A follow-up to Straight Life: The Story of Art Pepper

Straight Life: The Story of Art Pepper, published in 1979, remains one of the most critically acclaimed jazz biographies ever written — some would even call it a “classic of its kind.” Written by the great West Coast alto player and his third wife Laurie, the book is brutally honest about the world Pepper traveled in, and is filled with colorful stories about his time with Stan Kenton, graphic descriptions of his sexual encounters, and, of course, the toll of his epic substance abuse.

Laurie Pepper has just published a follow-up to Straight Life called Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman, an exciting development for many of us. I haven’t read it yet, but hope to do so. No less an authority than Gary Giddins blurbed for the book: “Everyone who knows the skillful craftsmanship she brought to Straight Life, the masterpiece she made of Art Pepper’s life, will find it here again, in service to her own story, which would be

...

May 22nd, 2014

Tommy Dorsey stands up for Charlie Shavers

The stories about racial confrontations that jazz musicians experienced are, unfortunately, limitless. I recently posted “The Jazz at the Philharmonic Dice Game Bust,” which told the story of how producer Norman Granz challenged segregation in Houston.

Here is a pretty interesting story that Louis Bellson tells about how his bandleader Tommy Dorsey stood up for trumpet player Charlie Shavers during a swing through the Carolinas:

*

Somewhere down South — North Carolina or South Carolina — segregation, of course, was going on. Tommy told the buyer [on one date], “He’s [Shavers] in my band. He’s an artist. He’s featured

...

May 21st, 2014

Louis Armstrong and “Gage”

In “Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism, author Thomas Brothers writes about Armstrong’s early fascination with marijuana — an interest that began in Chicago, 1928, while playing the Savoy Ballroom. This interest led to a marijuana possession arrest on November 13, 1930 in the parking lot of Los Angeles’ Cotton Club. “Armstrong was allowed to finish out his night work before they hauled him off to jail around 3:00 A.M.,” Brothers writes.

The following book excerpt begins with a rather humorous transcript from his trial, and then

...

March 25th, 2014

Book excerpt from Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism, by Thomas Brothers

On the heels of terrific books on Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington comes Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism, author and Duke University Music Professor Thomas Brothers’ follow-up to his revered Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans.

In the book’s introduction, Brothers reports that his book picks up where Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans left off, with Armstrong’s 1922 Chicago arrival, and ends ten years later. He writes, “My main thesis is that the success of this nimble-minded musician depended on his ability to skillfully negotiate the musical and social legacies of slavery. Indeed, his career can be understood as a response to these interlocking trajectories.” I have just begun reading it and have been taken in by “Welcome to Chicago,” the book’s first chapter that tells the story of what Armstrong would have seen as he entered Lincoln Gardens for the first time in August, 1922; for example, the racially inflected floor show whose “centerpiece of the presentation is a row of light-skinned dancing girls;” dancing couples in an environment where “correct dancing is insisted upon” (to keep immorality charges at bay); and the local white musicians — “alligators” — described as “the little white boys…motivated to learn the music and cash in.”

I had the privilege of interviewing Thomas Brothers following the publication of Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans, and he has accepted my invitation for an interview about his new book. It is

...

March 7th, 2014

Journey to Jazzland

On occasion I have taught a very basic 45 minute “History of Jazz” class to first and second graders. I play music and show video, hold up classic record album covers, and read a quotation or two. Without fail, the 6 – 8 year olds are excited by the music and images, and it is exhilarating to see them get to their feet and unabashedly dance, inspired by the music of Armstrong, Goodman, Ellington, Basie, Billie, and Monk. Their energy is unbounded, and is a reminder of what lives inside children before many unlearn their “hip” roots.

Whenever a new book geared toward teaching children about jazz music is released, I am moved to share the news…Check out Journey to Jazzland, a picture book to inspire kids to learn about jazz. Conceptualized by Gia Volterra de Saulnier, she writes that she hopes to “get more kids inspired to learn at least a little bit more about jazz,” and to get them to know about “this important music history that really should be kept alive.”

...

February 5th, 2014

Donald Fagen — “Eminent Hipster”

You may want to consider adding Donald Fagen’s book Eminent Hipsters to your reading list. In it, the Steely Dan co-founder writes intelligently and often humorously about his early-life relationship with the jazz culture and how it helped shape his life choices and musical direction. Fagen says that the book’s main subjects are “talented musicians, writers and performers from a universe beyond suburban New Jersey who showed me how to interpret my own world.” Some of the “hipsters” Fagen shares along the way are Henry Mancini, all-night jazz DJ Mort Fega, WOR radio legend Jean Shepherd, and the Boswell Sisters.

An example of his colorful writing…In his chapter titled “In the Clubs” — an appreciation for the jazz clubs of New York he frequented as a young man — he wrote:

...

December 19th, 2013

An excerpt from Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington by Terry Teachout

It’s a great time for jazz biography. In addition to Stanley Crouch’s book on Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong biographer and Wall Street Journal drama critic Terry Teachout has turned out what several critics report to be an important book on the life of Duke Ellington. I have just completed the first chapter and am eagerly anticipating the pages beyond. To get a flavor for the book, you may enjoy this short excerpt, in which Teachout describes Ellington’s work habits and what Ellington “sought and got” from his band, described here as his ”accumulation of personalities.’”

...

November 13th, 2013

Book Excerpt from “Mingus Speaks,” by John Goodman

Charles Mingus is among jazz’s greatest composers and perhaps its most talented bass player. He was blunt and outspoken about the place of jazz in music history and American culture, about which performers were the real thing (or not), and much more. These in-depth interviews, conducted several years before Mingus died, capture the composer’s spirit and voice, revealing how he saw himself as composer and performer, how he viewed his peers and predecessors, how he created his extraordinary music, and how he looked at race.

...

July 3rd, 2013

In This Issue

In this issue, 25 noted critics, writers, musicians and artists answer the question, “What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?”…Also, an interview with Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell; ”And so we left for Paris” a short story by Sophie Jonas-Hill; two new podcasts by Bob Hecht (one on Paul Desmond, the other on Art Farmer); 18 poets contribute 20 poems to our March poetry collection; new jazz listening recommendations; and lots more…

“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

Short Fiction

"And so we went to Paris," a short story by Sophie Jonas-Hill

Poetry

Eighteen poets contribute 20 poems in the March collection

Interviews

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

The Joys of Jazz

Two new podcasts from Bob Hecht -- on Paul Desmond, and Art Farmer

Poetry

“King Louis en le toilette” — a poem (and collage) by Steven Dalachinsky

On the Turntable

Recommended listening…Check out these 18 recently released jazz recordings by Branford Marsalis, Anna Maria Jopek, Ralph Alessi, Larry Grenadier, Jon Cowherd, Stephane Galland, Mathias Eick and the Jimbo Tribe

Art

“Thinking about Robert Johnson” — a photo narrative by Charles Ingham

Great Encounters #54

In this edition, Joe Hagan, author of STICKY FINGERS: .The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, writes about how co-founders Wenner and legendary San Francisco music critic Ralph Gleason came upon the name for their revolutionary publication, Rolling Stone magazine.

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

An interview with Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon

In the previous issue

The February, 2019 issue features an interview with Thomas Brothers, author of Help! The Beatles, Duke Ellington, and the Magic of Collaboration…Also, previous winners of the Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest reflect on their winning story; two new podcasts from Bob Hecht; a new collection of poetry; recommendations of recently release jazz recordings, and lots more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive