Conversations with Gary Giddins: On his books Jazz and Warning Shadows

Giddins has been a frequent contributor to Jerry Jazz Musician. This is the 15th interview in our “Conversations with Gary Giddins” series. He joins us in a June 1, 2010 discussion about his two new books.

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Conversations with Gary Giddins: on his book, Natural Selection

Long recognized as America’s most brilliant jazz writer, the winner of many major awards — including the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award — and author of a highly popular biography of Bing Crosby, Gary Giddins has also produced a wide range of stimulating and original cultural criticism in other fields. With Natural Selection, he brings together the best of these previously uncollected essays, including a few written expressly for this volume.

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Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Jazz Festivals

In a wide-ranging conversation, Gary Giddins — for many years the country’s most eminent jazz critic whose most recent collection of cultural criticism is titled Natural Selection — talks about his recent trip to Brazil’s Ouro Preto International Jazz Festival, the business of jazz festivals and touring, jazz education, and the debate concerning where today’s cutting-edge of jazz resides.

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Conversations with Gary Giddins: A History of Jazz in New Orleans

This edition of “Conversation with Gary Giddins” is the first of three Jerry Jazz Musician features devoted to the importance of New Orleans culture. In an enlightening, passionate conversation, Giddins — for many years the country’s most eminent jazz critic — discusses the beginnings of jazz in the city of New Orleans, its prominent figures, and what needs to be done to properly market jazz in a city that has contributed so much toward shaping the soul of America.

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Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Big Bands

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.”

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Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Jazz Vocalists

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.”

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Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Underrated Jazz Musicians, Part Two

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.”

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Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Underrated Jazz Musicians, Part One

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.”

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Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Jazz Criticism

Village Voice writer Gary Giddins, who was prominently featured in Ken Burns’ documentary Jazz, and who is the country’s preeminent jazz critic, joins us in a conversation recorded on June 20, 2003 — and then slightly revised in October — about the profession of jazz criticism.

The conversation is an autobiographical look at the writer’s ascension in his field, and includes candid observations of other prominent critics. It concludes with a unique “Blindfold Test” that asks Giddins to name the jazz writer responsible for the essay excerpt he is spontaneously shown.

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Conversations with Gary Giddins: on pianist Cecil Taylor

Village Voice writer Gary Giddins, who was prominently featured in Ken Burns’ documentary Jazz, and who is the country’s preeminent jazz critic, joins us in a March 13, 2003 conversation about pianist Cecil Taylor.

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Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Thelonious Monk

Village Voice writer Gary Giddins, who was prominently featured in Ken Burns’ documentary Jazz, and who is the country’’s preeminent jazz critic, joins us in a December 23, 2002 conversation about jazz legend Thelonious Monk.

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Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Sonny Rollins

Village Voice writer Gary Giddins, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and who is the country’s preeminent jazz critic, joins us in an October 21, 2002 conversation about jazz legend Sonny Rollins.

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Conversations with Gary Giddins: on John Coltrane

Village Voice writer Gary Giddins, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and who is the country’s eminent jazz critic, joins us in a June 21, 2002 conversation about jazz great John Coltrane.

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Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Ralph Ellison

Village Voice writer Gary Giddins, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and who is the country’s preeminent jazz critic, joins us in a June 21, 2002 conversation about Invisible Man author Ralph Ellison.

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Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Bing Crosby

When Gary Giddins, the jazz critic and columnist for the Village Voice, began work on an in-depth biography of Bing Crosby, many asked him, “Why?” He has explained that Crosby, perhaps the most famous entertainer in America between 1927 and 1956, has been unjustly forgotten since his death in 1977.

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Publication date for second volume of Gary Giddins’ biography on Bing Crosby is November 13

The publisher Little, Brown recently announced a November 13, 2018 publication date for Gary Giddins’ Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star: The War Years, 1940-1946, the second volume of the author’s definitive account of Crosby, the enormously popular 20th century entertainer he describes as  “quintessentially American, cool and upbeat, never pompous, belligerent, or saccharine, never smug or superior. He looked down on

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Gary Giddins…on Cecil Taylor

In 2003, as part of the Jerry Jazz Musician “Conversations with Gary Giddins” series, I was fortunate to interview Giddins — his generation’s most esteemed jazz writer — about Cecil Taylor, who died earlier today at age 89.  It is an excellent read for anyone with an interest in Cecil (or Gary). You can access it by

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Gary Giddins on jazz criticism

Jazz history is filled with great moments and musicians, reported on over the years by critics whose work influenced the music’s path. Rudi Blesh, Martin Williams, Albert Murray, Dan Morgenstern, Nat Hentoff, Gene Lees, Leonard Feather, Whitney Balliett, and Stanley Crouch are just a handful of the critics whose liner notes, columns, opinions and histories we read while deepening our desires to grow with the music. The writer whose work is perhaps most renown is Gary Giddins, the award-winning writer who for years wrote about jazz for the Village Voice, and who I was privileged to interview several times about a variety of interesting topics in our Conversations with Gary Giddins series.

In June, 2003, Giddins and I talked about his ascension as a jazz writer, and included his candid observations of other prominent critics. The discussion concluded with a unique “Blindfold Test” that asked Giddins to name the jazz writer responsible for the essay excerpt he is spontaneously shown. It is a timeless view of

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Gary Giddins on underrated saxophonists

Fans of the saxophone may enjoy reading a January, 2004 interview I did with critic Gary Giddins on underrated jazz musicians. (This was part of my 15 part series of interviews with him called “Conversations with Gary Giddins.”) In this snippet from the interview, Giddins talks about George Coleman, Booker Ervin, Paul Gonsalves, Charlie Rouse and others who he considered “underrated.”

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Jazz writer Gary Giddins on underrated jazz guitarists

“If you look at the Grove Dictionary of Jazz, it is three volumes of jazz history and it embodies a never-ending challenge to discover all those artists. I think the important thing is to look beyond the most celebrated names. In this regard, jazz is profoundly different from nineteenth century classical music, where the pantheon has proven remarkably stable. A jazz listener will want to hear Miles Davis — his reputation is there for a reason — but so much of the fun in jazz lies in finding those distinct personalities who were extremely individual and inventive, yet abide in relative obscurity.”

This comment was made by the most eminent jazz writer Gary Giddins during our “Conversations with Gary Giddins” series, in which he talked about underrated jazz musicians. This particular conversation — from 2004 — concerns underrated jazz guitarists.

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Gary Giddins on underrated trumpet players

Fans of the trumpet may enjoy reading an interview I did with critic Gary Giddins on underrated jazz musicians. (This was part of my 15 part series of interviews with him called “Conversations with Gary Giddins.”) In this snippet from the interview, Giddins talks about Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Booker Little, and a few others who never quite received their “due.”

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GG: Another trumpet player that I never actually did a whole column on — and it sort of spooks me that I didn’t because he’s one of my favorites — is Fats Navarro, one of the very pivotal players of the late forties. I wrote a number of times about Clifford Brown, who in some ways arrived as Navarro’s heir apparent, but he’s another musician I feel I never did justice to because

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On Nat Hentoff

I am saddened to read of the passing of journalist Nat Hentoff, who died yesterday at the age of 91. Hentoff’s work was published by the Village Voice for 50 years, and was also frequently found in the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, the Wall Street Journal, and Jazz Times. He was also editor of Downbeat during the mid-1950’s. There are many obituaries available to read about Nat and his career – including Robert McFaddin’s in today’s New York Times.

As I began publishing original content on Jerry Jazz Musician in 1999, I had the privilege of having my site embraced by the three most prominent jazz writers of the time, Gary Giddins, Stanley Crouch, and Nat Hentoff. All three of them got involved in Jerry Jazz Musician in their own way.

Giddins — who I was able to catch up with during a recent trip I took to New York — and I developed an interview series called

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Booker Ervin and other “underrated” saxophonists

I got caught up into listening to Booker Ervin this morning, and was reminded about my first experience listening to him as a leader — on a big band session he led called Booker ‘n’ Brass, a 1967 Pacific Jazz recording that has found its way to my turntable for the first time in probably 25 years. Forty-eight years since its recording, Ervin’s crisp attack over the top of the stalwart Teddy Edwards-led band on songs like “St. Louis Blues,” “Baltimore Oriole,” and “Harlem Nocturne” sounds as good as it did when I first discovered this record in a Portland used record shop for $2.99 , c. 1980.

Getting into Ervin again reminds me of a conversation I hosted in January, 2004, with the most eminent jazz critic of his era, Gary Giddins, who shared his thoughts with me in a three part series regarding the jazz musicians he deemed as being “underrated.” Here is the part where he talks about

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Ralph Ellison’s record collection

In a wonderfully entertaining and informative 2004 New Yorker piece titled “Ralph Ellison’s Record Collection,” Richard Brody reminds us of the Invisible Man author’s passion for jazz music — what he referred to as “American music” — and of his somewhat controversial (for the time) opinion of the musicians coming up.  While often revering the music of Armstrong, Ellington, and Lester Young (and who can blame him?), of Charlie Parker’s music, he wrote “there is in it a great deal of loneliness, self-deprecation and self-pity,” and, in a letter to friend Albert Murray following a 1958 Newport Jazz Festival performance, described Miles Davis as “poor, evil, lost little Miles Davis.”  He famously characterized bebop as “a listener’s music” that “few people are capable of dancing to it” — although this critique was probably more of a lament of a lost culture. 

But the crux of the story is not Ellison’s opinion about music, rather the recordings he collected, reported by Brody as

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Nat Hentoff’s childhood hero

The topic of “childhood heroes” almost always makes a great conversation.  It is a highly personal discussion and often provides a revealing window into a person’s past and character development.  For many years, I have asked those I interview this basic question:

“Who was your childhood hero?”

The recently deceased jazz advocate and journalist Nat Hentoff was a frequent contributor to Jerry Jazz Musician, and an early admirer of the work of this website.  I had the privilege of getting to know him a little bit over the years, and interviewed him several times, as did my friend and contributing writer Paul Morris, who, during his 2001 interview with Hentoff, asked him who his childhood hero was…Here is that conversation:

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Monk is 100 today

We have stood over record bins, thumbing through his records, moved by his breathtaking originality and creativity.

We have made friends over his music, made love to it, cruised in the car to it, introduced our children to it, and defended it against those who don’t quite comprehend his genius.

We love the emotions his music brings out in us – joy, tears, humor, inspiration.

We continue to sit up when we hear “Straight, No Chaser,” marvel at the brilliance of

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“Civil Liberties and Jazz — Past, Present and Future” — A 2005 Jerry Jazz Musician conversation with journalist Nat Hentoff

In honor of the great American journalist Nat Hentoff — who died yesterday at age 91 — I am publishing a 2005 interview I conducted with him as he turned 80.

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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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It was 50 years ago today — the anniversary of the A Love Supreme recording date

Ask just about any jazz musician, scholar or fan for a list of the greatest jazz albums ever recorded, and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme — recorded 50 years ago today — resides on it. My own first experience with it was in 1975, on a late evening in a dark, smoke-filled, back alley cottage on North Oakland’s Alcatraz Avenue. My listening was guided by a dear friend who understood that this was not just music — it is what happens when musical genius meets intensity, sensitivity, and spirituality. So many details of that evening remain with me 40 years later, not the least of which was how I sunk into the couch, eyes closed, the worn Impulse album jacket never leaving my grip. I was amazed and I was hooked.

Over the years, I have found that a favorite discussion among jazz fans is their recollections of their first experience with this album. When I began developing content for Jerry Jazz Musician, one of the first ideas I had was to interview people who were either

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“What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz record albums of the 1970’s?”

In this edition of “Reminiscing in Tempo: Memories and Opinion,” noted critics and musicians list their favorite jazz record albums of the 1970’s.

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The “perplexing” and “puzzling” Buddy Bolden photograph

While reading through Donald Marquis’ outstanding In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz (1978), I was reminded about the only photograph in existence of Bolden — perhaps the most famous photograph in the history of jazz. Here is what Marquis learned about it while writing his book…

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Reminiscing in Tempo: Memories and Opinion, Volume 15: What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz record albums of the 1960’s?

“Reminiscing in Tempo” is part of a continuing effort to provide Jerry Jazz Musician readers with unique forms of “edu-tainment.” As often as possible, Jerry Jazz Musician poses one question via e mail to a small number of prominent and diverse people. The question is designed to provoke a lively response that will potentially include the memories and/or opinion of those solicited.

This edition asks the question “What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz record albums of the 1960’s?” Respondents include the musicians John McLaughlin, Vijay Iyer, Warren Wolf, Jane Ira Bloom, Don Byron, Robin Eubanks, and journalists Gary Giddins, Dan Morgenstern, Terry Teachout, Neil Tesser, John Goodman and lots more…

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“What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings from the 1960’s?”

What do the musicians Don Byron, Jane Ira Bloom, Eric Revis, Robin Eubanks, Steve Turre, and Warren Wolf have in common with the journalists Gary Giddins, John Goodman, Terry Teachout, and Marc Myers? They have all participated in the next edition of “Reminiscing in Tempo: Memories and Opinion” by answering the question, “What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings from the 1960’s?”

The complete edition will be published in April, and many more participants are expected. Meanwhile, here is a sampling of responses:

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Reminiscing in Tempo: Memories and Opinion, Volume Fourteen — Who was your childhood hero?

“Reminiscing in Tempo” is part of a continuing effort to provide Jerry Jazz Musician readers with unique forms of “edu-tainment.” As often as possible, Jerry Jazz Musician poses one question via e mail to a small number of prominent and diverse people. The question is designed to provoke a lively response that will potentially include the memories and/or opinion of those solicited.

This edition’s question is “Who was your childhood hero?” Participants include Gary Burton, Pat Martino, Gary Giddins, Nat Hentoff, and others.

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The “Underrated” Kenny Dorham

December 5th marks the 41st anniversary of the bebop trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s death. Only 48 years old at the time of his passing from kidney disease, Dorham’s professional life enjoyed a great measure of respect from his fellow musicians, but, as Nat Hentoff pointed out in the liner notes to Dorham’s 1963 Blue Note recording Una Mas, “he has yet to break through to the kind of wide public acceptance which has occasionally seemed imminent.” His recordings are timeless – each and every one packed with delicious passion and brilliant playing that still sounds fresh — but Dorham never did “break through” in his lifetime, and continues to be classified by important jazz historians as “underrated.” In a Jerry Jazz Musician-hosted conversation on underrated jazz musicians, the most eminent jazz writer Gary Giddins said “when anybody wrote about [Dorham]

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On the Influence of Albert Murray

One of my more interesting experiences as publisher of Jerry Jazz Musician was producing a series of interviews that focused on the work of the novelist Ralph Ellison. Invisible Man was a favorite novel of mine as a young man, but it wasn’t until I reread it in the 1990’s before I began to understand the enormity of its cultural significance. At that time, Ellison’s second (and unfinished) novel Juneteenth was being published, and a variety of books on Ellison were released at the same time – among them Living with Music, a collection of Ellison’s writings on jazz music edited by Columbia University scholar Robert O’Meally, and Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray.

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Robin D.G. Kelley, author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original

“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 music.

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Doug Ramsey, author of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond

Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond is the story of a jazz artist who transcended genres to establish one of the most immediately recognizable sounds in all of music. Long before his success as the alto saxophonist with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, decades before he wrote “Take Five ,” Desmond determined that he would be himself, never a disciple or an imitator, whatever the cost.

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“Civil Liberties and Jazz — Past, Present and Future” — A conversation with journalist Nat Hentoff

at Hentoff, a prolific author and journalist whose work has been published for many years in, among other publications, the Village Voice, the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, the Wall Street Journal, and Jazz Times, has been described by one of his publishers, DaCapo Press, as “a man of passion and insight, of streetwise wit and polished eloquence — a true American original.” This “passion of insight” is particularly apparent in his lifelong devotion to the chronicling of jazz music — a pursuit that began even before he became editor of Downbeat in 1953 — and in his steadfast defense of the Constitution.

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Louis Armstrong biographer Terry Teachout

“I suppose you could say that the seeds of my next book, a full-length biography of Louis Armstrong, were planted three years ago, when I was writing an essay for the New York Times about Armstrong’s centenary in which I called him “jazz’’s most eminent Victorian,” Terry Teachout wrote in his August 17, 2004 Arts Journal blog.

Three years after the Times piece was published, he took a tour of the Louis Armstrong House in Queens and came away with the enthusiasm required of such an endeavor.

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Great Encounters #6: When Bing Crosby met Louis Armstrong

Excerpted from Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams by Gary Giddins

To hip musicians in Chicago, scat had been the rage for months. Bing and some of the other adventurous musicians in Whiteman’s band heard it that very week from the master himself, Louis Armstrong. If mobster Al Capone ruled the city, Armstrong ruled its music. Whatever he played was instantly picked up by other musicians. The previous spring Okeh issued his Hot Five recording of “Heebie Jeebies,” and it caused a sensation, selling some 40,000 copies thanks to his inspired vocal chorus – a torrent of bristling grunts and groans in no known language.

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“Remembering Dizzy Gillespie,” a conversation with Nat Hentoff and James Moody

Saxophonist James Moody, whose significant achievements include employment in a variety of Gillespie’s best groups, and journalist Nat Hentoff, whose chronicles on jazz during Gillespie’s era were the benchmarks of his craft, remember Dizzy and his remarkable life in a March 19, 2004 Jerry Jazz Musician hosted conversation.

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Eric Nisenson, author of Open Sky: Sonny Rollins and His World of Improvisation

Author Eric Nisenson has devoted much of his adult life to reporting jazz. The genesis of his passion for jazz was his introduction to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue at an early age – a passion so strong it eventually led to a friendship with Miles. The subjects for his three biographies are no less than Miles, John Coltrane, and now, Sonny Rollins, all key musicians and all strong, unique personalities worthy of icon status in the world of music. Nisenson discusses his friendship with Miles and his new book, Open Sky : Sonny Rollins and His World of Improvisation

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In This Issue

Jeffrey Stewart, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, is interviewed about Locke (pictured), the father of the Harlem Renaissance.

Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 19 recommended recordings by five jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

On the Turntable

This month, a playlist of 19 recently released jazz recordings, including those by Branford Marsalis, Joe Martin, Scott Robinson, Allison Au and Warren Vache

Poetry

In a special collection of poetry, eight poets contribute seventeen poems focused on stories about family, and honoring mothers and fathers

The Joys of Jazz

In this new volume of his podcasts, Bob Hecht presents three very different stories; on Harlem Stride piano, Billy Strayhorn's end-of-life composition "Blood Count," and "Lester-ese," Lester Young’s creative verbal wit and wordplay.

Short Fiction

We had many excellent entrants in our recently concluded 50th Short Fiction Contest. In addition to publishing the winning story on March 11, with the consent of the authors, we have published several of the short-listed stories...

“What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?”

Gary Giddins, Jimmy Heath, Fred Hersch, Joe Hagan, Maxine Gordon, Neil Tesser, Tim Page, Veronica Swift and Marcus Strickland are among the 25 writers, musicians, poets, educators, and photographers who write about their favorite album cover art

Art

“Thinking about Homer Plessy” — a photo narrative by Charles Ingham

Jazz History Quiz #127

Before his tragic early death, this trumpeter played with Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, and John Coltrane, and most famously during a 1961 Five Spot gig with Eric Dolphy (pictured). Who is he?

Great Encounters

In this edition, Bob Dylan recalls what Thelonious Monk told him about music at New York’s Blue Note club in c. 1961.

Art

Jerry Jazz Musician regularly publishes a series of posts featuring excerpts of the photography and stories/captions found in Jazz in Available Light by Veryl Oakland. In this edition, Mr. Oakland's photographs and stories feature Stan Getz, Sun Ra, and Carla Bley.

Interviews

Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell discusses the life of the important 20th century American artist

Cover Stories with Paul Morris

In this edition, Paul writes about jazz album covers that offer glimpses into intriguing corners of the culture of the 1950’s

Coming Soon

Michael Cuscuna, the legendary record producer and founder of Mosaic Records, is interviewed about his life in jazz...Award-winning photographer Carol Friedman, on her career in the world of New York jazz photography

In the previous issue

Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon, talks about her book, and the complex life of her late husband.

Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 22 recommended recordings by seven jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

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