“Moon River,” “Laura,” “Skylark,” “That Old Black Magic,” “One For My Baby,” “Accentuate the Positive,” “Satin Doll,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Something’s Gotta Give,” — the honor roll of Johnny Mercer’s songs is endless. Both Oscar Hammerstein II and Alan Jay Lerner called him the greatest lyricist in the English language, and he was perhaps the best-loved and certainly the best-known songwriter of his generation. But Mercer was also a complicated and private man. […] Continue reading »
Joshua Berrett’s Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman: Two Kings of Jazz is a dual biography of two great innovators in the history of jazz. One was black, one was white — one is now legendary, the other nearly forgotten. Berrett offers a provocative revision of the history of early jazz by focusing on two of its most notable practioners — Whiteman, legendary in his day, and Armstrong, a legend ever since. […] Continue reading »
Excerpted from Lush Life : A Biography of Billy Strayhorn by David Hajdu
Shortly after midnight on December 1, 1938, George Greenlee nodded and back-patted his way through the ground-floor Rumpus Room of Crawford Grill One (running from Townsend Street to Fullerton Avenue on Wylie Avenue, the place was nearly a block long) and headed up the stairs at the center of the club. He passed the second floor, which was the main floor, where bands played on a revolving stage facing an elongated glass-topped bar and Ray Wood, now a hustling photographer, offered to take pictures of the patrons for fifty cents. Greenlee hit the third floor, the Club Crawford (insiders only), and spotted his uncle with Duke Ellington, who was engaged to begin a week-long run at the Stanley Theatre the following day. […] Continue reading »
Nadine Cohodas’s Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington, is the landmark biography of the brief, intensely lived life and soulful music of the great Dinah Washington. A gospel star at fifteen, she was discovered by jazz great Lionel Hampton at eighteen, and for the rest of her life was on the road, playing clubs, or singing in the studio — making music one way or another. Dinah’s tart and heartfelt voice quickly became her trademark; she was a distinctive stylist, crossing over from the “race” music category to the pop and jazz charts.
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Excerpted from Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker by James Gavin
On August 12, the (Baker) quartet made its earliest known live appearance in a concert at LA’s Carlton Theater. But not everybody trusted Baker to stand on his own. With (Gerry) Mulligan in jail, John Bennett had paired Baker with Stan Getz, another baby-faced wunderkind whose feathery, cascading solos, even more detached than Baker’s, had made him a fellow prince of West Coast cool. Getz had won the 1952 tenor polls in Down Beat and Metronome by a landslide, while Baker still ranked low in the trumpet categories. The two addressed each other politely enough, but they loathed each other almost on sight, as their live duo recordings suggest: […] Continue reading »