Revisiting the 1964 Playboy panel “Jazz — Today and Tomorrow”

For those of us who bought it “for the articles,” it was easy to see that few publications supported and promoted jazz music during the 50’s and 60s quite like Playboy magazine. Among its many endeavors involving jazz, Playboy, Inc. produced festivals and concerts, featured artists on its late-night television programs, invited readers to vote for their favorite performers by instrument, and released record albums. The music was a passion of founder Hugh Hefner,who found that its aesthetic fit in well with those of other “products” pitched to the sophisticated and elite male of the era. Jazz conversations were often found within the pages — the first of the now famous Playboy interviews featured Miles Davis in a 1962 conversation with a young Alex Haley.

In February, 1964, Playboy published a remarkable conversation on jazz. Hosted by journalist Nat Hentoff, “The Playboy Panel: Jazz — Today and Tomorrow” included the musicians

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January 28th, 2015

In 1971, big band icons discuss the Beatles, rock and roll, and the generation gap

In 1967, Macmillan published the first edition of George T. Simon’s The Big Bands, an entertaining and essential account of the era that was hailed at the time by the Los Angeles Times as “the definitive volume in its field.” Simon, whose credits include being an early drummer in Glenn Miller’s band, was editor of dance band publication Metronome from 1939 – 1955, and during the 1960’s wrote regularly as a critic for the The New York Post and The New York Herald-Tribune.

In Part Four of the Second Edition (printed in 1971), Simon visits with several of the iconic big band leaders he profiles in his book, and asks them to express their opinions about rock and roll, the Beatles, and the generation gap. Their responses — now 43 years in the rear-view mirror, and excerpted here from Simon’s book — are worth revisiting.

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July 25th, 2014

“Jazzing Away Prejudice”

Writing that the “good” African-American orators of the day (“spellbinders”) do for lifting up the “Race” is “nil,” this 1919 Chicago Defender editorial makes the case that the music of James Reese Europe could have a significant political impact on race relations of the time.

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With the ringing down of the curtain at the Auditorium last Saturday night there closed a remarkable period of band concerts. If you were not fortunate enough to attend you missed a rare treat. This band had made a wonderful record with the American expeditionary forces in France and with its jazz music had proved a source of great entertainment wherever it went. When it returned to the United States it was given a great ovation by the people of New York City, and Chicago found it equal to advance notice. It has all the artistic finish of any band that has invaded these parts in many years.

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July 24th, 2014

Revisiting “The Jazz Problem”

In 1924, jazz was becoming popular in the major cities of New Orleans, Chicago, Kansas City and New York, and with Paul Whiteman’s Aeolian Hall performance of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, it was being judged in some critical circles as a serious musical art form. That wasn’t the opinion of everyone, of course.

“‘Jazz’ has created a ‘malarious’ atmosphere in the musical world. It is abnormal. The air needs clarifying.” So wrote popular music composer Robert M. Stults in the August 1924 edition of The Etude magazine, an issue dedicated to what they defined as “The Jazz Problem.”

The Etude was published from 1883 – 1957 and was a popular music publication of the era. Its primary audience was made up of popular music teachers, and the debate of the time of this particular edition was the legitimacy of this controversial new music known as “Jazz.” To solicit opinion about jazz, The Etude posed the question “Where is Jazz Leading America?” to composers, educators, musicians, members of the clergy, playwrights and novelists.

The debate inspired by this question featured fascinating perspectives,

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February 27th, 2014

The Beatles — post Ed Sullivan appearance critical reviews, a Charles Mingus rant, and perspective

With the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ appearance on Ed Sullivan prominently in the news this past week, it is interesting (and entertaining) to revisit some of the critical perspectives of their music following the performance.

On February 10, 1964, Theodore Strongin, music critic for the New York Times (who Wikipedia describes as a “champion of new music”) wrote that “The Beatles’ vocal quality can be described as hoarsely incoherent, with the minimal enunciation necessary to communicate the schematic texts.” Three days later, acknowledging the phenomenon that hit our shores, George Dixon of the Washington Post wrote, “Just thinking about the Beatles seems to induce mental disturbance. They have a commonplace, rather dull act that hardly seems to merit mentioning, yet people hereabouts have mentioned scarcely anything else for a couple of days.”

Months later, William F. Buckley, the era’s chief conservative voice and founder of the National Review got into the act, writing

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February 11th, 2014

Amiri Baraka’s Blues People at 50

The recent death of Amiri Baraka gets us looking back at the 1963 publication of his important and enduring study of jazz and and blues, Blues People: Negro Music in White America. Two pieces to turn interested readers to…The first, “The Blues,” by Ralph Ellison, first appeared in the February 6, 1964 edition of the New York Review of Books, and features Ellison’s classic line of criticism, “The tremendous burden of sociology which Jones would place upon this body of music is enough to give even the blues the blues.” The second, “Black History Meets Black Music” ‘Blues People’ at 50″ is a July 26, 2013 piece by Eugene Holley, Jr. published on NPR’s “A Blog Supreme,” in which Holley seeks opinion on the book from key contemporary critcs and musicians, including Harvard educator Ingrid Monson, who says that “Blues People is a brilliant and path-breaking book, not because all of its factual information is correct, or because all of its interpretive perspectives are unassailable, but because of the sheer audacity, scope and originality of its interpretive perspective.”

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January 19th, 2014

“Unspeakable Jazz Must Go!” — conservative opinions about jazz in 1921

There was a time when jazz music was considered “dangerous” and a threat to “our way of life.” Consider the words of Fenton T. Bott of Dayton, Ohio, described by John R. McMahon in the December, 1921 edition of Ladies Home Journal as an “expert in the dance and professional dancing master”: “It [jazz] is degrading. It lowers all the moral standards. Unlike liquor, a great deal of its harm is direct and immediate. But it also leads to undesirable things. The jazz is too often followed by the joy-ride. The lower nature is stirred up as a prelude to unchaperoned adventure.”

Conservative opinions were so strong about the “dangers” of jazz and the dancing it provoked that jazz dancing was being regulated. Bott told McMahon that “Municipal regulation has been started and applied to some extent in something like sixty towns and cities. The best-regulated cities are probably Cleveland, Detroit and Omaha. The movement began not long ago in Cleveland when officials asked my brother, who is a professional teacher, to assist in the regulation of public dance halls. They asked what he wanted for his services, and he told them he would be glad to do the work for a dollar a year.”

Bott, of course, wasn’t alone in his thinking.

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January 5th, 2014

Remembering music critic Ralph J. Gleason

Few music writers had the resume of San Francisco’s Ralph J. Gleason: Columbia University School of Journalism; critic at the San Francisco Chronicle, where, in 1950, his criticism of popular music was the first such column in an American daily newspaper (before Gleason, newspapers regularly reviewed classical music only); produced the Jazz Casual television show for public television; witnessed and reported on all of the happenings of San Francisco during a time now known as the “San Francisco Renaissance,” when Gleason effectively connected the diverse endeavors of the era’s progressive musicians, literary figures, and comedians into an artistic aesthetic; co-founder of the Monterey Jazz Festival; writer on many a jazz record liner note (the next time you pull out Miles’ Bitches Brew, check out Gleason’s poetic description); contributing writer to Ramparts; co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine.

John Gennari, author of Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and its Critics – itself an important history of jazz journalism – described Gleason as “the jazz critic who

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December 14th, 2013

Duke Ellington, 1944 — “The Hot Bach – I”

Richard Boyer’s entertaining and candid New Yorker profile of Duke Ellington first appeared in the June 24, 1944 edition under the title “The Hot Bach I.” (Parts “II” and “III” were published in subsequent weeks). Described by Ellington biographer Terry Teachout as “the most comprehensive journalistic account of Ellington’s life and work to appear in his lifetime,” the feature is filled with now well-known Ellington history (for example, his approach to composition and his appetite for food, women and the Bible), social history (Boyer’s casual description of the racial discrimination the band encounters on the road is notable), and some humorous interplay between Ellington and writing partner Billy Strayhorn, described at the time by Boyer as a “staff arranger.” The piece is a terrific companion to Teachout’s book, and another reminder of how important The New Yorker has been to the arts over the years.

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December 10th, 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

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