Alex Belth introduces a profile of the jazz singer taken from Jazz Is
billie-holiday.jpg
Billie Holiday

When I first started listening to jazz I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know how I’d ever be able to tell the difference between Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan, didn’t know how I’d ever determine the difference between John Coltrane and someone imitating Coltrane. I’m still an amateur but I can tell you this: the first performers I could identify by ear were Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, and Billie Holiday. Their sound is so specific, so singular, that even to the untrained ear, they are identifiable.

We’re lucky that Nat Hentoff was on hand to record so much of the Jazz scene in the ’50s and ’60s, and here he cuts through the popular mythology that often obscures Holiday’s great talent and shows us the depth of her musical gift. [Read More]

From Nelson George (Smithsonian.com)
John Coltrane. Photograph: Chuck Stewart
John Coltrane. Photograph: Chuck Stewart

On December 9, 1964, saxophonist John Coltrane led a quartet that featured pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison into Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, where countless jazz recording sessions were held in the 1950s and ’60s. For photographer Chuck Stewart, Van Gelder’s was a short drive from his home in Teaneck.

That day nearly 50 years ago the band recorded a Coltrane composition titled A Love Supreme, a profound expression of his spiritual awakening divided into four movements—“Acknowledgement,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance,” “Psalm.” For its soaring ambition, flawless execution and raw power, it was hailed as a groundbreaking piece of music when it was released in February 1965, and it has endured as a seminal part of the jazz canon. The work and its composer will be highlighted anew this April during Jazz Appreciation Month, an annual event launched in 2001 by the National Museum of American History, whose collection includes Coltrane’s original manuscript for A Love Supreme. (more…)

John Coltrane. Photograph: Jim Marshall.
John Coltrane. Photograph: Jim Marshall.
Sam Stephenson discusses biographies of the tenor saxophonist in The Paris Review

A few years ago I found a used, first-edition hardcover of Dr. Cuthbert Ormond Simpkins’s 1975 book, Coltrane: A Biography, online for $150. I had long admired its feverish, street-pulpy story about the saxophonist John Coltrane, whose powerful music increasingly seemed capable of altering one’s consciousness before he died in 1967, at age forty. Posthumously, the mythology and exaltation of Coltrane, as well as his musical influence, only grew. But by that point, Simpkins had already researched and written Coltrane’s story, expressing an uncompromising, unapologetic black voice rarely found in the annals of jazz before or since. (more…)

Critics past and present reflect on the legacy of Miles Davis’ landmark jazz-fusion record

From Langdon Winner’s 1970 review in Rolling Stone:

Miles Davis
Miles Davis

Miles’ music continues to grow in its beauty, subtlety and sheer magnificence. Bitches’ Brew is a further extension of the basic idea he investigated in his two previous albums, Filles De Kilimanjaro and In A Silent Way. In a larger sense, however, the record is yet another step in the unceasing process of evolution Miles has undergone since the Forties. The man never stops to rest on his accomplishments. Driven forward by a creative elan unequaled in the history of American music, he incorporates each successive triumph into the next leap forward.

The wonderful thing about Miles’ progress is that he encourages others to grow with him. Within the context of his sound there is more than enough room for both his musicians and his listeners to pursue their own special visions. Looking back on the history of Miles’ ensemble, we find the likes of John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, and Wayne Shorter. He always seems to select the best young jazzmen in the country and then gives them the freedom to develop their own unique modes of playing. Miles is known to be a stern disciplinarian, but never a tyrant. When a man has performed with the group long enough to gain a firm footing, he leaves as a recognized giant on his instrument. (more…)