Singing The Unsung

In Rifftides a month or so ago, you may have read, Jazz albums should have program notes. Listeners want and deserve information about the music. You can read the rest of that post by clicking here. I admit self-interest; I sometimes write album essays. Nonetheless, as a listener, I count on program notes to fill me in on the backgrounds of players, composers and arrangers and, often, on the music itself. Writers of liner notes, definitely including this one, depend on discographers. … [Read more...]

Typewriters, TT And The Home Folks

Fellow blogger, indefatigable all-purpose arts critic and small-town New Yorker Terry Teachout is visiting home, down where Missouri meets Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky. He customarily refers to it as Small Town USA, but by giving us a link to the hometown paper, he's blown the town's cover. Tourists will be piling in there by the busload, hoping for a glimpse of his birthplace. Terry is giving a speech there, and the local paper interviewed him in advance. Teachout noted he … [Read more...]

No More Today, Folks

It is unlikely that there will be a new posting today. The Rifftides staff is on deadline. But, you never know, we could finish early and file something. Watch this space. As always, we appreciate it when you tell people interested in jazz and other matters about our venture and direct them to Rifftides. Thanks. … [Read more...]

John Robert Brown

I am adding the writer and musician John Robert Brown’s website to the Other Places list in the right-hand column, and not just because he wrote this: Occasionally a publication changes one’s thinking. Take Five is such a book. I am old enough to have attended several of Desmond’s concerts back in the 1950s. Doug Ramsey’s account rekindled my respect, taught me more than I had ever imagined about its subject, propelling me into a Desmondmania that set me on a revisionist crusade of buying old … [Read more...]

Stamm On The Air

Rifftides is not a way station for announcements, but if something comes up that I think you'd want to know about, well, of course. This is from trumpeter Marvin Stamm. If you are of a mind - and awake - please tune tonight - July 26 - to JaiJai Jackson's new jazz radio show at from 8-10pm West Coast Time.... just scroll down to "Woman of Jazz" and listen in! JaiJai (Chubby Jackson's daughter) will be interviewing me and playing tunes from The Stamm/Soph Project Live at … [Read more...]

Free At Last, And Formerly

In his newsletter, Blowing My Own Horn, the pianist Hal Galper (Cannonball Adderley, Phil Woods, his own trio) writes,"In truth, I'm a free player in bebopper's clothing." You might find my history of free playing illuminating. In my early Boston days (the 1960's) I had the good fortune to apprentice with Sam Rivers for 6 years. At the time with Phil Morrison on bass and Tony Williams on drums, followed by my old partner in crime Steve Ellington. We were playing free inside the tunes trying to … [Read more...]

Bix Duke Fats Revisited

Regarding the Rifftides posting about the late Tom Talbert, and comments in later editions, Larry Kart writes from Chicago: I bought Bix Duke Fats when it came out (in the days when you could listen in your local record shop to things by people you'd never heard of before) and since have acquired everything (I think) of Talbert's that has been issued. He was special. Among other things, I love the way he could set up particular soloists in order to draw out their gifts—e.g. George Wallington … [Read more...]

Plugging Along

A reader sent a message taking me to task for shameless hucksterism. Can a week go by without you plugging your book? I count 21 mentions since mid June. So many? I'll try to watch it. I won't tell you the subject of my interview with Megan Marlena of KKJZ, Los Angeles. I guess you'll just have to tune in or go to the station's web audio stream and find out. It will run at 6:35 a.m. and 8:35 a.m. PDT (9:35 and 11:35 EDT) tomorrow, Wednesday. … [Read more...]

From Down Under

It is a challenge to create eleven songs on demand, which is why so many albums consisting entirely of originals are less than compelling. The success rate is high in A Sense Of Wonder, a compact disc of songs written by the veteran Australian tenor saxophonist Laurie Lewis and his lyricist wife Alwyn. Young Heather Stewart sings the songs with a sweet innocence. She handles lyrics well and has good intonation, not an epidemic among vocalists. The jewel of the collection is “Don’t Ask.” I am … [Read more...]


If you would like to get in touch—I hope—use the e-mail address under Contact in the right-hand column. I try to answer communiques with all possible dispatch. In other words, if it take a few days, please be patient. The Rifftides staff would appreciate your recommending us to your friends and neighbors. The audience seems to be growing, but there is room for expansion. More is more. … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Take Five With CBS

The CBS Radio Weekend News Roundup is running Correspondent Bill Vitka's report on Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond. Based on Vitka's interview with the author, it is a brilliantly produced min-documentary about four minutes long. Wait 'til you hear what he did with "Petrouchka." Click on this link. When the CBS window comes up, scroll down to item 4 and click on "Author Interviews." The segment is at 3:55, after one with Howard Bryant on his book about steroids in … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Workout At The Y

DevraDoWrite went to guitarist Jim Hall’s concert last night at the 92nd Street Y in New York. She liked it. My reaction is favorably biased, of course, as Jim is my dad, but it was a great concert, really. I’m not going to review it — hopefully someone else will, but I will tell you that my favorite part of the program was the second half. That’s when an unusual string section consisting of six cellos and six violas played on three compositions: a Jim Hall original titled October Song, an … [Read more...]

On The Radio Again

Paul Conley of KXJZ in Sacramento turned an interview about Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond into a masterly short program. Conley, who has produced several excellent shows in the NPR Jazz Profiles series, added an announcer introduction, worked in music clips and seasoned the segment with sound bites from Dick Johnson. Johnson was the leader who enticed Desmond away from the Band Box in 1949, leaving Dave Brubeck scuffling...and furious with Paul. (They reconciled. Sorry … [Read more...]

Other Matters: Some Jazz a While

Miller Williams

Following the most recent rounds of atrocities—Iraq, London—a friend wanted to talk. He did not have comforting insights into mankind’s oldest philosophical question, nor did I. I don’t know whether Miller Williams has the answer, but this distinguished American poet ponders it beautifully. With his permission, here is one of his finest poems. Why God Permits Evil: For Answers to This Question Of Interest to Many Write Bible Answers, Dept. E-7 —ad on a matchbook … [Read more...]

New Regime At The Y

The New York pianist George Ziskind observed the changing of the guard at a venerable New York jazz institution and sent us this report. Monday night I attended the opening shot of this year's "Jazz in July" event at the 92nd Street Y. Dick Hyman, who had long been artistic director of this annual jazz concert series, recently passed that baton to Bill Charlap - and Bill has already made some significant innovations in programming. (Like, how about "The Front Line: Small Group Jazz of Horace … [Read more...]

Followup: Too Much Music

The eminent neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote a letter to The New York Times that touches on the subject of a recent Rifftides posting. Here is the final paragraph: The human brain is exquisitely sensitive to, susceptible to, the sound patterns of speech and music, but it is only with music, curiously, that we can be so readily overloaded - we see this, in a minor way, with catchy tunes. And I am inclined to agree with Dr. Victor Aziz that such hallucinations may well become more common as we are … [Read more...]

Well Worth A Visit

I will be blogging lightly today. This may be all there is until tomorrow, unless inspiration or necessity convince me to break away from the deadline article that I’m writing for even more pay than I get from Rifftides. The Rifftides staff has added a new blog to the Other Places list in the right-hand column. It is the site operated by Joe Moore of KFSR-FM in Fresno. He deals in news about jazz, which lately includes a discouraging number of obituaries. For the most part, his blog is a … [Read more...]

A Little “Rifftide” Geneology

Annie Kuebler, the Mary Lou Williams archivist at the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies, gives us further insights into “Rifftide.” That is the 1945 Coleman Hawkins recording that inspired the name of this blog. She does not say that Hawkins stole the tune from Williams, only that it is likely to have been lodged in his mind when he played on a little-known record date with Mary Lou a couple of months before his own session. In the mid-forties, Hawkins and Williams were major swing era musicians … [Read more...]

It’s Those Damn Candy Wrappers

I should have posted this earlier, before the concert it anticipates took place. It's a message from Scott Faulkner, who directs a classical ensemble in Reno, Nevada. Yes, there is a non-gambling culture in Reno. He read yesterday's Harmony and History posting. I couldn't agree more with you about music being heard instead of listened to. The Reno Chamber Orchestra is playing an outdoor concert tonight and one of the battles that I will no doubt have with the sound man is over whether or not he … [Read more...]

Harmony and History

I mentioned in Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond (page 207) that I have heard Desmond, “in the Safeway while reaching for a box of Cheerios,” among many other places. The truth is, I don’t want to hear Desmond, or any other music, in the Safeway, at the gas station, in Starbucks, the Mexico City subway, The Gap or the dentist’s office, certainly not on the street, and not often in my car. I don’t have an Ipod and don’t want one. I want a little peace and quiet now and … [Read more...]

The Lost Village

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Greenwich Village jazz club scene and mentioned some of the great clubs that are long gone. DevraDoWrite is visiting the Village, her home town, and posts a lovely piece about her girlhood memories of the place. Ansonia drugstore on Tenth Street and Sixth Avenue has probably been there for more than fifty years (I can personally attest to at least forty-five), and Bigelows a block and a half south is ancient too. Both used to have a soda fountain, and I loved … [Read more...]

Salmon Story, With Recipe

This was too long to fit in Doug's Picks. If you don't like salmon, feel free to skip it, with my sympathy. Here in the Pacific Northwest, wild salmon are threatened for many reasons, including dams that impede their migration, chemicals that poison streams, overfishing, drought, and water allocation policies. Declining salmon runs engender battles among environmentalists, recreational fisherman, commercial fishing interests, Indian tribes and, of course, politicians. This Seattle Times story … [Read more...]

Over There, On The Right

Please notice that there is a brand new batch of Doug's Picks in the right-hand column. The only holdover is in the food category. I'm deciding whether to lay a new salmon dish on you, and how to make it fit in a small space. I'm also deciding whether to keep the food category. What do you think? … [Read more...]

Buttoning Down An Oxford

As the new century loomed, it was an honor when Bill Kirchner asked me to contibute to a book he was editing. It turned out to be one of the most significant anthologies ever published about jazz. Now Kirchner announces that the book is entering its next stage of life. Here's his message. In the fall of 2000, The Oxford Companion to Jazz was published—864 pages long, with 60 essays by 59 distinguished musicians, scholars, and critics. In 2001, the Jazz Journalists Association voted it "Best Jazz … [Read more...]

Walker Percy, Among Others

Before we retire the current article recommendation in Doug's Picks (right-hand column on this page), I have a few reflections on Shelby Foote's close friend Walker Percy. One of the great American novelists of the twentieth century, Percy learned from Faulkner (a little higher up in the right-hand column), but emulated him more in story-telling ability than in style. Percy's writing is leaner and more precisely layered than Faulkner's. Nonetheless, it is rich in moral and philosophical … [Read more...]