If You Like 'Mad Men'...

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... especially the very-tail-end-of-the-Fifties aesthetic of the first shows, you may be as transfixed as I was by "The Subject is Jazz" programs from 1958, on YouTube here. Screenshot below; embedded player at the bottom.

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Watch even the first minute and try to imagine an America in which something like this was on TV. This whole consciousness is as remote from today's as Elizabethan drama, but still detectably in touch with early Mad Men. The then-famous Gilbert Seldes is the host, and Billy Taylor, who has just turned 89 and was for many years a fixture at the Kennedy Center, is the pianist and musical star. His surreal but fascinating discussion with Seldes begins at about time 7:30 in the clip.

The music itself is great and beyond any era -- for instance, the last 4+ minutes of the clip,  which have a a rendering of what I think is called "Half Nelson." But if you want confirmation of the old adage that we overestimate how much things change in a year, and underestimate how much they change in ten years (let alone 50), give this a look. (Thanks to Jazz on the Tube and reader DM.)

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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