“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,

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September 24th, 2018

“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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August 30th, 2018

We can learn from how jazz musicians communicate

From Wynton Marsalis’ 2008 book Moving to Higher Ground:  How Jazz Can Change Your Life comes another example of how humanity (and even the world of politics) can learn from how jazz musicians communicate…

 

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At [age] 12, I began listening to John Coltrane, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, and Freddie Hubbard.  Just by paying serious attention to these musicians every day, I came to realize that each musician opens a chamber in the very center of his being and expresses that center in the uniqueness of his sound.  The sound of a master musician is as personalized and distinct as the sound of a person’s voice.  After that basic realization, I focused on

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August 3rd, 2018

“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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May 9th, 2018

“The girl in Bennett’s who knows about jazz” — a story about Elvis Costello’s mother (and the smuggling of Lennie Tristano recordings!)

     On a whim I recently picked up the rock musician Elvis Costello’s 2015 biography, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, a strange and (as far as I can tell — only 100 pages into it) occasionally brilliant reflection on his life.  

     Costello, born Declan Patrick MacManus in 1954, began his career in London’s pub scene before becoming an important contributor to the British punk and new wave movement of the mid-1970’s.  Long a darling of rock critics, Costello was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, and is known to contemporary jazz fans as the husband to popular pianist/singer Diana Krall.

    The following excerpt from the book is a colorful story of Costello’s mother Lillian’s employment as a clerk in the record departments of two Liverpool retailers — first, Rushworth & Dreaper (a renowned seller of musical instruments), and three years later, Bennett’s, a smaller shop that catered to musicians.  Along the way, you will discover how

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March 29th, 2018

Jack Kerouac and the “Beatnik crap” that cheapened the memories of jazz icons

In this short excerpt from David Amram’s 2002 biography Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac,  Kerouac talks with Amram about how the “Beatnik crap” that Kerouac and his friends reluctantly represented was “distorting everything,” and “cheapening the memories of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk.”  It is an interesting and entertaining view of that era, filled with the vigor, passion, wit and wisdom Kerouac is remembered for.

 

 

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     In January of 1959, we collaborated with a once-in-a-lifetime group of artists on the film Pull My Daisy.  In addition to appearing in the film as Mezz McGillicudy, the deranged French horn player in the moth-eaten sweater, I composed the entire score for the film and wrote the music for the title song, “Pull My Daisy,” with lyrics by Jack [Kerouac], Neal Cassady, and Allen Ginsberg.

     The idea of making a film based on Jack’s work was easier to

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January 22nd, 2018

Poet Jack Hirschman’s “Rifficals” and memories of Keystone Korner

In an enlightening essay found in Kathy Sloane’s entertaining history of Keystone Korner, the famed ‘70’s – 80’s North Beach San Francisco jazz club, the poet Jack Hirschman writes that “post-World War [II] jazz, abstract expressionism, and what I call field composition in poetry represent for me the trinity of essential American idioms that really are the foundation of not merely my work, but the work of virtually a whole generation of writers and musicians.”  Hirschman writes that he found inspiration for his poetry in the music of Monk (“he was like a poet writing in musical notes”), Charlie Parker and Cecil Taylor (“also a writing poet [who] fills the plane up and all the spaces”) and produced what he called “rifficals,” countless improvisations inspired by jazz that he passed out to the audience at the Keystone.

Like many of us, Hirschman believes jazz is a centerpiece of our cultural history.  “The African American dimension has been a major influence on virtually all the artists in this country,” he writes, “even if people

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August 29th, 2017

How Billie became “Lady Day”

Having just published Arya Jenkins’ excellent new short story “Foolish Love,” in which Billie Holiday’s music plays a central role in the life of the story’s main character, this piece, excerpted from Bill Crow’s 1990 book, Jazz Anecdotes, is a wonderful reminder of how Ms. Holiday became known as “Lady Day.”  The story is set up by Crow and stories about nicknames created by “Prez.”

 

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Lester Young made up names for many of his friends, and everyone used them.  He called Count Basie “The Holy Man,” (shortened by the band to “Holy”) because he was the

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June 9th, 2017

Milt Hinton’s recipe for “Millionaire Meatloaf”

This holiday season, you may want to consider making “Millionaire Meatloaf,” a dish the late, great bass player Milt Hinton and trombonist Tyree Glenn conjured up while touring with Cab Calloway. This story is not only one of food, but also of the culinary creativity required of jazz musicians during a time of segregation, when even getting a meal was a tremendous challenge.

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December 13th, 2016

“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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November 4th, 2016

“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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October 24th, 2016

In This Issue

This issue features an interview with Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins; a collection of poetry devoted to the World War II era; and a new edition of “Reminiscing in Tempo,” in which the question “What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings of the 1940’s” is posed to Rickie Lee Jones, Chick Corea, Tom Piazza and others.

Features

In this edition of Reminiscing in Tempo,, Chick Corea, Rickie Lee Jones, Tom Piazza, Gary Giddins, Randy Brecker, Michael Cuscuna, Terry Teachout and many others answer the question, “What are 3 or 4 of your favorite recordings of the 1940’s?”

Interviews

Interview with Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins, author of the new book "Swinging on a Star: The War Years, 1940 - 1946"

Poetry

Eight poets — John Stupp, Aurora Lewis, Michael L. Newell, Robert Nisbet, Alan Yount, Roger Singer, dan smith and Joan Donovan — write about the era of World War II

The Joys of Jazz

Award winning radio producer and host Bob Hecht shares his love of jazz through his podcasts on his site “The Joys of Jazz.” In this edition, he tells two stories; the history of the virtual anthem of World War II, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and the friendship and musical rapport of Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong.

Short Fiction

Hannah Draper of Ottawa, Ontario is the winner of the 49th Jerry Jazz Musician New Short Fiction Award. Her story is titled "Will You Play For Me?"

Coming Soon

Three prominent scholars in a conversation about the lives of Billie Holiday, Ralph Ellison, and Langston Hughes (pictured)

Contributing writers

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