“Vatican is Asked to Rule on Jazz”

     In the April 30, 1957 New York Times article headlined “Vatican is Asked to Rule on Jazz,” Paul Hoffman reports on the attack on jazz music made by Catholic leaders who felt that it was “music of materialistic and Dionysiac orientation,” and how this view might result in a curtailment of radio time devoted to serious jazz music.  This was of particular interest as jazz music was beginning to infiltrate the services of the 1950’s, which was, unsurprisingly,

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June 19th, 2018

William Gottlieb’s “Elusive Pianist”

Jazz photography has played an important role in the development of jazz, and, along with the art found on the record albums of the 1940’s – 60’s, is a visual window into the history of the culture.  The work of photographers like Herman Leonard, William Claxton and Lee Tanner impacted me pretty deeply, and led me deep into the record bins in search of the music they so effectively portrayed.  Leonard and Tanner, in fact, were major influences on my work on this site, and Tanner was indeed a personal mentor whose voice of encouragement remains in my head long after his 2013 passing.

Among the first interviews I ever did was in 1997 with William Gottlieb, best known as a

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June 1st, 2018

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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April 13th, 2018

Artie Shaw and his “chamber-music group in a house packed with jitterbugs!”

     In an historic December 2, 1939 “rags to riches” piece in the Saturday Evening Post titled “Music is a Business,” Artie Shaw writes about his participation in what was billed as “New York’s…first Swing Concert” — presented at the Imperial Theater on May 24, 1936 — and how his formation of an unusual ensemble for the evening resulted in only short term opportunity, but ultimately led to wild success.

     “I had always felt that a string background for a hot clarinet would wed the best of sweet and swing as it was being interpreted at the moment,” Shaw wrote of the ensemble idea he had for the “Swing Concert” performance. “At least, it would be novel and might attract some

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April 12th, 2018

“Rate it? How can I rate that?” — the Miles Davis “Blindfold Test” June 1964

In this June, 1964 Down Beat Blindfold Test hosted by pianist, composer, producer and journalist Leonard Feather — who created this famed feature and first published it in the late 1930’s in Melody Maker  — the ears of Miles Davis are tested. 

Although Feather writes in the introduction that Davis “does not have an automatic tendency to want to put everything down,” he appeared to be in rare form on this date.  His remarks are brilliant, blistering, biting, sarcastic, insulting…and that’s just in his comments on the first record!  Miles take aim at artists and record companies, musical styles and

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November 27th, 2017

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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November 9th, 2017

Quincy Jones on the marketing of jazz and the likelihood of success of a “properly-backed chimpanzee”

I came across a classic August, 1956 piece in Down Beat, “A Tribute to Brownie,” in which none other than Quincy Jones pays homage to the recently deceased Clifford Brown, and expresses a critical eye on the business of jazz – and his fellow performers – at the time…Here is the prominent and most entertaining section of the piece:

 

Here was the perfect amalgamation of natural creative ability, and the proper amount of technical training, enabling him to contribute precious moments of musical and emotional expression.  This inventiveness placed him in a class far beyond that of most of his poll-winning contemporaries.  Clifford’s self-assuredness in his playing reflected the mind and soul of a blossoming young artist who would have rightfully taken his place next to

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November 1st, 2017

The December 1960 Down Beat story on Bill Evans

I’ve been on a Bill Evans kick of late.  Call me “crazy” but I just find his music an island of hope and reason in a world fraught with daily “craziness.”  And, it is wonderfully low-tech in today’s frantic environment that requires seemingly constant and needless stimulation, created by bots and provocateurs.  His music is so…human.

Simultaneous to my kick on Evans is my renewed interest in the writings of the late jazz critic Gene Lees, whose award-winning career included that of biographer, songwriter/lyricist, and editor of Down Beat.  His 1988 collection of essays on jazz – Meet Me at Jim and Andy’s – is loaded with remarkable insight laced with knowledge, charm, and appropriate sentimentality (his piece on Woody Herman, for whom Lees gave the full biography treatment in 1995, is noteworthy in that regard).  A standout piece worth reading is the tragic story of the trombonist Frank Rosolino, who suffered greatly from depression and whose desperation was so intense that he ultimately shot his two sons before killing himself.

In Lees’ essay “The Poet:  Bill Evans,” he writes of his discovery of the great pianist in 1959, as editor of Down Beat, when he noticed, “among a stack of records awaiting assignment for review a gold-covered Riverside album titled Everybody Digs Bill Evans…I took the album home and, sometime after dinner, probably about nine o’clock, put it on the phonograph.  At 4 a.m. I was still listening, though by now I

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October 1st, 2017

Satchmo’s Stamp

During a recent stroll through the Internet, I was reminded of the story of Louis Armstrong requesting the use of Yogi Berra’s catcher’s mask during a 1960’s State Department tour of South America, “to fend off,” according to Armstrong’s widow Lucille, “the [enthusiastic South American] fans who wanted to touch his face and lips.”

Lucille’s recollection was disclosed in a December 10, 1981 letter to the U.S. Postal Service as part of a 14-year effort to have a postage stamp created in her husband’s honor.  Duke Ellington’s stamp was issued in 1986, and the likes of Elvis Presley, Bessie Smith, Nat Cole and Billie Holiday had commemorative stamps well before Armstrong.  How come?  Was it politics?

To read about it, check out the two stories below…The first is the letter of advocacy

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April 4th, 2017

“To Russia, Without Love”

You may have noticed that Russia is in the news a bit these days. (It is tough to avoid). So, while revisiting James Lincoln Collier’s 1989 biography Benny Goodman and the Swing Era, the story of Goodman’s 1962 U.S. State Department sponsored tour of the Soviet Union caught my eye.

Collier reminds us that Goodman and his group – the first American band to tour the Soviet Union since the 1920’s – was considered by many to be too “old fashioned” for the times and that “many critics felt that the Ellington band, playing a more complicated and perhaps more worthy kind of music” should have been chosen for the tour instead. Nonetheless, given Goodman’s popularity around the world, he was considered a

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March 21st, 2017

Revisiting “An Experiment in Modern Music”

The February 12, 1924 concert by Paul Whiteman at New York’s Aeolian Hall was billed as “An Experiment in Modern Music.” As reported by New York Times critic Olin Downes, who attended the event, “the concert was referred to as ‘educational,’ to show the development of this type of music [jazz].” The concert is now best remembered for being the setting for the world premiere of Rhapsody in Blue, with composer George Gershwin at the piano. As Times critic John S. Wilson wrote in 1987, “this concert is today considered a defining event of the Jazz Age and the cultural history of New York City.”

In this excerpt from Whiteman’s 1926 autobiography Jazz – written with essayist Mary Margaret McBride – Whiteman writes about his Aeolian Hall concert experience, and in particular the appeal of Rhapsody, which he described as

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August 21st, 2016

“Ornette’s Permanent Revolution” — a 1985 essay by Francis Davis

While hunting around the Internet for tributes of Ornette Coleman (a collection of which I will attempt to point readers toward tomorrow), I was reminded of the critic Francis Davis’s essay titled “Ornette’s Permanent Revolution.” Originally published in the September, 1985 edition of The Atlantic, Davis, now the jazz critic for the Village Voice, writes eloquently about the complexities of the great saxophonist’s “clean break from convention.” It is a worthy and timely read…

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All hell broke loose when the alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman made his East Coast nightclub debut, at the Five Spot Cafe, in Greenwich Village on November 17, 1959—twenty-five years ago last fall.

The twenty-nine-year-old Coleman arrived in New York having already won the approval of some of the most influential jazz opinion makers of the period. “Ornette Coleman is doing the only really new thing in jazz since the innovations in the mid-forties of

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June 17th, 2015

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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