During a recent stroll through the Internet, I was reminded of the story of Louis Armstrong requesting the use of Yogi Berra’s catcher’s mask during a 1960’s State Department tour of South America, “to fend off,” according to Armstrong’s widow Lucille, “the [enthusiastic South American] fans who wanted to touch his face and lips.”
Lucille’s recollection was disclosed in a December 10, 1981 letter to the U.S. Postal Service as part of a 14-year effort to have a postage stamp created in her husband’s honor. Duke Ellington’s stamp was issued in 1986, and the likes of Elvis Presley, Bessie Smith, Nat Cole and Billie Holiday had commemorative stamps well before Armstrong. How come? Was it politics?
To read about it, check out the two stories below…The first is the letter of advocacy
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You may have noticed that Russia is in the news a bit these days. (It is tough to avoid). So, while revisiting James Lincoln Collier’s 1989 biography Benny Goodman and the Swing Era, the story of Goodman’s 1962 U.S. State Department sponsored tour of the Soviet Union caught my eye.
Collier reminds us that Goodman and his group – the first American band to tour the Soviet Union since the 1920’s – was considered by many to be too “old fashioned” for the times and that “many critics felt that the Ellington band, playing a more complicated and perhaps more worthy kind of music” should have been chosen for the tour instead. Nonetheless, given Goodman’s popularity around the world, he was considered a
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The February 12, 1924 concert by Paul Whiteman at New York’s Aeolian Hall was billed as “An Experiment in Modern Music.” As reported by New York Times critic Olin Downes, who attended the event, “the concert was referred to as ‘educational,’ to show the development of this type of music [jazz].” The concert is now best remembered for being the setting for the world premiere of Rhapsody in Blue, with composer George Gershwin at the piano. As Times critic John S. Wilson wrote in 1987, “this concert is today considered a defining event of the Jazz Age and the cultural history of New York City.”
In this excerpt from Whiteman’s 1926 autobiography Jazz – written with essayist Mary Margaret McBride – Whiteman writes about his Aeolian Hall concert experience, and in particular the appeal of Rhapsody, which he described as
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While hunting around the Internet for tributes of Ornette Coleman (a collection of which I will attempt to point readers toward tomorrow), I was reminded of the critic Francis Davis’s essay titled “Ornette’s Permanent Revolution.” Originally published in the September, 1985 edition of The Atlantic, Davis, now the jazz critic for the Village Voice, writes eloquently about the complexities of the great saxophonist’s “clean break from convention.” It is a worthy and timely read…
All hell broke loose when the alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman made his East Coast nightclub debut, at the Five Spot Cafe, in Greenwich Village on November 17, 1959—twenty-five years ago last fall.
The twenty-nine-year-old Coleman arrived in New York having already won the approval of some of the most influential jazz opinion makers of the period. “Ornette Coleman is doing the only really new thing in jazz since the innovations in the mid-forties of […] Continue reading »
Writing that the “good” African-American orators of the day (“spellbinders”) do for lifting up the “Race” is “nil,” this 1919 Chicago Defender editorial makes the case that the music of James Reese Europe could have a significant political impact on race relations of the time.
With the ringing down of the curtain at the Auditorium last Saturday night there closed a remarkable period of band concerts. If you were not fortunate enough to attend you missed a rare treat. This band had made a wonderful record with the American expeditionary forces in France and with its jazz music had proved a source of great entertainment wherever it went. When it returned to the United States it was given a great ovation by the people of New York City, and Chicago found it equal to advance notice. It has all the artistic finish of any band that has invaded these parts in many years. […] Continue reading »
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1960’s and early 1970’s afforded me access to incredible, cutting-edge radio. It was the height of the progressive FM radio era, and no station in the country understood its market opportunity better than KSAN, rock radio legend Tom Donohue’s creation that gave a musical platform to breaking local and national acts who remain the backbone of the “classic rock” radio format.
international acts who remain the backbone of the “classic rock” radio format.
While the bulk of the programming exposed rock and roll recordings introduced by the local hip DJ (the voice of Bob McClay referring to KSAN as the “Jive 95” lives on in my unconscious), for a year or two I looked forward with great enthusiasm to the Sunday evening jazz show hosted by Orrin Keepnews, the co-founder of New York’s Riverside Records — by then long in bankruptcy but whose recordings were already a staple of recorded jazz history. His shows weren’t solely responsible for introducing me to the artists on his labels (including Milestone at the time — an offshoot of Berkeley’s Fantasy Records, where Keepnews was head of A & R), but they were a culprit for perpetuating my curiosity of them.
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In 1924, jazz was becoming popular in the major cities of New Orleans, Chicago, Kansas City and New York, and with Paul Whiteman’s Aeolian Hall performance of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, it was being judged in some critical circles as a serious musical art form. That wasn’t the opinion of everyone, of course.
“‘Jazz’ has created a ‘malarious’ atmosphere in the musical world. It is abnormal. The air needs clarifying.” So wrote popular music composer Robert M. Stults in the August 1924 edition of The Etude magazine, an issue dedicated to what they defined as “The Jazz Problem.”
The Etude was published from 1883 – 1957 and was a popular music publication of the era. Its primary audience was made up of popular music teachers, and the debate of the time of this particular edition was the legitimacy of this controversial new music known as “Jazz.” To solicit opinion about jazz, The Etude posed the question “Where is Jazz Leading America?” to composers, educators, musicians, members of the clergy, playwrights and novelists.
The debate inspired by this question featured fascinating perspectives, […] Continue reading »
With the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ appearance on Ed Sullivan prominently in the news this past week, it is interesting (and entertaining) to revisit some of the critical perspectives of their music following the performance.
On February 10, 1964, Theodore Strongin, music critic for the New York Times (who Wikipedia describes as a “champion of new music”) wrote that “The Beatles’ vocal quality can be described as hoarsely incoherent, with the minimal enunciation necessary to communicate the schematic texts.” Three days later, acknowledging the phenomenon that hit our shores, George Dixon of the Washington Post wrote, “Just thinking about the Beatles seems to induce mental disturbance. They have a commonplace, rather dull act that hardly seems to merit mentioning, yet people hereabouts have mentioned scarcely anything else for a couple of days.”
Months later, William F. Buckley, the era’s chief conservative voice and founder of the National Review got into the act, writing […] Continue reading »
The recent death of Amiri Baraka gets us looking back at the 1963 publication of his important and enduring study of jazz and and blues, Blues People: Negro Music in White America. Two pieces to turn interested readers to…The first, “The Blues,” by Ralph Ellison, first appeared in the February 6, 1964 edition of the New York Review of Books, and features Ellison’s classic line of criticism, “The tremendous burden of sociology which Jones would place upon this body of music is enough to give even the blues the blues.” The second, “Black History Meets Black Music” ‘Blues People’ at 50″ is a July 26, 2013 piece by Eugene Holley, Jr. published on NPR’s “A Blog Supreme,” in which Holley seeks opinion on the book from key contemporary critcs and musicians, including Harvard educator Ingrid Monson, who says that “Blues People is a brilliant and path-breaking book, not because all of its factual information is correct, or because all of its interpretive perspectives are unassailable, but because of the sheer audacity, scope and originality of its interpretive perspective.” […] Continue reading »
There was a time when jazz music was considered “dangerous” and a threat to “our way of life.” Consider the words of Fenton T. Bott of Dayton, Ohio, described by John R. McMahon in the December, 1921 edition of Ladies Home Journal as an “expert in the dance and professional dancing master”: “It [jazz] is degrading. It lowers all the moral standards. Unlike liquor, a great deal of its harm is direct and immediate. But it also leads to undesirable things. The jazz is too often followed by the joy-ride. The lower nature is stirred up as a prelude to unchaperoned adventure.”
Conservative opinions were so strong about the “dangers” of jazz and the dancing it provoked that jazz dancing was being regulated. Bott told McMahon that “Municipal regulation has been started and applied to some extent in something like sixty towns and cities. The best-regulated cities are probably Cleveland, Detroit and Omaha. The movement began not long ago in Cleveland when officials asked my brother, who is a professional teacher, to assist in the regulation of public dance halls. They asked what he wanted for his services, and he told them he would be glad to do the work for a dollar a year.”
Bott, of course, wasn’t alone in his thinking. […] Continue reading »