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Jazz in The Atlantic Monthly


  • "Jazz: A Musical Discussion," by Carl Engel (August 1922)
    The first serious essay on jazz published in The Atlantic, Engel's 1922 article declares: "Jazz is upon us, everywhere. To deny the fact is to assume the classic ostrich pose, head buried in the sand, tail feathers to the sun."

  • "Jazz Today," by Whitney Balliett (November 1953)
    The twenty-eight year old Balliett attributed the "vigorous, sound condition" of jazz in 1953 to the "revolution -- called, variously, kloop mop, re-bop, bebop, and cool music." Balliet also points out that with the advent of the tape recorder and the long-playing record, the place of jazz "has become a permanent part of our musical library."

  • "Jazz, Hot and Cold" by Arnold Sundgaard (July 1955)
    "Jazz, by its very nature, is a kind of freedom rooted in the sense of responsibility," proclaimed Sundgaard, a jazz composer. In addition to such pronouncements, he also gives a brief history of jazz up to 1955 and discusses the state of jazz in that year.

  • "Non-Jazz Jazz," by Milton Bass (October 1962)
    Critic Milton Bass examined the jazz musicians of 1962 who began "using the surface techniques of classical music as a base for their own little improvisations." These innovative musicians included the likes of Gunther Schuller, John Lewis, Dave Brubeck, and Stan Getz.

  • "Ornette Coleman and the Circle with a Hole in the Middle," by Robert Palmer (December 1972)
    Robert Palmer visited Coleman in his SoHo loft to shoot pool and discuss the musician's philosophy on art, jazz composition, and the difficulties of race in America.

  • "Ellington in Private," by Irving Townsend (May 1975)
    The Columbia Records executive producer recounts his first meeting with Duke Ellington backstage at the 1956 Newport Jazz festival and writes about the personality of the elusive composer, with whom he worked during the recording session of A Drum Is A Woman.

  • "The Loss of Count Basie," by Francis Davis (August 1984)
    "Among big-band leaders only Duke Ellinton exerted more long-term influence upon jazz and American popular music than Count Basie," observes Davis. Ellington's and Basie's styles differed greatly, however; Ellington was a writer of jazz composition whereas Basie functioned more as an editor.

  • "Ornette's Permanent Revolution," by Franics Davis (September 1985)
    "All hell broke loose when the alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman made his East Coast debut, at the Five Spot Cafe, in Greenwich Village, on November 17, 1959." Davis considers the effect of the revolutionary free-jazz movement spawned by Coleman on that fateful night.

  • "Melodic Trumpet," by Michael Ullman (December 1985)
    "Sometime in 1954, when he was twenty-four years old, the trumpeter Clifford Brown became one of the greatest jazz soloists." Tragically, two years later, Brown, the "clean-living, soft-spoken family man," was dead.

  • Creator by Proxy," by Francis Davis (February 1987)
    Neither an "arranger" (too limited a designation) nor "composer" (too grandiose), Gil Evans was more of an improvisational translator. His genius lay in isolating and expanding various source materials, such as "a provocative passing chord, an insistent rhythmic vamp, or an unexpected melodic ellipsis."

  • "Large-Scale Jazz," by Francis Davis (August 1987)
    In the 1980s jazz composers were seen as the new innovators, relegating improvisers to secondary status. If one accepts the fact that composition was the key element in jazz in the 1980s, however, the central figure of the decade was clearly Duke Ellington, although he died in 1974.

  • "What Coltrane Wanted," by Edward Strickland (December 1987)
    "The stellar avant-garde saxophonist has become a jazz legend of stature shared only by Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker," Strickland points out. In this essay the author focuses on Coltrane's relentless search for musical possibilities.

  • "Born Out of Time," by Francis Davis (April 1988)
    In an essay anticipating his July, 1996, essay "Like Young," Davis considered the influence of the then twenty-six year old trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the extent of his influence on musicians his own age and younger.

  • "Bird on Film," by Francis Davis (November 1988)
    In 1988 Clint Eastwood produced and directed Bird, a movie about the life of Charlie Parker. Unfortunately, according to Davis, the film "wants to shout 'Bird Lives!' but winds up whispering 'Jazz is dead.'"

  • "The Book on Miles," by Francis Davis (January 1990)
    At age sixty-three, Miles Davis, a man fully aware that "his art and life were already the stuff of legend," published Miles: The Autobiography. In this review, Francis Davis reflects on the life of one of jazz's most important yet controversial figures.

  • "'Zorn' for 'Anger,'" by Francis Davis (January 1991)
    "John Zorn is the only musician I've ever considered suing," writes Davis. Despite his bad boy image and the eardrum shattering volume of his live performances, Zorn's contribution to recent avant-garde music, especially his interpretations of film music, cannot be dismissed.

  • "Better With Age," by Francis Davis (September 1991)
    At the age of eighty-four, Benny Carter offered audiences "a singular thrill -- the chance to look back on history as it continues to unfold." In addition to appreciating Carter's longevity, Davis also recognizes Carter's impressive contributions to jazz composition.

  • "Man with a Horn," by Francis Davis (March 1992)
    As Stanley Crouch has observed, "Dizzy Gillespie carried and projected the moxie, the curiosity, the wit, and the pathos that enliven the world of jazz." Here Francis Davis captures the indefatigable vitality of the great bebop trumpeter in an essay published a year before Gillespie's death.

  • "Built Pieces," by David Schiff (January 1995)
    Duke Ellington's uncanny knack as a musical "assembler" causes Schiff to observe, "As a musical architect and an alchemist of tone color, Ellington resembles Stravinsky more than he does an improvisational genius like John Coltrane."

  • "Bud's Bubble," by Francis Davis (January 1996)
    The seminal bebop pianist Bud Powell absorbed and extended the musical ideas of Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, and Thelonious Monk. But his genius was a victim of his madness.

  • "Like Young, " by Francis Davis (July 1996)
    Jazz has been attracting its first young audiences in decades -- but are they hearing a music without a future?

  • "Classical Appeal, " by David Schiff (July 1996)
    Many symphony orchestras think that luring jazz, blues, and rock audiences is their salvation -- but neither musicians nor listeners get what they expect at crossover concerts, the author learned from experience.

  • "Not Singing Too Much, " by Francis Davis (February 1998)
    A vocal performance by the pianist and songwriter Dave Frishberg is more like a series of witty asides.

  • "Sitting In, " by Whitney Balliett (February 1998)
    A jazz writer and amateur drummer turns temporarily pro on the QE2.

  • "Not Singing Too Much, " by Francis Davis (February 1998)
    A vocal performance by the pianist and songwriter Dave Frishberg is more like a series of witty asides.

  • "Black and White Intertwined, " by William H. Youngren (February 1999)
    A groundbreaking new history documents the rich collaboration between black and white players in the early decades of jazz.

  • "Jazz -- Religious and Circus," by Francis Davis (February 2000)
    The 1970s get little respect. The bad reputation is undeserved in many of the popular arts -- especially jazz.

  • "Resurrecting Fats," by Stephen Budiansky (March 2000)
    New transcriptions of Fats Waller's pipe-organ and piano solos could ensure that Waller is remembered not just as an entertainer but as a great composer.

  • "Charlie Haden, Bass," by Francis Davis (August 2000)
    No other instrument in jazz is more essential than the bass, both backbone and heartbeat, and Haden is its master.

  • "Our Lady of Sorrows," by Francis Davis (November 2000)
    Willfully unaware of the facts of her professional life, listeners persist in thinking that Billie Holiday felt their pain.

  • "I Hear America Scatting," by Francis Davis (January 2001)
    The new Ken Burns series on jazz is good television but sketchy history.

  • "Wynton's Blues," by David Hajdu (March 2003)
    The biggest name in jazz faces an uncertain future. Just like jazz itself.


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