Interview with Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins

Gary Giddins, his generation’s most eminent jazz writer and author of the award winning biography Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams: The Early Years, 1903 – 1940, talks with us about his brilliant second book on Crosby, Swinging on a Star: The War Years, 1940 – 1946. The interview is a fascinating read — a virtual history of Crosby’s life and his impact on America during its most consequential decade. Featuring photos, music and film clips, and information about Giddins’ experience studying Crosby for 25 years.

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October 25th, 2018

Nat Hentoff’s childhood hero

The topic of “childhood heroes” almost always makes a great conversation.  It is a highly personal discussion and often provides a revealing window into a person’s past and character development.  For many years, I have asked those I interview this basic question:

“Who was your childhood hero?”

The recently deceased jazz advocate and journalist Nat Hentoff was a frequent contributor to Jerry Jazz Musician, and an early admirer of the work of this website.  I had the privilege of getting to know him a little bit over the years, and interviewed him several times, as did my friend and contributing writer Paul Morris, who, during his 2001 interview with Hentoff, asked him who his childhood hero was…Here is that conversation:

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July 17th, 2018

Housing affordability and discrimination — a continuing worldwide problem

“Dear God! Must we not live? And when a whole city of white folk led and helped by banks, Chambers of Commerce, mortgage companies and ‘realtors’ are combing the earth for every bit of residential property for whites, where in the name of God are we to live and live decently if not by these same whites?”

– W. E. B. Dubois

 

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Lack of affordable housing — and housing discrimination — is a worldwide problem…From Hamburg to Seattle, this is an issue that challenges even the best of communities.  People who have lived in “inner-city” neighborhoods for generations are being displaced by young professionals, leaving them a long distance from where the good jobs are, with access to public transportation and essential services not always a practical option.

This is nothing new, of course.  Economics and race have long been at the center of the quest for affordable housing and continues to play a major role in housing discrimination.

Several years ago I was fortunate to interview the author Kevin Boyle, winner of the National Book Award for his book Arc of Justice, which told the story of an African American doctor named Ossian Sweet who attempted to move his family into an all-white, 1925 Detroit neighborhood.  The story is

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July 10th, 2018

Revisiting Gil Evans

     An early interview I conducted as publisher of Jerry Jazz Musician was with Stephanie Stein Crease, whose 2002 biography of Gil Evans, Out of the Cool, was an illuminating history of a man the jazz writer Gary Giddins refers to as “one of the great figures in American music, a composer and orchestrator of breathtaking originality.”

     In the interview, Crease talks of Evans’ life as having

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May 14th, 2018

A Black History Month Profile: Louis Armstrong

In an interview originally published on Jerry Jazz Musician in 2014, Louis Armstrong biographer Thomas Brothers talks about his second volume devoted to the most eminent jazz musician’s life, Louis Armstrong:  Master of Modernism.

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February 21st, 2018

A Black History Month Profile: Madam C.J. Walker

In an interview originally published on Jerry Jazz Musician in 2004, Madam C.J. Walker biographer A’Lelia Bundles talks about  Ms. Walker, who established herself as a pioneer of the modern black hair-care and cosmetics industry, set standards in the African-American community for corporate and community giving, and helped create the role of the 20th Century, self-made American businesswoman.

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February 13th, 2018

Revisiting interviews with Vietnam War writers Karl Marlantes and David Maraniss

In the midst of the Ken Burns’ film The Vietnam War (so far, sensational),  I am reminded of my own experience with the war, which, as an 18-year- old in 1972, left me, fortunately, untouched physically but engaged in other ways.  My big brother was in the very first draft lottery, and the image of our family sitting around our TV set, anxiously awaiting the results of the lottery and the impact it could have on my brother and so many of his friends, is burned in my memory.  (Miraculously, he drew #355!)

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area meant I had a front row seat during Cal’s Free Speech Movement, San Francisco State (where my brother attended and provided our family with daily reports about the turmoil there), Haight-Ashbury, Berkeley’s People’s Park, and ongoing events associated with the civil rights movement.  It was a powder keg time with Vietnam at the centerpiece, and we all grew up pretty quickly.

Music, of course, was a key component of the Vietnam generation, and San Francisco was loaded with

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September 26th, 2017

“Up From New Orleans: Life Before, During and After Hurricane Katrina” — A conversation with transplanted New Orleans musicians Mark DiFlorio and Devin Phillips

Watching the impact Hurricane Irma is having on countless lives this week brought back memories of stories that came out of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005.  In the midst of all the devastation, many people left the Crescent City permanently, including a handful of jazz musicians who made the move to Portland at the invitation of the Portland Jazz Festival organization (now known as PDX Jazz).

In 2006 I interviewed two of those musicians — Devin Phillips, who has become a fixture on Portland’s jazz scene and is its most popular and accomplished saxophonist, and Mark DiFlorio, a drummer who lived in Portland before moving to Seattle (his website indicates he is now living in Los Angeles).  Their stories are remarkable, and this interview is worth revisiting…

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September 11th, 2017

“Civil Liberties and Jazz — Past, Present and Future” — A 2005 Jerry Jazz Musician conversation with journalist Nat Hentoff

In honor of the great American journalist Nat Hentoff — who died yesterday at age 91 — I am publishing a 2005 interview I conducted with him as he turned 80.

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January 8th, 2017

Gary Giddins discusses Thelonious Monk

If you do a blindfold test and play Monk, the listener is likely going to know it’s him after about two bars. Everything about the way he approaches the piano and music is so distinctive. People used to use words like idiosyncratic and eccentric, but there is, of course, more than that — there is a tremendous beauty in Monk’s music, and it is peculiar to him. Everything about his attack, the particular percussiveness of his style, his use of chords, his astonishing time, can only be described as “Monkian.” And in terms of his almost exclusive reliance on jazz, most great jazz pianists have some

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October 17th, 2016

Interview with Thelonious Monk biographer Robin D.G. Kelley

“The piano ain’t got no wrong notes!” So ranted Thelonious Sphere Monk, who proved his point every time he sat down at the keyboard. His angular melodies and dissonant harmonies shook the jazz world to its foundations, ushering in the birth of “bebop” and establishing Monk as one of America’s greatest composers. Yet throughout much of his life, his musical contribution took a backseat to tales of his reputed behavior. Writers tended to obsess over Monk’s hats or his proclivity to dance on stage. To his fans, he was the ultimate hipster; to his detractors, he was temperamental, eccentric, taciturn, or childlike. But these labels tell us little about the man or his

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October 14th, 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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