The passing of Aretha Franklin yesterday hits hard on a variety of levels. I am sure we all have wonderful Aretha memories. For me, she will always be remembered as the singer who opened my world to the sounds of soul and gospel music, and doing so during the height of the civil rights movement, when so much important work was being achieved — and cutting edge art was being created in response to it — virtually every day.
Aretha learned to sing at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin, was minister — “the most famous African American preacher in America,” according to his biographer Nick Salvatore. Franklin’s style of “booming, soaring, flashy and intense” preaching “revolutionized the art, and his call for his fellow African Americans to proclaim both their faith and their rights helped usher in the civil rights movement.”
Rev. Franklin had an intense influence on daughter Aretha, “…[Aretha] always sang from her inners,” Ray Charles once said. “In many ways she’s got her father’s feeling and passion,’ [for when C.L.] — one of the last great preachers — delivers a sermon, he builds his case so beautifully you can’t help but see the light. Same when Aretha sings.”...
August 17th, 2018
Besides doing his best to help raise three kids, during my 1960’s childhood my father worked his heart out at two jobs — one of which was as owner of a restaurant on Oakland’s Telegraph Avenue, and the other as a musician, playing trumpet and viola throughout the San Francisco Bay area, mostly on evenings and weekends in “casual” jobs. For years he was part of a strolling quartet that entertained San Francisco’s elite at the World Trade Club — an ensemble that at its peak toured the Philippines, playing to an audience that included...
June 17th, 2018
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...
April 6th, 2018
The great jazz singer Jon Hendricks died in New York earlier today at the age of 96. In his New York Times obituary, Peter Keepnews writes that “Mr. Hendricks did not invent this practice, known as vocalese — most jazz historians credit the singer Eddie Jefferson with that achievement — but he became its best-known and most prolific exponent, and he turned it into a group art.”
His work with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross was one of my gateways into jazz music. My childhood home had only a few mostly dreadful record albums (and my beloved mother’s favorite radio station was KABL/San Francisco, with Mantovani and 101 Strings in heavy rotation on the Philco clock radio on the kitchen counter), but somewhere in the bowels of the house was Sing a Song of Basie LP that would somehow occasionally make its way on to our Hoffman stereo system’ turntable — in competition for time with Creedence and the Doors and Beatles 45’s. Even as a little kid I could tell this was “hip” music, and it ultimately led me to an unforgettable experience.
When I was living in Berkeley in the late seventies I went to see him on stage in a small North Beach...
November 22nd, 2017
Fats Domino is remembered as a rock and roll legend, and idolized by many musicians of his era, including Elvis Presley, who, according Peter Guaralnick, author of Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, referred to Fats as “The King of Rock and Roll.”
In 2006, Jerry Jazz Musician contributor Adrienne Wartts interviewed Domino’s biographer Rick Coleman…You can read it by...
October 30th, 2017
Dizzy Gillespie — born 100 years ago today — recalls his childhood in this excerpt from his 1979 autobiography, To BE, or not…to BOP
The pictures show me as a very beautiful boy, but I was the last of nine children and my arrival probably didn’t excite anybody. So many people had been born at our house before. I don’t think Mama felt too blessed about having nine children, unless “blessed” means “wounded” like it does in French. She probably figured someone had put the bad mouth on us.
Every Sunday morning, Papa would whip us. That’s mainly how I remember him. He was unusually mean; and hated to see or hear about his...
October 21st, 2017
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...
October 10th, 2017
The comedian Dick Gregory, who died last week at the age of 84, lived a full and important American life as a comic, candid social satirist, and political activist (who famously ran for president in 1968). He once said he earned $5,000 a week “for saying out loud what I’d always said under my breath.” Gregory earned a living as a first class headline interpreter who was able to communicate his satire to an appreciative, integrated audience during fractious times. His work influenced countless comedians, including Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor.
In the liner notes to Gregory’s 1961 (and first) comedy album Dick Gregory in Living Black and White, Alex Dreier wrote that Gregory is “neither Ralph Bunche nor Amos ‘n’ Andy. Gregory’s humor is not...
August 23rd, 2017
2017 is the 100th birthday year of several jazz immortals – among them Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, and, today, Ella Fitzgerald.
As a young and naïve jazz fan in the 1960’s, like Louis Armstrong, Ella seemed “square” to me – her voice too sweet and happy for my ears, especially when compared to the singer who most moved my soul to discover more of the music, Billie Holiday. Plus, the Songbook series she became internationally famous for seemed too smartly packaged, slick in a Madison-Avenue-way that tore me away from the bins that stocked her record albums.
Over the years, however, I eventually came to appreciate and cherish her, especially as I learned the courageous and inspirational nature of her biography, and played her recordings with Chick Webb, and dug the collaborations with the Ink Spots, Louis Jordan, and eventually, of course,...
April 25th, 2017
Nat Hentoff’s memorial service was held at St. Peter’s Church in New York on Friday, February 24. Aidan Lee reported on the service for the Jazz Journalists Association, and the Village Voice — a longtime employer of Hentoff — provided an extensive photographic account of the day’s events. Click through to the next page to view a performance of pianist Joe Alterman playing Errol Garner’s “Gaslight” at the memorial...
March 1st, 2017
Paul Morris is a longtime friend and contributing writer of Jerry Jazz Musician. He currently writes “Cover Stories with Paul Morris,” a frequent column about classic record album art and design.
Paul shares a memory of the legendary jazz writer and journalist Nat Hentoff, who died on January 7 at the age of 91.
In the late 1970’s I was a jazz fan who liked reading about the music as much as listening to it. My next music choice often came from a recommendation from a jazz critic’s liner notes or articles. Nat Hentoff proved to be a reliable guide in his early jazz books and the occasional article.
These years were the heyday of the Village Voice, where Hentoff was a regular. He concentrated on First Amendment issues in his Voice column, but from time to time he would mention...
January 30th, 2017