Interview with Thelonious Monk biographer Robin D.G. Kelley

“The piano ain’t got no wrong notes!” So ranted Thelonious Sphere Monk, who proved his point every time he sat down at the keyboard. His angular melodies and dissonant harmonies shook the jazz world to its foundations, ushering in the birth of “bebop” and establishing Monk as one of America’s greatest composers. Yet throughout much of his life, his musical contribution took a backseat to tales of his reputed behavior. Writers tended to obsess over Monk’s hats or his proclivity to dance on stage. To his fans, he was the ultimate hipster; to his detractors, he was temperamental, eccentric, taciturn, or childlike. But these labels tell us little about the man or his

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October 14th, 2016

Ben Ratliff on John Coltrane

Longtime accomplished New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff has left the paper. He was a terrific writer who had the ability to pique my interest in an artist in short, reliable, and often brilliant reviews.

I had the privilege of meeting him a few times over the telephone and in person. He joined me in a 2003 conversation with Bruce Lundvall and Joshua Redman about the business of jazz music, talked with Paul Morris about his book Jazz: A Critic’s Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings, and in 2008, we talked about his book on John Coltrane, The Story of a Sound, which is published

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August 12th, 2016

Gary Giddins on jazz criticism

Jazz history is filled with great moments and musicians, reported on over the years by critics whose work influenced the music’s path. Rudi Blesh, Martin Williams, Albert Murray, Dan Morgenstern, Nat Hentoff, Gene Lees, Leonard Feather, Whitney Balliett, and Stanley Crouch are just a handful of the critics whose liner notes, columns, opinions and histories we read while deepening our desires to grow with the music. The writer whose work is perhaps most renown is Gary Giddins, the award-winning writer who for years wrote about jazz for the Village Voice, and who I was privileged to interview several times about a variety of interesting topics in our Conversations with Gary Giddins series.

In June, 2003, Giddins and I talked about his ascension as a jazz writer, and included his candid observations of other prominent critics. The discussion concluded with a unique “Blindfold Test” that asked Giddins to name the jazz writer responsible for the essay excerpt he is spontaneously shown. It is a timeless view of

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May 24th, 2016

JJM interviews on Chet Baker and Miles Davis

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.

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April 18th, 2016

Gary Giddins on underrated saxophonists

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.”

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April 14th, 2016

Jazz writer Gary Giddins on underrated jazz guitarists

“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.

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January 26th, 2016

Booker Ervin and other “underrated” saxophonists

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

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April 28th, 2015

Celebrating African American History Month — Exclusive Jerry Jazz Musician interviews with and about prominent African Americans

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 “Celebrating African American History Month — Exclusive Jerry Jazz Musician interviews with and about prominent African Americans”

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February 2nd, 2015

It was 50 years ago today — the anniversary of the A Love Supreme recording date

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

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December 9th, 2014

In honor of jazz historian Dan Morgenstern — at age 85

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

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October 29th, 2014

Interview with Cary Ginell — author of Walk Tall: The Music and Life of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley

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.

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August 26th, 2014

Interview with saxophonist Kevin Flanagan on the convergence of poetry and jazz

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

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July 3rd, 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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