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Francis Davis
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Articles currently available on The Atlantic Monthly's Web site

  • God's Lonely Man, March 2004
    Johnny Cash was a Christian who didn't cast stones, a patriot who wasn't a bully.

  • Storming the Home Front, March 2003
    Directors of today's war movies, with their insistence on graphic bloodletting and happy endings, should look at the original World War II movies, which were subtly subversive.

  • Unironic, July/August 2002
    Bill Frisell draws from a wide spectrum of music identified with the American experience—and country music is a persistent echo.

  • Ready for Action, January 2002
    Despite seeing on television news what used to be confined to action movies, audiences have been flocking to them, perhaps eager for the illusion of control they offer.

  • Bill Clinton and His Consequences: All the President's Sidemen, Feb 2001
    Savvy enough about rhythm.

  • I Hear America Scatting, Jan 2001
    The new Ken Burns series on jazz is good television but sketchy history.

  • Our Lady Of Sorrows, Nov 2000
    Willfully unaware of the facts of her professional life, listeners persist in thinking that Billie Holiday felt their pain.

  • Pacific Time, September 2000
    Once the novelty wears off, a vacation spot may prove to be more than just another pretty place .

  • Charlie Haden, Bass, August 2000
    No other bass player since Charles Mingus has seemed so thoroughly joined to his instrument.

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

  • Napoleon in Rags, May 1999
    Bob Dylan changed the popular music of his time and the music that followed, and the commercial release of a formerly bootlegged concert recording shows how he did it.

  • Swing and Sensibility, September 1998
    Whatever Frank Sinatra sang, he swang, and his musicianship will endure longer than the swagger that today's singers so admire.

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

  • The Man From Heaven, June 1997
    The songs of Burt Bacharach are enjoying a revival that seems unlikely only at first hearing

  • Victim Kitsch, September 1996
    With its pop sentimentality, Rent neutralizes avant-garde art into a form that hopeful critics take for Broadway's salvation.

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

  • Bud's Bubble, 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.

  • Man with a Horn, 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.

  • Recognition Humor, December 1992
    Seinfeld shows why television is today's best medium for comedy

  • Better With Age, 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.

  • "Zorn" for "Anger," 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.

  • The Book on Miles, 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.

  • Bird on Film, 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.'"

  • Born Out of Time, 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.

  • Large-Scale Jazz, 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.

  • Creator by Proxy, 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."

  • Ornette's Permanent Revolution, 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.

  • The Loss of Count Basie, 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.

Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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