Posts tagged “jazz history”

Features » Historic Venues

Historic Venues: Detroit’s Graystone Ballroom

On February 27, 1922, when dancing in giant ballrooms was wildly popular, Detroit’s Graystone Ballroom – a block long structure on Woodward Avenue —  opened with the All-University Ball.  According to Dan Austin of HistoricDetroit.org,  the property’s original owners were planning a ten story building that “was to house a restaurant called the Chinese Gardens,” but the owners ran out of money before it could be constructed.  Enter Detroit bandleader Jean Goldkette, whose investment and vision created an entirely different experience.

In addition to leading a famed Detroit orchestra, Goldkette — who studied piano at the Moscow Conservatory as a child prodigy before his family emigrated to the United States in 1911 (he arrived in Detroit in 1916) — was prominent in the entertainment business during his time, being principal in Jean Goldkette Orchestras and Attractions, which worked out of […] Continue reading »

Features » Book Excerpts

“Should I sacrifice my life to live half American?”

While the civil rights movement may not have officially begun until the December, 1955 day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, the stage for it was set years before that.  Religious leaders and institutions, jazz and athletics all famously played important roles in building a foundation for the movement, but the hypocrisy of the United States during World War II, when African-Americans were expected to shed blood overseas to preserve freedom for those who often oppressed them in this country, increased pressure on politicians to desegregate the one institution at the center of American life – the military.

In my 2003 interview with David Colley, author of Blood for Dignity:  The Story of the First Integrated Combat Unit in the U.S. Army, he said that by World War II, “blacks had had enough of discrimination and segregation, and with the advent of the war and their continued relegation to second class citizenry — even while fighting allegedly for freedom while they themselves were subjugated — pressure for reform in American society was growing. More people in America were starting to realize that it was just intolerable to

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Features » Book Excerpts

“Jazz is too good for Americans!”

Being disgusted with Congress is, of course, nothing new…In an excerpt from Dizzy Gillespie’s 1979 autobiography (written with Al Fraser) to BE, or not . . . to BOP, Dizzy reminds us of the thick-headed politicians of 1957 who questioned the “exorbitant” fees paid to him and his band during their 1956 State Department-sponsored tour of Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe and South America.

In this excerpt — from a chapter titled “Higher Than Ike” —  Dizzy cynically writes about the “thanks” he received from members of Congress following the tour, as well as the controversy concerning his

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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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