Posts tagged “jazz history”

Features » Book Excerpts

“War Comes to 52d St.”

     In Arnold Shaw’s biography of New York’s 52nd Street, 52nd Street:  The Street of Jazz, he devotes an entire chapter to the impact World War II had on “The Street,” its musicians, and ultimately on American society.  

     “…World War II came to 52d St.,” Shaw writes, “bringing not only a curfew, entertainment tax, rationing and an influx of sailors and soldiers on leave, but a rash of striptease joints, tab padding and other sharp practices, fistfights and sluggings, racial conflict, and even attacks on

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Features » Historic Journalism

Aaron Copland’s favorite jazz musicians

     Aaron Copland, the mid-century classical composer whose work was greatly influenced by American life, had an interest in jazz, particularly, as he told Don Gold in a May, 1958 Downbeat article “the marriage – the fact that the young jazzmen are composers, often bridging the gap between fields. “  He also had some sympathy for jazz musicians because “they have the same trouble getting a big audience we have.”

     The article, titled “Aaron Copland: The Well-Known American Composer Finds Virtues and Flaws in Jazz,” is of special interest because

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Miles and Coltrane’s final tour together

     In a March 29 post on Slate, Fred Kaplan writes about the newly released bootleg recording of Miles Davis’ quintet (featuring John Coltrane), The Final Tour, a four-CD box set of live concerts in Europe from 1960.  The tour happened a year after the release of Kind of Blue, so many of the tunes played during it is from that classic album.  According the Kaplan, the music found on this Columbia/Legacy set is “radically different” and such a “jarring departure” from the album that “it demands we revise the conventional wisdom about these two musicians (Miles and Coltrane) and fills in some blanks…in the story of jazz, and where it was going, in those pivotal years.”

     Kaplan’s essay includes a critique of the music itself – but of particular interest is his reminder of the

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The last Super Bowl halftime show that featured jazz music

     I could make the argument that jazz being marketed as a “popular music” officially died on January 12, 1975. Why? Because that was the date of the last Super Bowl halftime show that featured jazz music, in this case a “Tribute to Duke Ellington” performed by the Grambling State University Marching Band and Mercer Ellington. Sure, in subsequent years there was the occasional Pete Fountain/Al Hirt exhibition to pump local tourism when the game was held in New Orleans, but Madison Avenue officially ended all attempts at presenting jazz to a mass audience at the conclusion of the halftime show for the ’75 Steelers/Vikings game. What followed was an era of musical malaise for

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“Even the drummers on 52nd St. sound like Dizzy Gillespie!”

While the romantic notion is to imagine that the music coming out of the clubs lining New York’s 52nd Street during the 1940’s was universally applauded, we of course know that is not the case.  In an example of this dissent, consider the words of Los Angeleno Norman Granz, who told Downbeat this during his April, 1945 visit to New York:

“Jazz in New York stinks!  Even the drummers on 52nd St. sound like Dizzy Gillespie!” 

“I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in the quality of music here.  We keep getting great reports out west about the renaissance of jazz along 52nd St. but I’d like to know where it is.  Literally, there isn’t one trumpet player in any of the clubs with the exception of ‘Lips’ Page and he was blowing a mellophone the night I caught him.  Maybe Gillespie was great but the ‘advanced’ group that Charlie Parker is fronting at the Three Deuces doesn’t

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Nat Cole and the KKK

     An uncredited piece in the January 11, 2018 edition of AL.com titled “The Night Nat Cole was Beaten on a Birmingham Stage” recounts the April 10, 1956 evening in Birmingham, Alabama, in which Nat Cole was attacked on stage by local members of the Ku Klux Klan.  It is not only an example of our not-so-distant racist past, but also concerns the complexity concerning Cole’s involvement (or lack thereof) in the civil rights movement.  Consider this brief excerpt from the article:

 

     “I can’t understand it,” Cole said of the attack.  “I have not taken part in any protests. Nor have I joined an organization fighting segregation. Why should they attack me? I’d just like to forget about the whole thing.”

     Roy Wilkins, the executive secretary of NAACP sent Cole a telegram after the attack, “You have not been a crusader or engaged in

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“White Christmas” trivia

In an effort to get into the Christmas spirit, a revisit of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” is a seasonal requisite.  It percolates around the house for a couple of spins, leads to an Ella tune here, a Nat Cole there…before you know it much of an entire afternoon is spent attempting to find something, anything, that will capture the season’s enthusiasm so elusive this year.  

This year the tune inspired some Internet surfing about the 1954 film that net neutrality seamlessly allows…I landed on some interesting trivia about the film found at the Regal Cinema’s website.  Among the items listed, many obvious but welcome reminders:

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Features » Historic Journalism

Art Tatum on 52nd Street

In this entertaining short excerpt from Arnold Shaw’s 1971 homage to the jazz clubs of New York,  52nd Street:  The Street that Never Slept, Ralph Watkins, owner of legendary New York City clubs like Kelly’s Stable, the Royal Roost (the famed chicken restaurant nicknamed the “Metropolitan Bopera House” due to it being near the Metropolitan Opera House) and Bop City, remembers the blind pianist Art Tatum:

“The 52nd St. performer that stands out in my mind is Art Tatum, above everyone else.  Not only his musicianship but the fire in him.  He had a way when he was annoyed.  When people were talking during his playing, he’d stand up, bang the piano shut, stare in their direction, and tell them off:  ‘Quiet, you

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Features » A Moment in Time

A Moment in Time: Artie Shaw and Roy Eldridge, 1944

In the fall of 1944, shortly following his medical discharge from the Navy, Artie Shaw formed a 17 piece band (without strings) that featured Barney Kessel on guitar, Dodo Marmarosa on piano, Ray Coniff on trombone, and the brilliant trumpeter Roy Eldridge, famous for his work with Gene Krupa’s band in the early 1940’s.  The band, according to noted critic Leonard Feather, was “quite impressive” and exhibited “a refreshing lack of bad taste and bombast.”

This era of Shaw’s band resulted in several excellent recordings, among them

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A pioneer of San Francisco jazz

A buddy of mine led me to a recent feature in the San Francisco Chronicle on early 20th Century pianist Sid Le Protti, described by writer Gary Kamiya as “one of the leading black musicians who played on the Barbary Coast” whose “life and career provide a window into a mostly forgotten but fascinating chapter of the city’s cultural and racial history.”

The story is a terrific profile of the artist, but also of the city’s rich

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