If Benny Goodman was the “King of Swing,” then Fletcher Henderson was the power behind the throne. Not only did Henderson arrange the music that powered Goodman’s meteoric rise, he also helped launch the careers of Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins, among others. In Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz: The Uncrowned King of Swing, Jeffrey Magee offers a fascinating account of this pivotal bandleader, throwing new light on the emergence of modern jazz and the world that created it. […] Continue reading »
John Leland’s Hip: The History is the story of an American obsession. Derived from the Wolof word hepi or hipi (“to see,” or “to open one’s eyes”), which came to America with West African Slaves, hip is the dance between black and white — or insider and outsider — that gives America its unique flavor and rhythm. It has created fortunes, destroyed lives and shaped the way millions of us talk, dress, dance, make love or see ourselves in the mirror. Everyone knows what hip is. […] Continue reading »
Tommy Webber is nine years old when his father, a founding minister of the East Harlem Protestant Parish, moves the family of six from a spacious apartment in an ivy-covered Gothic-style seminary on New York City’s Upper West Side to a small one in a massive public-housing project on East 102nd Street. But it isn’t the size of the apartment, the architecture of the building, or the unfamiliar streets that make the new surroundings feel so strange. While Tommy’s old neighborhood was overwhelmingly middle class and white, El Barrio is poor and predominantly black and Puerto Rican. In Washington Houses, a complex of over 1,500 apartments, the Webbers are now one of only a small handful of white familes. […] Continue reading »
Beginning in 1899, a burst of construction on the mid-Manhattan block of West 42nd Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue created the greatest concentration of theaters America had ever seen, giving birth to today’s Broadway theater district. When the New York Times built a slender twenty-five-story tower on an odd, triangular site formed by the convergence of 42nd Street, Broadway, and Seventh Avenue, the city named the square facing the tower Times Square, which quickly became New York’s gathering place for all important civic events.
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Although it has had its share of detractors, critical acclaim for Stanley Crouch’s first novel, Don’t the Moon Look Lonesome, is quite impressive — particularly among scholars and fellow writers. For example, Susan di Sesa, former Executive Editor of The Modern Library called it “one of the most profound novels in the English language,” while Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Alan McPherson wrote, “In attempting to employ ‘riffs’ to explore the emotional and psychological dimensions of his characters, Stanley Crouch has evolved a new narrative technique.”
Crouch — known primarily as an outspoken New York cultural critic — clearly understands that a serious writer’s role is to provoke his audience with potentially new avenues of thought
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Jack Johnson was the first black heavyweight champion in history, the celebrated — and most reviled — African American of his age. Prizewinning biographer Geoffrey Ward tells Johnson’s story in Unforgivable Blackness, which reveals a far more complex and compelling life than the newspaper headlines he inspired could ever convey. […] Continue reading »
In the final column of his thirty year career as jazz critic of the Village Voice, Gary Giddins wrote, “I’m as besotted with jazz as ever, and expect to write about it till last call, albeit in other formats. Indeed, much in the way being hanged is said to focus the mind, this finale has made me conscious of the columns I never wrote.” […] Continue reading »
“Moon River,” “Laura,” “Skylark,” “That Old Black Magic,” “One For My Baby,” “Accentuate the Positive,” “Satin Doll,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Something’s Gotta Give,” — the honor roll of Johnny Mercer’s songs is endless. Both Oscar Hammerstein II and Alan Jay Lerner called him the greatest lyricist in the English language, and he was perhaps the best-loved and certainly the best-known songwriter of his generation. But Mercer was also a complicated and private man. […] Continue reading »
Joshua Berrett’s Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman: Two Kings of Jazz is a dual biography of two great innovators in the history of jazz. One was black, one was white — one is now legendary, the other nearly forgotten. Berrett offers a provocative revision of the history of early jazz by focusing on two of its most notable practioners — Whiteman, legendary in his day, and Armstrong, a legend ever since. […] Continue reading »
Nadine Cohodas’s Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington, is the landmark biography of the brief, intensely lived life and soulful music of the great Dinah Washington. A gospel star at fifteen, she was discovered by jazz great Lionel Hampton at eighteen, and for the rest of her life was on the road, playing clubs, or singing in the studio — making music one way or another. Dinah’s tart and heartfelt voice quickly became her trademark; she was a distinctive stylist, crossing over from the “race” music category to the pop and jazz charts.
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