Category: Jazz

  • A Love Supreme

    Coltrane’s bare-bones score for his masterpiece, the four-movement suite A Love Supreme, which was recorded in one session in December, 1964: Coltrane has noted in the manuscript that the piece should be played “in all keys together.” As his biographer Lewis Porter says, at the end of the first movement (titled “Acknowledgment”): Coltrane’s more or […]

  • Pastoral Scene of the Gallant South

    Content warning: graphic images of racial violence. “Strange Fruit” was written by a longtime English teacher at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, Abel Meeropol in 1937 (shown above with his sons Robert and Michael, the biological children of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, whom Abel and his wife adopted after the Rosenbergs’ execution). The […]

  • So Black and Blue

    Ralph Ellison, above, writes in Invisible Man, his 1952 novel about race in America: Now I have one radio-phonograph; I plan to have five. There is a certain acoustical deadness in my [apartment], and when I have music I want to feel its vibration, not only with my ear but with my whole body. I’d like […]

  • Freedom Now?

    The “Greensboro Four” sitting in at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, NC, 1960. Read about the protests here. The cover of drummer Max Roach’s 1961 album We Insist! was an explicit reference to the Greensboro protests. We Insist! drew analogies between social and political freedom, and the aesthetic freedom of Roach’s music. The Max Roach Quintet performing “Driva […]

  • How Billie Sang

    Billie Holiday began singing in Harlem jazz clubs at sixteen, and made her first recordings in 1933, at the age of eighteen. By the time she returned to the studio in 1935, she was a revelation — neither the white balladeers who dominated the Hit Parade nor the black blues queens from whose ranks she […]

  • Swinging at the Savoy

    Big band jazz was also known as swing. Swing dance developed in the segregated dance halls and ballrooms of New York City, such as the famous Savoy Ballroom on Lenox Avenue and 140th Street. Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, who you see in the film below, were the professional dance team at the Savoy. Note that the […]

  • Jazz 59

    In 1959, African-American composer Ed Bland made the influential short semi-documentary film The Cry of Jazz, which explains jazz for the newbie, and situates the music in the history of black life in America. Bland used the music of avant-garde Afrofuturist composer and pianist Sun Ra as the soundtrack. 1959 was also the year that […]

  • What is Hip?

    A playlist/watchlist/reading list to accompany your reading by Scott Saul from his book Freedom Is, Freedom Ain’t: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties. Oscar Brown, Jr.: “But I Was Cool” Lenny Bruce: Norman Mailer’s essay “The White Negro,” published in Dissent in 1957. One of the “jazz” excerpts from Jack Kerouac’s beat novel, On the Road: Boom, kick, […]

  • The Evolution of Bebop

    (Bird on Money, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s tribute to Charlie Parker.) The song “Cherokee,” a fox-trot by the English dance-band leader Ray Noble: Charlie Parker’s version: Parker said that, when playing “Cherokee,” he realized that the 12 semitones in any scale could take a piece of music from one key into any other, a realization that Arnold […]

  • Beneath the Underdog

    Trigger/content warning: disturbing video imagery, offensive language. When I was working on my doctorate and teaching a writing class for music majors, I wanted to assign my students a passage from the great jazz bass player, composer, and bandleader Charles Mingus’s 1971 memoir, Beneath the Underdog. The fiftieth anniversary of the desegregation of Little Rock Central […]