A writer’s appreciation of Nat Hentoff — by Scott Shachter

I was eighteen when I read Nat Hentoff’s Jazz Is, and it changed my life. I’d always thought good jazz was just the crafting of pretty notes with a smooth feel. I’d never imagined it could be a “cry for justice.” Or a captivating tour through a heart lay bare. The greatest jazz goes even beyond that: the symphony of a soul freshly released and taking flight, nothing less than what Nat calls “spirit-music.”

As readers know, Nat Hentoff was far more than a jazz authority. He was a spectacular writer and a freedom-of-speech icon with no tolerance for hypocrisy. He was a great hero of

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January 11th, 2017

On Nat Hentoff

I am saddened to read of the passing of journalist Nat Hentoff, who died yesterday at the age of 91. Hentoff’s work was published by the Village Voice for 50 years, and was also frequently found in the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, the Wall Street Journal, and Jazz Times. He was also editor of Downbeat during the mid-1950’s. There are many obituaries available to read about Nat and his career – including Robert McFaddin’s in today’s New York Times.

As I began publishing original content on Jerry Jazz Musician in 1999, I had the privilege of having my site embraced by the three most prominent jazz writers of the time, Gary Giddins, Stanley Crouch, and Nat Hentoff. All three of them got involved in Jerry Jazz Musician in their own way.

Giddins — who I was able to catch up with during a recent trip I took to New York — and I developed an interview series called

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January 8th, 2017

Bobby Hutcherson, 1941 – 2016

Bobby Hutcherson, the most eminent postbop jazz vibraphonist who helped define the sound of Blue Note Records during the 1960’s and 70’s, has died. Described by contemporary vibes player Stefon Harris as “by far the most harmonically advanced person to ever play the vibraphone,” his career included the release of more than 40 albums as leader, and as a prominent sideman on many great records, including Eric Dolphy’s classic Out to Lunch and Jackie McLean’s One Step Beyond. I saw him many years ago at Kimball’s in Oakland (long since shuttered), an exciting set that, if memory serves, included

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August 16th, 2016

A brief tribute to Maurice White

On the heels of the deaths of iconic rock musicians David Bowie and Glenn Frey comes the very sad news that Maurice White, the founder of the Earth, Wind and Fire, has died today at age 74. White’s music came to prominence in the thick of soul’s musical ascent, and E W & F embodied the sound of urban America at the time, their message communicated optimistically and on a large scale. White’s band possessed an unusual crossover appeal — the fact that his death has invited praise from

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February 5th, 2016

Meadowlark Lemon and the complexity of being a Globetrotter (and Globetrotter fan)

This morning came news of the passing of Meadowlark Lemon, the face of the Harlem Globetrotters for more than 20 years, his peak coming during the height of the civil rights movement. It was a complex time to be a Globetrotter, who at one time (prior to Lemon’s tenure with the team) was a legitimate and powerful basketball entity that was so good in 1948 it beat George Mikan’s Minneapolis Lakers, to that of a team so focused on clowning that, in the words of Bruce Weber in today’s New York Times obituary, “some thought to be a discomforting resurrection of the minstrel show.”

It was also a complex time to be a fan of the Globetrotters, whose occasional appearance on national television always elicited

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December 28th, 2015

“One For Daddy-O” — in memory of my dad on Father’s Day

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

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June 21st, 2015

Surfing the Net — Remembering Ornette Coleman

Like everyone who has a love of jazz music and its culture, I mourn the passing of Ornette Coleman. We will all likely miss the impassioned spirit of his musical creativity, and how his art not only changed the way musicians played music, but how listeners consumed it.

Few artists have lived to read words like those written of Coleman by the influential critic Martin Williams, who in 1959 wrote in Jazz Review, “I honestly believe . . . that what Ornette Coleman is doing on alto will affect the whole character of jazz music profoundly and pervasively.” It certainly affected what I played on my turntable over the years.

I found his music to be intensely and joyfully challenging and most times best suited for introspective listening, but very early on in my “Jazz 101” phase I was struck by this artist whose every album title seemed to communicate passion and revolution – what Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux wrote in their 2009 textbook Jazz “seemed to incarnate the authority of the New Negro: The Shape of Jazz to Come, Change of the Century, This is Our Music, and Free Jazz.” These albums provided great curiosity, led

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June 18th, 2015

Bruce Lundvall, 1935 – 2015

Bruce Lundvall, a record executive best known among fans of jazz music as Blue Note Records president for 25 years, died yesterday at the age of 79. In addition to his work at Blue Note, Lundvall was president of CBS Records during the heyday of the LP business, and was responsible for signing many of that label’s major artists, and for expanding the jazz division of Columbia Records.

My own experience with him was always very favorable. Although I hadn’t spoken to him for several years, whenever I did reach out to him, either as a record executive myself or as publisher of Jerry Jazz Musician, he always made himself available and was supportive of my work.

In 2003, I hosted a conversation on the state of the business of jazz with Lundvall, New York Times columnist Ben Ratliff, and saxophonist Joshua Redman. Part of the discussion dealt with

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May 20th, 2015

My B.B. King story — An unforgettable experience with my son, but the end of a business dream

The passing of an artist the magnitude of B.B. King hits us all in some way. Mostly it is a loss of a revered and cherished entertainer. Who doesn’t have a memory associated with the guitar riff from “The Thrill is Gone,” or his humor-laced vocal on “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother” (“and she could be jivin’ too!”)? But since he performed live at least 200 times a year for two generations, many of us also have memories from seeing him in concert or having met him that makes his death feel slightly more personal.

No one can doubt what a great musician he was, and in the summer of 1995, my then-six-year-old son Peter and I had an unforgettable personal experience with him that also demonstrated

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May 17th, 2015

“It Only Hurts When I Laugh”

Sad news this morning…The great comedian and satirist Stan Freberg, who was also successful as an actor (and voice over actor), recording artist, puppeteer, advertising creative director and radio personality, died yesterday at the age of 88. His career was filled with artistry and courage. His comic recordings were always hilarious and often biting – his mocking of Senator Joseph

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April 8th, 2015

In This Issue

This issue features a roundtable discussion about how the world of religion may have impacted the creative lives of Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison. Also, previous winners of the Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest reflect on their winning story; three new podcasts from Bob Hecht; new collection of poetry; recommendations of recently released jazz recordings, and lots more.

Short Fiction

"The Wailing Wall" -- a short story by Justin Short

Interviews

Three prominent religious scholars -- Wallace Best, Tracy Fessenden and M. Cooper Harriss -- join us in a conversation about how the world of religion during the life and times of Langston Hughes (pictured), Billie Holiday and Ralph Ellison helps us better comprehend the meaning of their work.

Poetry

Nine poets contribute ten poems celebrating jazz in poems as unique as the music itself

Short Fiction

In celebration of our upcoming 50th Short Fiction Contest, previous contest winners (dating to 2002) reflect on their own winning story, and how their lives have since unfolded.

The Joys of Jazz

In this edition, award winning radio producer Bob Hecht tells three stories; 1) on Charlie Christian, the first superstar of jazz guitar; 2) the poet Langston Hughes’ love of jazz music, and 3) a profile of the song “Strange Fruit”

On the Turntable

25 recently released jazz tunes that are worth listening to…including Bobo Stenson; Medeski, Martin and Wood; Muriel Grossman and Rudy Royston

Features

Chick Corea, Rickie Lee Jones, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Randy Brecker and Tom Piazza are among those responding to our question, "What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings of the 1940's?"

Poetry

"Billie Holiday" -- a poem (with collage) by Steve Dalachinsky

Coming Soon

Thomas Brothers, Duke University professor of music and author of two essential biographies of Louis Armstrong, is interviewed about his new book, HELP! The Beatles, Duke Ellington, and the Magic of Collaboration; also, Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell, author of An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden, in a conversation about the brilliant 20th Century artist

In the previous 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.

Contributing writers

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