“Jazz is too good for Americans!”

Being disgusted with Congress is, of course, nothing new…In an excerpt from Dizzy Gillespie’s 1979 autobiography (written with Al Fraser) to BE, or not . . . to BOP, Dizzy reminds us of the thick-headed politicians of 1957 who questioned the “exorbitant” fees paid to him and his band during their 1956 State Department-sponsored tour of Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe and South America.

In this excerpt — from a chapter titled “Higher Than Ike” —  Dizzy cynically writes about the “thanks” he received from members of Congress following the tour, as well as the controversy concerning his

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August 30th, 2018

We can learn from how jazz musicians communicate

From Wynton Marsalis’ 2008 book Moving to Higher Ground:  How Jazz Can Change Your Life comes another example of how humanity (and even the world of politics) can learn from how jazz musicians communicate…

 

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At [age] 12, I began listening to John Coltrane, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, and Freddie Hubbard.  Just by paying serious attention to these musicians every day, I came to realize that each musician opens a chamber in the very center of his being and expresses that center in the uniqueness of his sound.  The sound of a master musician is as personalized and distinct as the sound of a person’s voice.  After that basic realization, I focused on

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August 3rd, 2018

“War Comes to 52d St.”

     In Arnold Shaw’s biography of New York’s 52nd Street, 52nd Street:  The Street of Jazz, he devotes an entire chapter to the impact World War II had on “The Street,” its musicians, and ultimately on American society.  

     “…World War II came to 52d St.,” Shaw writes, “bringing not only a curfew, entertainment tax, rationing and an influx of sailors and soldiers on leave, but a rash of striptease joints, tab padding and other sharp practices, fistfights and sluggings, racial conflict, and even attacks on

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May 9th, 2018

“The girl in Bennett’s who knows about jazz” — a story about Elvis Costello’s mother (and the smuggling of Lennie Tristano recordings!)

     On a whim I recently picked up the rock musician Elvis Costello’s 2015 biography, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, a strange and (as far as I can tell — only 100 pages into it) occasionally brilliant reflection on his life.  

     Costello, born Declan Patrick MacManus in 1954, began his career in London’s pub scene before becoming an important contributor to the British punk and new wave movement of the mid-1970’s.  Long a darling of rock critics, Costello was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, and is known to contemporary jazz fans as the husband to popular pianist/singer Diana Krall.

    The following excerpt from the book is a colorful story of Costello’s mother Lillian’s employment as a clerk in the record departments of two Liverpool retailers — first, Rushworth & Dreaper (a renowned seller of musical instruments), and three years later, Bennett’s, a smaller shop that catered to musicians.  Along the way, you will discover how

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March 29th, 2018

Dylan, The Byrds, and John Coltrane

In Robbie Robertson’s entertaining biography Testimony, the rock guitarist tells a short story about a conversation he overheard Bob Dylan having with The Byrd’s Jim (a.k.a. “Roger”) McGuinn concerning John Coltrane’s influence on McGuinn when he wrote “Eight Miles High.” 

The setting was Los Angeles, 1966, during a Dylan tour that employed Robertson and, among others, bandmates Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, who are referred to in the excerpt.  The “Levon” in the story was the drummer Levon Helm, who left the tour after a month out of frustration of playing with Dylan during his initial “electric” period, when folk music purists routinely

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January 7th, 2018

Poet Jack Hirschman’s “Rifficals” and memories of Keystone Korner

In an enlightening essay found in Kathy Sloane’s entertaining history of Keystone Korner, the famed ‘70’s – 80’s North Beach San Francisco jazz club, the poet Jack Hirschman writes that “post-World War [II] jazz, abstract expressionism, and what I call field composition in poetry represent for me the trinity of essential American idioms that really are the foundation of not merely my work, but the work of virtually a whole generation of writers and musicians.”  Hirschman writes that he found inspiration for his poetry in the music of Monk (“he was like a poet writing in musical notes”), Charlie Parker and Cecil Taylor (“also a writing poet [who] fills the plane up and all the spaces”) and produced what he called “rifficals,” countless improvisations inspired by jazz that he passed out to the audience at the Keystone.

Like many of us, Hirschman believes jazz is a centerpiece of our cultural history.  “The African American dimension has been a major influence on virtually all the artists in this country,” he writes, “even if people

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August 29th, 2017

Great Encounters #49 — A night at the Turf and Grid with Woody Herman and Serge Chaloff

“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. This edition tells the story of an evening in Washington D.C., starring Woody Herman and Serge Chaloff

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May 2nd, 2017

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

“Glossary of Jazz Slang” — from Mezz Mezzrow’s 1946 biography, Really the Blues

Really the Blues, the little-known but highly influential autobiographical work by jazz musician Mezz Mezzrow (co-written by Bernard Wolfe), is one man’s account of decades of jazz and American cultural history. The clarinetist’s colorful life – which he described in the 1946 counter-culture classic as having strayed “off the music” which led to his doing “my share of evil” – was adventurous, earthy, and jubilant, and was told not so much as a biography but as a novel that made “the Mezz” a hero with the era’s key counter-culture figures, including Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.

Much has been made of Mezzrow’s relationship with Louis Armstrong — he managed Armstrong for a time and dealt much of the “gauge” he craved, and Mezzrow’s reputation for dealing pot was so well known that “Mezz” became slang for marijuana. He is also remembered for his

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October 24th, 2016

Fletcher Henderson and “Christopher Columbus”

I can’t let Columbus Day go by without paying homage to the Chu Berry/Andy Razaf song that was a “novelty hit” for Fats Waller and the theme song of Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. Recorded and performed by countless artists from Louis Armstrong to Lawrence Welk, Jeffrey Magee, author of The Uncrowned King of Swing: Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz, tells the story of the song’s origins, and how it became “another focal point of frustration to those around [Henderson].”

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October 14th, 2014

Great Encounters #38: When Peggy Lee sang for Jack Benny

“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons

In this excerpt from Fever: The Life and Music of Miss Peggy Lee, author Peter Richmond writes about how singing in front of a boisterous Jack Benny and his entourage in a Palm Springs haunt led to her discovering the power of singing “softly, with feeling.”

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September 23rd, 2014

Book excerpt from Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism, by Thomas Brothers

On the heels of terrific books on Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington comes Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism, author and Duke University Music Professor Thomas Brothers’ follow-up to his revered Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans.

In the book’s introduction, Brothers reports that his book picks up where Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans left off, with Armstrong’s 1922 Chicago arrival, and ends ten years later. He writes, “My main thesis is that the success of this nimble-minded musician depended on his ability to skillfully negotiate the musical and social legacies of slavery. Indeed, his career can be understood as a response to these interlocking trajectories.” I have just begun reading it and have been taken in by “Welcome to Chicago,” the book’s first chapter that tells the story of what Armstrong would have seen as he entered Lincoln Gardens for the first time in August, 1922; for example, the racially inflected floor show whose “centerpiece of the presentation is a row of light-skinned dancing girls;” dancing couples in an environment where “correct dancing is insisted upon” (to keep immorality charges at bay); and the local white musicians — “alligators” — described as “the little white boys…motivated to learn the music and cash in.”

I had the privilege of interviewing Thomas Brothers following the publication of Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans, and he has accepted my invitation for an interview about his new book. It is

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March 7th, 2014

Donald Fagen — “Eminent Hipster”

You may want to consider adding Donald Fagen’s book Eminent Hipsters to your reading list. In it, the Steely Dan co-founder writes intelligently and often humorously about his early-life relationship with the jazz culture and how it helped shape his life choices and musical direction. Fagen says that the book’s main subjects are “talented musicians, writers and performers from a universe beyond suburban New Jersey who showed me how to interpret my own world.” Some of the “hipsters” Fagen shares along the way are Henry Mancini, all-night jazz DJ Mort Fega, WOR radio legend Jean Shepherd, and the Boswell Sisters.

An example of his colorful writing…In his chapter titled “In the Clubs” — an appreciation for the jazz clubs of New York he frequented as a young man — he wrote:

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December 19th, 2013

An excerpt from Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington by Terry Teachout

It’s a great time for jazz biography. In addition to Stanley Crouch’s book on Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong biographer and Wall Street Journal drama critic Terry Teachout has turned out what several critics report to be an important book on the life of Duke Ellington. I have just completed the first chapter and am eagerly anticipating the pages beyond. To get a flavor for the book, you may enjoy this short excerpt, in which Teachout describes Ellington’s work habits and what Ellington “sought and got” from his band, described here as his ”accumulation of personalities.’”

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November 13th, 2013

Book Excerpt from “Mingus Speaks,” by John Goodman

Charles Mingus is among jazz’s greatest composers and perhaps its most talented bass player. He was blunt and outspoken about the place of jazz in music history and American culture, about which performers were the real thing (or not), and much more. These in-depth interviews, conducted several years before Mingus died, capture the composer’s spirit and voice, revealing how he saw himself as composer and performer, how he viewed his peers and predecessors, how he created his extraordinary music, and how he looked at race.

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July 3rd, 2013

In This Issue

Jeffrey Stewart, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, is interviewed about Locke (pictured), the father of the Harlem Renaissance.

Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 19 recommended recordings by five jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

On the Turntable

This month, a playlist of 19 recently released jazz recordings, including those by Branford Marsalis, Joe Martin, Scott Robinson, Allison Au and Warren Vache

Poetry

In a special collection of poetry, eight poets contribute seventeen poems focused on stories about family, and honoring mothers and fathers

The Joys of Jazz

In this new volume of his podcasts, Bob Hecht presents three very different stories; on Harlem Stride piano, Billy Strayhorn's end-of-life composition "Blood Count," and "Lester-ese," Lester Young’s creative verbal wit and wordplay.

Short Fiction

We had many excellent entrants in our recently concluded 50th Short Fiction Contest. In addition to publishing the winning story on March 11, with the consent of the authors, we have published several of the short-listed stories...

“What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?”

Gary Giddins, Jimmy Heath, Fred Hersch, Joe Hagan, Maxine Gordon, Neil Tesser, Tim Page, Veronica Swift and Marcus Strickland are among the 25 writers, musicians, poets, educators, and photographers who write about their favorite album cover art

Art

“Thinking about Homer Plessy” — a photo narrative by Charles Ingham

Jazz History Quiz #127

Before his tragic early death, this trumpeter played with Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, and John Coltrane, and most famously during a 1961 Five Spot gig with Eric Dolphy (pictured). Who is he?

Great Encounters

In this edition, Bob Dylan recalls what Thelonious Monk told him about music at New York’s Blue Note club in c. 1961.

Art

Jerry Jazz Musician regularly publishes a series of posts featuring excerpts of the photography and stories/captions found in Jazz in Available Light by Veryl Oakland. In this edition, Mr. Oakland's photographs and stories feature Stan Getz, Sun Ra, and Carla Bley.

Interviews

Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell discusses the life of the important 20th century American artist

Cover Stories with Paul Morris

In this edition, Paul writes about jazz album covers that offer glimpses into intriguing corners of the culture of the 1950’s

Coming Soon

Michael Cuscuna, the legendary record producer and founder of Mosaic Records, is interviewed about his life in jazz...Award-winning photographer Carol Friedman, on her career in the world of New York jazz photography

In the previous issue

Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon, talks about her book, and the complex life of her late husband.

Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 22 recommended recordings by seven jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

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