“Thinking about Robert Johnson,” comes from a seven-work series entitled Pastoral Scenes from the Gallant South (from Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit”)....
March 9th, 2019
. . “Billie Holiday” by Steve Dalachinsky . . Billie Holiday someone’s special greatness hides inside us somewhere like a strange fruit……..unexplainable hard ripe rotten..fine..fractured but mellow filled with love…disappointment & solitude & heavy like…a rock in one’s heart you may make it or you may die in your room overlooking the park….or an … Continue reading ““Billie Holiday” — a poem (with collage) by Steve Dalachinsky”...
January 7th, 2019
. 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 three stories: . . “Strange Fruit” When Billie Holiday first heard the anti-lynching protest song, “Strange Fruit,” she was leery of singing it at all. … Continue reading “Bob Hecht’s “Joys of Jazz” – Vol. 2″...
January 7th, 2019
. . Ralph Ellison Billie Holiday Langston Hughes . …..While Langston Hughes, Billie Holiday and Ralph Ellison are not known as being “religious” figures, they have, in a way, become “sacred” figures. Revered, iconic and inspirational, their essential work contributed mightily to the creative climate of twentieth-century America, and did so in the midst … Continue reading “A Roundtable conversation — “Religion ‘around’ Langston Hughes, Billie Holiday and Ralph Ellison””...
January 7th, 2019
While the civil rights movement may not have officially begun until the December, 1955 day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, the stage for it was set years before that. Religious leaders and institutions, jazz and athletics all famously played important roles in building a foundation for the movement,...
September 24th, 2018
In this September 1, 1959 essay in Commentary, James Baldwin writes of filmmaker Otto Preminger’s treatment of George Gershwin’s revered opera Porgy and Bess, expertly weaving film criticism and social commentary, addressing the film’s shortcomings and the complexity of racism of the era — much (actually, most) of which still exists…
Grandiose, foolish, and heavy with the stale perfume of self-congratulation, the Hollywood-Goldwyn-Preminger production of Porgy and Bess lumbered into the Warner theater shortly before the death of Billie Holiday. These two facts are not, of course, related in any concrete or visible way. Yet, at the time I was watching Bess refuse Sporting Life’s offer of “happy dust,” Billie was in the hospital. A day or so later, I learned that she was under arrest for possession of heroin and that the police were at her...
September 14th, 2017
Having just published Arya Jenkins’ excellent new short story “Foolish Love,” in which Billie Holiday’s music plays a central role in the life of the story’s main character, this piece, excerpted from Bill Crow’s 1990 book, Jazz Anecdotes, is a wonderful reminder of how Ms. Holiday became known as “Lady Day.” The story is set up by Crow and stories about nicknames created by “Prez.”
Lester Young made up names for many of his friends, and everyone used them. He called Count Basie “The Holy Man,” (shortened by the band to “Holy”) because he was the...
June 9th, 2017
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...
March 30th, 2017
Chantal Doolittle wasn’t like anybody else she knew. Who else, for example, would stand transfixed before a record player or stereo, still as stone while listening to music — not merely attending to it — her very cells taking in the song, calculating and absorbing. “That girl is special,” Nana Esther always said.
When she was a kid and Motown was the thing, Chan would sing Marvin Gaye’s tunes to her grandmother in their high ceilinged apartment, where, more often than not it was soul music, the harmonizing voices of The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Supremes, drifting in from the surrounding windows and disappearing into the sky that was perennially a washed out gray, as if there was an invisible flag always at half mast, hanging outside heaven. From the time she was five or six, all Chan had to do was hear a song once and she would know it. She knew all the Motown tunes word for word, and sang them right on key, perfectly, which is why Nana Esther dubbed her, “my little songbird.”
Of course, there was nothing little about Chantal, but, being her grandmother’s one and only, she was “a little one” to her. Chantal was tall, big for her age, and when she developed as a young woman, busty too. She stood out even before she opened her mouth, due to her attitude. Her nana had taught her to be “confident as a man,” and she had seemingly...
May 30th, 2015
This pianist was Billie Holiday’s regular accompanist during her last two years (1957 – 1959), and also played in the Eric Dolphy-Booker Little Quintet that recorded extensively at New York’s Five Spot in 1961. Who is he?
Go to the next page for the answer!...
January 27th, 2015
“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons.
When Clark Gable came to the aid of Billie Holiday
Excerpted from Lady Sings the Blues, by Billie Holiday
One day in Hollywood I went out for a drive with this rich young blonde starlet. She was running around with Billy Daniels, whom I used to work with back at the Hotcha. Billy had loaned her his pretty Cadillac to drive around in. She was taking me to the aquarium, when boom, this brand-new fishtail stopped and we couldn’t start it.
July 31st, 2014
“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. This edition tells the story of the 1957 meeting of Billie Holiday and Maya Angelou, who at the time was a calypso singer/dancer, living with her son Guy in Los Angeles.
Excerpted from The Heart of a Woman, by Maya Angelou...
May 29th, 2014
In addition to this being a great time for jazz biography (essential studies recently published on Ellington, Armstrong, Bird, Mingus, and Bud Powell), as Nate Chinen points out in Sunday’s New York Times, it is also a terrific time for its presentation on the stages of New York, with Terry Teachout’s “Satchmo at the Waldorf” now playing at the Westside Theater, and Lanie Robertson’s “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” at Circle in the Square (revived after a successful Off Broadway run in 1986)....
April 23rd, 2014
It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
Three days after Bastille Day, yes
It is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
Because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
At 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
And I don’t know the people who will feed me
I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
And have a hamburger and a malted and buy
March 13th, 2014
The publication of a new biography on Carl Van Vechten has sparked a renewed interest in his work. Critic, author and patron of many a Harlem Renaissance artist, Van Vechten was also an accomplished photographer, whose work was described by a New York Telegraph reporter in 1933 as “breathtaking…each [photo] with life and sparkle, vision and intelligence.”
His access to the artists led to a portfolio of what he called “purely documentary” photographs of a “who’s who” of early-to-mid 20th Century American cultural icons — including some of the era’s finest writers and musicians. Emily Bernard, author of Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance writes that “Van Vechten always saw the act of taking a photograph as...
March 12th, 2014
Jerry Jazz Musician presents a number of editions of “Masters of Jazz Photography,” featuring a work by one of the photographers featured in Lee Tanner’s The Jazz Image.
This edition: Bob Parent, featuring photos of Benny Goodman, Clifford Brown, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Billie Holiday and Lester Young...
December 17th, 2013
Reading the New York Times Book Review page this morning, I ran across reviews of two new books by writers I interviewed for Jerry Jazz Musician over ten years ago. The first is Columbia University professor Farah Griffin, who just wrote Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II. The book focuses on the lives of three female artists of the era – the dancer Pearl Primus, the writer Ann Petry, and the jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams...
September 22nd, 2013
Although it only encompasses about six square miles, the New York City neighborhood of Harlem has played a central role in the development of American culture. Originally rural farmland, then an affluent suburb, since 1911 Harlemhas been predominantly an African American community. Its residents havehad a disproportionately large impact on all aspects of American culture,leaving their mark on literature, art, comedy, dance, theater, music, sports, religion and politics....
March 18th, 2013
BLACK SONG FOR BILLIE HOLIDAY
The night the blue saxophones died
You still remain in the spotlight’s ivory heat
A riddle that puzzles the heart
Snatching from the soil of catastrophe
A nugget of perfect sound
Glowing like an iridescent candle
January 5th, 2008
Excerpted from The Producer: John Hammond and the Soul of American Music, by Dunstan Prial
On a cold, clear night in February, 1933, Hammond went on the town alone in search of music. Heading up Broadway toward Harlem in a Hudson convertible (he kept the top up in the winter), he fought traffic, but as he passed Columbia University, he was flying. At 133rd Street, he took a right and headed east toward Lenox Avenue. He pulled over after a few blocks and parked in a space a few doors up from a new speakeasy run by Monette Moore, the singer who had appeared with Ellington and Carter at the fund-raiser for the Scottsboro boys he had helped organize the previous fall....
December 29th, 2006
at Hentoff, a prolific author and journalist whose work has been published for many years in, among other publications, the Village Voice, the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, the Wall Street Journal, and Jazz Times, has been described by one of his publishers, DaCapo Press, as “a man of passion and insight, of streetwise wit and polished eloquence — a true American original.” This “passion of insight” is particularly apparent in his lifelong devotion to the chronicling of jazz music — a pursuit that began even before he became editor of Downbeat in 1953 — and in his steadfast defense of the Constitution....
October 6th, 2005
In Stardust Melodies: A Biography of Twelve of America’s Most Popular Songs, author Will Friedwald takes these legendary songs apart and puts them together again, with unprecedented detail and understanding. Each song’s history is explored — the circumstances under which it was written and first performed — and then its musical and lyric content....
August 2nd, 2002
More than four decades after her death, Billie Holiday remains one of the most gifted artists of our time, and also one of the most elusive. Because of who she was and how she chose to live her life, Holiday has been the subject of both intense adoration and wildly distorted legends....
June 24th, 2002
ester Young was jazz music’s first hipster. He performed onstage in sunglasses and coined and popularized the enigmatic slang “that’s cool” and “you dig?” He was a snazzy dresser who always wore a suit and his trademark porkpie hat. He influenced everyone from B. B. King to Stan Getz to Allen Ginsberg. When he died, he was the subject of musical tributes by Charles Mingus (“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”) and Wayne Shorter (“Lester Left Town”), and incidents from his life were featured in the movie ‘Round Midnight....
February 14th, 2002