Interview with Nate Chinen, author of Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century

Nate Chinen, the former New York Times jazz critic who is now director of editorial content for WBGO Radio, talks about his book, Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century

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September 4th, 2019

A Moment in Time — John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy, 1961

In 1960, Eric Dolphy told Down Beat magazine, “At home I used to play, and the birds always used to whistle with me. I would stop what I was working on and play with the birds.” This imitation of birds (who, according to Dolphy, sing in “quarter tones”) was embraced by none other than John Coltrane, who said that the addition of Dolphy — and his philosophy — to his quartet “turned [the quartet] all around.” Dolphy’s playing helped set the stage for the music Coltrane would create later.

Also critical was their friendship, which was especially important to Coltrane since he was so consumed at the time by his alcohol and heroin abuse. Quoting a Coltrane friend, John Fraim writes in his 1996 biography Spirit Catcher: The Life and Art of John Coltrane that “outside of Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy was his [Coltrane’s] only true

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December 12th, 2014

Remembering music critic Ralph J. Gleason

Few music writers had the resume of San Francisco’s Ralph J. Gleason: Columbia University School of Journalism; critic at the San Francisco Chronicle, where, in 1950, his criticism of popular music was the first such column in an American daily newspaper (before Gleason, newspapers regularly reviewed classical music only); produced the Jazz Casual television show for public television; witnessed and reported on all of the happenings of San Francisco during a time now known as the “San Francisco Renaissance,” when Gleason effectively connected the diverse endeavors of the era’s progressive musicians, literary figures, and comedians into an artistic aesthetic; co-founder of the Monterey Jazz Festival; writer on many a jazz record liner note (the next time you pull out Miles’ Bitches Brew, check out Gleason’s poetic description); contributing writer to Ramparts; co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine.

John Gennari, author of Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and its Critics – itself an important history of jazz journalism – described Gleason as “the jazz critic who

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December 14th, 2013

Conversations with Gary Giddins: on his book, Natural Selection

Long recognized as America’s most brilliant jazz writer, the winner of many major awards — including the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award — and author of a highly popular biography of Bing Crosby, Gary Giddins has also produced a wide range of stimulating and original cultural criticism in other fields. With Natural Selection, he brings together the best of these previously uncollected essays, including a few written expressly for this volume.

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June 22nd, 2007

Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Jazz Festivals

In a wide-ranging conversation, Gary Giddins — for many years the country’s most eminent jazz critic whose most recent collection of cultural criticism is titled Natural Selection — talks about his recent trip to Brazil’s Ouro Preto International Jazz Festival, the business of jazz festivals and touring, jazz education, and the debate concerning where today’s cutting-edge of jazz resides.

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October 30th, 2006

Stanley Crouch, author of Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz

Stanley Crouch — MacArthur “genius” award recipient, co-founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center, National Book Award nominee, and perennial bull in the china shop of black intelligentsia — has been writing about jazz and jazz artists for over thirty years. His reputation for controversy is exceeded only by a universal respect for his intellect and passion. As Gary Giddins notes: “Stanley may be the only jazz writer out there with the kind of rhinoceros hide necessary to provoke and outrage and then withstand the fulminations that come back.”

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September 10th, 2006

John Gennari, author of Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and its Critics

In the illustrious and richly documented history of American jazz, no figure has been more controversial than the jazz critic. Jazz critics can be revered or reviled — often both — but they should not be ignored. And while the tradition of jazz has been covered from seemingly every angle, until now, nobody has ever turned the pen back on itself to chronicle the many writers who have helped define how we listen to and how we understand jazz. In Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and its Critics, John Gennari provides a definitive history of jazz criticism from the 1920s to the present.

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August 21st, 2006

Book Review/”Weatherbird,” by Gary Giddins

The world of jazz criticism is enriched every time Gary Giddins brings out a new book, and Weather Bird: Jazz at the Dawn of its Second Century, bulges with riches. The collection is mostly drawn from his recently-ended Village Voice column (also called “Weather Bird”), with the addition of significant essays published elsewhere. Even faithful readers of the Voice will find ample new Giddins material here.

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October 29th, 2005

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

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.

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October 6th, 2005

Louis Armstrong biographer Terry Teachout

“I suppose you could say that the seeds of my next book, a full-length biography of Louis Armstrong, were planted three years ago, when I was writing an essay for the New York Times about Armstrong’s centenary in which I called him “jazz’’s most eminent Victorian,” Terry Teachout wrote in his August 17, 2004 Arts Journal blog.

Three years after the Times piece was published, he took a tour of the Louis Armstrong House in Queens and came away with the enthusiasm required of such an endeavor.

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June 27th, 2005

Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Big Bands

In the final column of his thirty year career as jazz critic of the Village Voice, Gary Giddins wrote, “I’m as besotted with jazz as ever, and expect to write about it till last call, albeit in other formats. Indeed, much in the way being hanged is said to focus the mind, this finale has made me conscious of the columns I never wrote.”

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May 10th, 2005

Jazz historian Dan Morgenstern, author of Living with Jazz

Buying a vinyl long playing jazz album in the format’s heyday — from the 1950s through the 1980s — was a three-step sensual process that stirred an almost irrational enthusiasm for the entire culture the music ignited. The record industry’s flair for creating passionate cover art seduced the imagination, the sounds etched into the grooves promised diversion and surprise, and the densely-typed liner notes on the back cover fired up an eagerness for enlightenment. The process continued at the turntable, where the cut of a stylus transformed the listener into an aural witness to the performer’s character and improvisational skills. It was, quite simply, a bonding experience.

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February 4th, 2005

Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Jazz Vocalists

In the final column of his thirty year career as jazz critic of the Village Voice, Gary Giddins wrote, “I’m as besotted with jazz as ever, and expect to write about it till last call, albeit in other formats. Indeed, much in the way being hanged is said to focus the mind, this finale has made me conscious of the columns I never wrote.”

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October 25th, 2004

Joshua Berrett, author of Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman: Two Kings of Jazz

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.

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October 4th, 2004

Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Underrated Jazz Musicians, Part Two

In the final column of his thirty year career as jazz critic of the Village Voice, Gary Giddins wrote, “I’m as besotted with jazz as ever, and expect to write about it till last call, albeit in other formats. Indeed, much in the way being hanged is said to focus the mind, this finale has made me conscious of the columns I never wrote.”

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April 30th, 2004

Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Underrated Jazz Musicians, Part One

In the final column of his thirty year career as jazz critic of the Village Voice, Gary Giddins wrote, “I’m as besotted with jazz as ever, and expect to write about it till last call, albeit in other formats. Indeed, much in the way being hanged is said to focus the mind, this finale has made me conscious of the columns I never wrote.”

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January 5th, 2004

Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Jazz Criticism

Village Voice writer Gary Giddins, who was prominently featured in Ken Burns’ documentary Jazz, and who is the country’s preeminent jazz critic, joins us in a conversation recorded on June 20, 2003 — and then slightly revised in October — about the profession of jazz criticism.

The conversation is an autobiographical look at the writer’s ascension in his field, and includes candid observations of other prominent critics. It concludes with a unique “Blindfold Test” that asks Giddins to name the jazz writer responsible for the essay excerpt he is spontaneously shown.

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June 20th, 2003

Newport Jazz founder George Wein, author of Myself Among Others: My Life in Music

No one has had a better seat in the house than George Wein. The legendary impresario has known some of the most celebrated figures of jazz — from Duke Ellington to Count Basie, and from Thelonious Monk to Miles Davis. As a founder of the Newport Jazz Festival and countless other festivals around the world, Wein has brought a broad spectrum of musical artists to millions, forever changing the country’s cultural landscape.

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June 18th, 2003

Alfred Appel, author of Jazz Modernism

How does the jazz of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, and Charlie Parker fit into the great tradition of the modern arts between 1920 and 1950? In his book Jazz Modernism, cultural historian Alfred Appel compares the layering of sex, vitality, and the vernacular in jazz with the paper collages of Picasso, and the vital mix of high and low culture found in Joyce.

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June 2nd, 2003

“Blues for Clement Greenberg,” a Jerry Jazz Musician hosted roundtable on jazz criticism, with Stanley Crouch, Martha Bayles and Loren Schoenberg

The fact that writer Stanley Crouch is willing to speak his mind has been known to readers of cultural criticism for three decades. Depending on one’s outlook, his views on jazz, politics, and race often spark outrage, applause, or provoke debate. In April, 2003, Jazz Times magazine, host to Crouch’s monthly column “Jazz Alone,” published “Putting the White Man in Charge,” a provocative essay covering topics familiar to Crouch readers, most notably his aggressive defense of the jazz idiom and its African American heritage. In the essay he wrote that critics like respected Atlantic Monthly writer Francis Davis see “jazz that is based on swing and blues as the enemy and, therefore, lifts up someone like, say, Dave Douglas as an antidote to too much authority from the dark side of the tracks.”

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May 4th, 2003

Ben Ratliff, author of Jazz: A Critics Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings

In the preface to his book Jazz: A Critics Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings, New York Times jazz critic Ben Ratliff writes, “You oughtn’t look at jazz only by its corners, its Hot Fives and Seven’s, its Kind of Blue’s and Love Supreme’s. You have to look at what the corners surround.”

In this spirit, his book is an exploration of jazz in its many varied forms, and opens the reader’s ears to quite surprising recordings comfortably overlooked by other guides.

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January 27th, 2003

Conversations with Gary Giddins: on John Coltrane

Village Voice writer Gary Giddins, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and who is the country’s eminent jazz critic, joins us in a June 21, 2002 conversation about jazz great John Coltrane.

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June 21st, 2002

Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Ralph Ellison

Village Voice writer Gary Giddins, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and who is the country’s preeminent jazz critic, joins us in a June 21, 2002 conversation about Invisible Man author Ralph Ellison.

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June 21st, 2002

Jazz Critic Gene Lees

Gene Lees is a well-known jazz chronicler. He is also a song lyricist, composer, singer, and author of more than a dozen volumes of jazz history and criticism, including the highly acclaimed Cats of Any Color: Jazz Black and White.

In You Can’t Steal a Gift, Lees writes of his encounters with four great black musicians: Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Milt Hinton, and Nat King Cole. Equal parts memoir, oral history, and commentary, each of the main chapters is a minibiography weaving together conversations Lees had with the musicians and their families, friends and associates over several decades.

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February 6th, 2002

Francis Davis on his career as a critic, and on John Coltrane

Philadelphian Francis Davis is the author of several books, including The History of the Blues, Bebop and Nothingness and a forthcoming biography of John Coltrane. A contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly, he also writes regularly about music for the New York Times, among others.

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December 10th, 2001

Nat Hentoff: on his life as a jazz critic, and memories of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme

Nat Hentoff was born in Boston in 1925 and lived there until he moved to New York City at the age of twenty-eight. For many years he has written a weekly column for the Village Voice. His column for the Washington Times is syndicated nationally, and he writes regularly about music for the Wall Street Journal. His numerous books cover subjects ranging from jazz to civil rights and civil liberties to First Amendment issues.

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November 20th, 2001

Gerald Early, author of Miles Davis and American Culture

Gerald Early is Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters at Washington University in St. Louis, and is one of America’s most respected essayists. His work on American and African American culture is collected in Tuxedo Junction, The Culture of Bruising (National Book Award), and One Nation Under a Groove, a book on Motown.

He has edited collections on African American rhetoric, black consciousness, sports, Muhammad Ali, and African American writing about St. Louis.

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October 10th, 2001

The Ralph Ellison Project: Stanley Crouch discusses Invisible Man author Ralph Ellison

Stanley Crouch is an essayist, poet, former musician, jazz critic and author of the novel Don’t the Moon Look Lonesome. He is outspoken, controversial, clever, and right more often than many seem willing to admit. He is also a very thoughtful admirer of Invisible Man author Ralph Ellison, whose work and friendship touched Crouch enough that, when asked if he considered Ellison a mentor, without hesitation answered “Yes!” Crouch takes part in a very lively conversation about Ellison and a variety of associated topics, including Charlie Parker, and music’s place in American ritual.

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September 14th, 2001

The Ralph Ellison Project: Literary Executor John Callahan is interviewed about the author of Invisible Man

Being named literary executor of any writer’s estate would be quite an honor, let alone if the writer whose works you now caretake is Ralph Ellison, author of one of the 20th century’s greatest novels, Invisible Man. For long time Ellison friend John Callahan, “It was a challenge, and it was intimidating, exhilirating…”

Among the work left for Callahan was editing Ellison’s long awaited second novel, released as Juneteenth in 1999.

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July 18th, 2001

Whitney Balliet, author of Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz, 1954-2000

As jazz critic for the New Yorker magazine since 1957, and author of fifteen books, Whitney Balliett has spent a lifetime listening to and writing about jazz. Generations of readers have learned to listen to the music with his graceful guidance.

In our interview with Balliett, he discusses his latest book, Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz, 1954-2000 (St. Martin’s Press), which collects a bounty of his reviews, reporting and portraits.

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May 24th, 2001

Martha Bayles, author of Hole in Our Soul: The Loss of Beauty and Meaning in American Popular Music

Few observers of cultural history articulate their viewpoints quite like Martha Bayles. Her opinions on popular culture are intelligent, controversial, and in demand. Her essay on Miles Davis recently appeared in the New York Times, and for years she was the television and arts critic for the Wall Street Journal, where her work still appears. Her book, Hole in Our Soul: The Loss of Beauty and Meaning in American Popular Music, was hailed by the Chicago Tribune as an “important book.” The New York Times said, “Ms. Bayles tells a morality tale of how culture lost its way by adopting attitudes that undermine its finest achievements.”

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April 7th, 2001

Conversations with Gary Giddins: on Bing Crosby

When Gary Giddins, the jazz critic and columnist for the Village Voice, began work on an in-depth biography of Bing Crosby, many asked him, “Why?” He has explained that Crosby, perhaps the most famous entertainer in America between 1927 and 1956, has been unjustly forgotten since his death in 1977.

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March 22nd, 2001

In this Issue

Interviews with three outstanding, acclaimed writers and scholars who discuss their books on Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter, and their subjects’ lives in and out of music. These interviews – which each include photos and several full-length songs – provide readers easy access to an entertaining and enlightening learning experience about these three giants of American popular music.

Poetry

The winter collection of poetry offers readers a look at the culture of jazz music through the imaginative writings of its 32 contributors. Within these 41 poems, writers express their deep connection to the music – and those who play it – in their own inventive and often philosophical language that communicates much, but especially love, sentiment, struggle, loss, and joy.

Interview

NBC Radio-photo by Ray Lee Jackson / Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, acclaimed biographer James Kaplan (Frank: The Voice and Sinatra: The Chairman) talks about his book, Irving Berlin: New York Genius, and Berlin's unparalleled musical career and business success, his intense sense of family and patriotism during a complex and evolving time, and the artist's permanent cultural significance.

Interview

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection
Richard Crawford’s Summertime: George Gershwin’s Life in Music is a rich, detailed and rewarding musical biography that describes Gershwin's work throughout every stage of his career. In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Crawford discusses his book and the man he has described as a “fresh voice of the Jazz Age” who “challenged Americans to rethink their assumptions about composition and performance, nationalism, cultural hierarchy, and the racial divide.”

Interview

photo unattributed/ Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview with The Letters of Cole Porter co-author Dominic McHugh, he explains that “several of the big biographical tropes that we associate with Porter are either modified or contested by the letters,” and that “when you put together these letters, and add our quite extensive commentary between the letters, it creates a different picture of him.” Mr. McHugh discusses his book, and what the letters reveal about the life – in-and-out of music – of Cole Porter.

Book Excerpt

The introduction to John Burnside's The Music of Time: Poetry in the Twentieth Century – excerpted here in its entirety with the gracious consent of Princeton University Press – is the author's fascinating observation concerning the idea of how poets respond to what the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam called “the noise of time,” weaving it into a kind of music.

Short Fiction

photo Creative Commons CC0
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #53 — “Market & Fifth, San Francisco, 1986,” by Paul Perilli

Interview

photo by Bouna Ndaiye
Interview with Gerald Horne, author of Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music

Poetry

photo by Brian McMillen
"Our Father, Who Art McCoy Tyner" -- a poem by John Stupp

Art

"Out West, Thinking About Miles Davis," by Charles Ingham
Ingham’s “Jazz Narratives” connect time, place, and subject in a way that ultimately allows the viewer a unique way of experiencing jazz history. This edition’s narratives are “"Exactly Where She Is Supposed to Be," "In Memory of Clora Bryant, Standing Outside the Downbeat,” and “Out West, Thinking About Miles Davis”

Book Excerpt

A ten page excerpt from The Letters of Cole Porter by Cliff Eisen and Dominic McHugh that features correspondence in the time frame of June to August, 1953, including those Porter had with George Byron (the man who married Jerome Kern’s widow), fellow writer Abe Burrows, Noel Coward, his secretary Madeline P. Smith, close friend Sam Stark, and his lawyer John Wharton.

Interview

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Con Chapman, author of Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges discusses the great Ellington saxophonist

Jazz History Quiz #134

Photo by Brian McMillen/Brian McMillen Photography
Influenced by Charlie Parker and Phil Woods (pictured), before forming his own group this alto player got his start in Buddy Rich’s Big Band, and shortly thereafter played with Lionel Hampton. While leading his own band, he was famous for playing bebop covers of songs such as “The I Love Lucy Theme,” “Come Fly With Me,” and “Hooray for Hollywood,” and often performed with singer Eddie Jefferson. Who is he?

Book Excerpt

This story, excerpted from Irving Berlin: New York Genius by James Kaplan, describes how Berlin came to write his first major hit song, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and speaks to its historic musical and cultural significance.

Community

News about the poet Arlene Corwin

Photography

photo of Stephane Grappelli by Veryl Oakland
Veryl Oakland’s “Jazz in Available Light” — photos (and stories) of violinists Joe Venuti, Stephane Grappelli, Jean-Luc Ponty, Zbigniew Seifert, and Leroy Jenkins

Great Encounters

photo of Sidney Bechet by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
In this edition of "Great Encounters," Con Chapman, author of Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges, writes about Hodges’ early musical training, and the first meeting he had with Sidney Bechet, the influential and legendary reed player who Hodges called “tops in my book.”

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music, author Gerald Horne writes about the severe cultural and economic obstacles jazz musicians have encountered since the music's inception

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

"What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?"
Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

Pressed for All Time

In this edition, producer Helen Keane tells Michael Jarrett, author of Pressed For All Time: Producing the Great Jazz Albums about how the collaboration of Tony Bennett and Bill Evans began, culminating in the 1975 recording, The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album.

Humor

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
"Every Soul is a Circus," by Dig Wayne

In the Previous Issue

photo by Carol Friedman
“The Jazz Photography Issue” features an interview with today’s most eminent jazz portrait photographer Carol Friedman, news from Michael Cuscuna about newly released Francis Wolff photos, as well as archived interviews with William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, a piece on Milt Hinton, a new edition of photos from Veryl Oakland, and much more…

Contributing writers

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