Ella is 100

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,

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April 25th, 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

A Moment in Time: Billie Holiday in Studio 58, New York, December 8, 1957

In Martin Torgoff’s brilliant new book Bop Apocalypse — an extensive exploration of the connections of jazz, literature and drugs, and how drugs impacted the lives and work of people like Charlie Parker, Jack Kerouac, Lester Young, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg — Torgoff devotes a chapter to Billie Holiday’s struggle with drug abuse, and the public airing of it when her 1956 autobiography Lady Sings the Blues was published.  

While her book had errors that have since caused critics and biographers to cast doubt on the book’s veracity, as Torgoff writes, in many respects, “the book is remarkably frank about her early years in Baltimore and her time as a prostitute.  It is also replete with information about her

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March 30th, 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

Great Encounters #48: When Lester Young turned Jack Kerouac on to marijuana

“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. This edition tells the story of Lester Young getting high with Jack Kerouac, and his overall influence on his generation

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March 4th, 2017

On Nat Hentoff’s memorial service

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

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March 1st, 2017

A memory of Nat Hentoff

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.

 

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     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

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January 30th, 2017

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

Great Encounters #47: When Ella Fitzgerald chose not to meet Pablo Picasso

“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. This edition describes the time Ella Fitzgerald chose to pass on an opportunity to meet Pablo Picasso.

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December 15th, 2016

Milt Hinton’s recipe for “Millionaire Meatloaf”

This holiday season, you may want to consider making “Millionaire Meatloaf,” a dish the late, great bass player Milt Hinton and trombonist Tyree Glenn conjured up while touring with Cab Calloway. This story is not only one of food, but also of the culinary creativity required of jazz musicians during a time of segregation, when even getting a meal was a tremendous challenge.

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December 13th, 2016

“Diz for President”

Claiming that his first order of business as president would be changing the name of the White House to the Blues House, Dizzy Gillespie’s run for President in 1964 wasn’t as illogical (or comical) as it seems on the surface. (In fact, given the ignorance of one of our current major party nominees, it is easy to write that Dizzy put much more thought into his vision for the country, and was without question more evolved as a candidate). As election day approaches, it is time to ask ourselves, what better time than today for a candidate whose platform includes disbanding the FBI and giving major foreign ambassadorships to jazz musicians?

In his 1979 autobiography To Be, or not…to Bop, Dizzy devotes an entire chapter to the story of his experience as a candidate for the presidency. The entire

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November 4th, 2016

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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