Posts tagged “jazz history”

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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Uncategorized

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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Interviews

“Up From New Orleans: Life Before, During and After Hurricane Katrina” — A conversation with transplanted New Orleans musicians Mark DiFlorio and Devin Phillips

Watching the impact Hurricane Irma is having on countless lives this week brought back memories of stories that came out of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005.  In the midst of all the devastation, many people left the Crescent City permanently, including a handful of jazz musicians who made the move to Portland at the invitation of the Portland Jazz Festival organization (now known as PDX Jazz).

In 2006 I interviewed two of those musicians — Devin Phillips, who has become a fixture on Portland’s jazz scene and is its most popular and accomplished saxophonist, and Mark DiFlorio, a drummer who lived in Portland before moving to Seattle (his website indicates he is now living in Los Angeles).  Their stories are remarkable, and this interview is worth revisiting…

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Timeline of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (1917-1923)

I was recently contacted via email by Andrew Taylor, a self-described lifelong jazz fan, Armstrong aficionado and history buff who is also an imaging professional and metadata librarian who explores data visualization, timelines and dynamic media in the manner being pioneered by some practitioners of “data journalism.”

Taylor’s coalescing interests and effort has resulted in an entertaining timeline he created leading to the 1923-1924 recordings of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band.

Taylor writes that the timeline “chronicles the development of the band that created them – beginning in March 1917 when the pre-Oliver edition of the band left New Orleans for

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Features » Book Excerpts

“Diz for President”

Claiming that his first order of business as president would be changing the name of the White House to the Blues House, Dizzy Gillespie’s run for President in 1964 wasn’t as illogical (or comical) as it seems on the surface. (In fact, given the ignorance of one of our current major party nominees, it is easy to write that Dizzy put much more thought into his vision for the country, and was without question more evolved as a candidate). As election day approaches, it is time to ask ourselves, what better time than today for a candidate whose platform includes disbanding the FBI and giving major foreign ambassadorships to jazz musicians?

In his 1979 autobiography To Be, or not…to Bop, Dizzy devotes an entire chapter to the story of his experience as a candidate for the presidency. The entire

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Features » Book Excerpts

“Glossary of Jazz Slang” — from Mezz Mezzrow’s 1946 biography, Really the Blues

Really the Blues, the little-known but highly influential autobiographical work by jazz musician Mezz Mezzrow (co-written by Bernard Wolfe), is one man’s account of decades of jazz and American cultural history. The clarinetist’s colorful life – which he described in the 1946 counter-culture classic as having strayed “off the music” which led to his doing “my share of evil” – was adventurous, earthy, and jubilant, and was told not so much as a biography but as a novel that made “the Mezz” a hero with the era’s key counter-culture figures, including Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.

Much has been made of Mezzrow’s relationship with Louis Armstrong — he managed Armstrong for a time and dealt much of the “gauge” he craved, and Mezzrow’s reputation for dealing pot was so well known that “Mezz” became slang for marijuana. He is also remembered for his

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Interviews » Biographers

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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Uncategorized

Portland — “Jazz Town”

Oregon Public Broadcasting has just produced “Jazz Town,” a thirty minute documentary devoted to presenting jazz and the nightlife in post-World War II Portland, Oregon, which at the time was home to one of the most vibrant and fascinating jazz scenes in the country (and still is!) The documentary and accompanying slide show — featuring newly discovered photos of Ellington, Armstrong, Ella and

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The 1962 Miles Davis Playboy Interview

The other day, while stumbling around the Internet, I came across the first official Playboy interview — that of Alex Haley’s 1962 conversation with Miles Davis. The interview was published in the September edition and was considered quite controversial at the time. Consider this comment from the interview, and keep in mind what the world was like in 1962, and the shock it may have caused in certain segments of our society: “In high school I was best in music class on the trumpet, but the prizes went to the boys with blue eyes. I made up my mind to outdo anybody white on my horn.”

Now 54 years later, in the context of today’s world the interview doesn’t seem as controversial, but it remains a significant window to the soul of the era’s most revered

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