Dispatch December 2009

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2007: The death of Whitney Balliett. Many great ones passed in these years, of course—Mailer, Bellow—but the four-decade achievement of New Yorker jazz critic Balliett had been so discreetly and unsprawlingly perfect that his going seemed a measurable adjustment to the universal balance of excellence. On Billie Holiday: “a dark-brown sound, sometimes fretted by growls or hoarseness, in the lower register; a pliable oboe tone in the high register; and a pushing, little-girl alto in between.”

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James Parker is an Atlantic contributing editor.

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