details of that evening remain with me 40 years later, not the least of which was how I sunk into the couch, eyes closed, the worn Impulse album jacket never leaving my grip. I was amazed and I was hooked.
Over the years, I have found that a favorite discussion among jazz fans is their recollections of their first experience with this album. When I began developing content for Jerry Jazz Musician, one of the first ideas I had was to interview people who were either […] Continue reading »
The critic Gary Giddins once told me that fellow jazz writer Dan Morgenstern has the “best ears in the business.” Morgenstern’s work as editor of Down Beat during the 1960’s and 70’s (when it was jazz music’s premier magazine) and as the director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers, according to writer Sheldon Mayer helped direct “a generation of jazz scholars and broadened the discussion and range of the discipline.”
In addition to his work at Down Beat and the Institute, I associate Morgenstern’s career with his defense of the latter-day Louis Armstrong, and for the many great liner notes he penned. In the introduction to my 2005 interview with Morgenstern (at the time of the release of his book Living With Music), I wrote: “Dan Morgenstern was the […] Continue reading »
Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s stellar career began in the era of hard bop and ended (far too soon) during the time of jazz fusion. In between, he played on some of the most prominent recordings in the history of jazz — Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and his own Somethin’ Else among them — and ultimately became what the critic Gary Giddins described as “the patron saint of the soul-hymn movement,” a music that would reach a broad affluent audience while also keeping jazz relevant in the African-American neighborhoods. […] Continue reading »
The convergence of poetry and jazz has long been a part of the counterculture, and it has always interested me. An early interview I did for Jerry Jazz Musician was with David Amram, once known as Jack Kerouac’s musical collaborator. In the interview he talked about Kerouac’s love of music, telling me that “he had an enormous memory for music and for jazz and the classics. He could sing the melodies from different Haydn and Beethoven string quartets. He was like an encyclopedia of music and classic literature from Europe. He also had an enormous knowledge of Buddhism. He had a tremendous knowledge of Judaism, as well as the writings from the Old and New Testaments as well as from the Mass. He had this knowledge of so many different things. When he was reading, I would submerge myself into whatever it was he was reading, and I tried to anticipate what would happen next.”
So, the collaboration of words and music is fascinating, and has deep and intellectual roots. It was the basis for my interest in an email I received a while ago from reed player Kevin Flanagan who, like Kerouac, is a Lowell, Massachusetts native. Flanagan’s Riprap Quartet recordings, he informed me, “feature compositions by the band setting the works of Pulitzer Prize winning-poet Gary Snyder” and is […] Continue reading »
Breaking into the white market without losing his African-American vernacular identity was an amazing achievement for Louis Armstrong — particularly during his era. I talk about this in an excerpt from my recent interview with Thomas Brothers, author of Louis Armstrong: Master Of Modernism.
JJM In the winter of 1925 – 26, while making a name for himself at classy venues like the Dreamland Café and the Vendome Theater, Armstrong was also extending his reputation thanks to the Hot Five series on OKeh Records. The recordings sold in Chicago, but the main target audience was African Americans in the Deep South, where “race records” were immensely popular. What was OKeh’s marketing strategy for this series?
TB Yes, they certainly sold in Chicago, and they sold in all northern cities where there were African-American communities from the Great Migration. The target of these “race records” was of course to appeal to the African-American mass audience, and to do so in a low-budget way. They were not interested in paying musicians any royalties – they would get a flat fee […] Continue reading »