David Hajdu

Esperanza Spalding Sings Blake
October 15, 2010

It's been a long time since the Battle of Hernani, I know, and it was a trumped up conflict over resolved issues even when it happened, in 1830. The romantics hardly come off as radical today. Still, they speak as ever to the lost teenager in us all, and I've found myself letting Blake make me feel all mushy and wonderstruck again, as I've listened to my favorite CD of the past couple of months: Esperanza Spalding's Chamber Music Society. Until a few weeks ago, when I watched her perform the songs from this album in concert, I had been impressed by Spalding but not moved.

Growing Old Without Him
October 08, 2010

We know how old John Lennon would have been this Saturday—70—but who he would have been, we can only imagine. There were so many Johns: Teddy boy, moptop, Walrus, avant-gardist, Mr. Ono, politicker, house husband, and, finally, in the months before his death 30 years ago this December, model of middle-age content. "Grow old with me," Lennon once crooned into a cassette recorder he used for making quickie demos in his apartment in the Dakota.

The Gorgeous, Quirky, Uncategorizable Music of Gil Evans
October 01, 2010

Just a few days after hearing Wynton Marsalis's "Swing Symphony" at the opening-night concert of the New York Philharmonic season, I was still puzzling over the problems inherent in crossbreeding jazz and symphonic music when I went to check out the jazz orchestra of the Manhattan School of Music. I left the concert hall of the conservatory unpuzzled.

Memphis on Broadway
September 25, 2010

Memphis Shubert Theatre Million Dollar Quartet Nederlander Theatre Anyone in denial about the demise of the record business will find on Broadway these nights proof of death more conclusive than the disappearance of music stores from the malls or the elimination of DJs from radio stations. Two musicals staged this year—Memphis, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and Million Dollar Quartet, which is set in the same city in the same period and deals with many of the same themes—verify the extinction of the old-school music industry by showing it to exist now solely as sentimental myth.

Wynton Marsalis's New 'Swing Symphony' is Brave, Even Heroic
September 24, 2010

The New York Philharmonic opened its new season this week with the American premiere of Wynton Marsalis's "Swing Symphony," a grand, sweeping work elementally disconnected from the world we live in, and its essential indifference to the era of its creation is one the composition's uncommon attributes. It has nothing to do with contemporary life in the same manner that the fiction of William Trevor or the music of the young blues singer Shemekia Copeland confront the human experience in ways we associate another times.

The Anti-VMAs
September 17, 2010

MTV presented the Video Music Awards this week, and as Muhammad Ali said about the Vietcong, I ain't got no quarrel with Taylor Swift and the rest of the ceremony's army of pitiless, desperately clawing pop mercenaries. No one wears a dress sown of meat like Lady Gaga, and it's nice to know that Justin Bieber can play the drums. Kanye West did nothing to prove that the president was incorrect about West's being a jackass, and Usher reminded us that he can dance. What fun!

The Anti-VMAs
September 17, 2010

MTV presented the Video Music Awards this week, and as Muhammad Ali said about the Vietcong, I ain't got no quarrel with Taylor Swift and the rest of the ceremony's army of pitiless, desperately clawing pop mercenaries. No one wears a dress sown of meat like Lady Gaga, and it's nice to know that Justin Bieber can play the drums. Kanye West did nothing to prove that the president was incorrect about West's being a jackass, and Usher reminded us that he can dance. What fun!

Sonny Rollins's Lost Brothers
September 10, 2010

Sonny Rollins, who for more then 50 years has been known by the name of his 1956 album, Saxophone Colossus, turned 80 on September 7, and his plans for celebration include a birthday concert at the Beacon Theater in New York on September 10. Rollins has deserved the title given him by Bob Altshuler, the promotion director at Prestige Records. As an improviser, Rollins is a figure of monumental standing. His solos are teachable models of thematic and motific development, through-composed works spontaneously produced.

A Limited Defense of Jerry Lewis
September 04, 2010

First, I would like to apologize for bringing up Jerry Lewis on Labor Day weekend, when most of us who fail to derive voyeuristic pleasure from the deranged spectacle of his annual telethon are doing our best to avoid him. In saying that, I mean not to derogate the Muscular Distrophy Association, of course.

A Few More Thoughts on Western Swing
August 27, 2010

By the emails I’ve gotten since my post about Arcade Fire and its antecedents in the Western Swing movement of the early postwar era, I can tell that nothing I’ve put up in this space so far has shocked readers as much as the sight of a cowboy playing a harp—not a harmonica, but an actual 47-string concert harp—in a genre-smashing hillbilly jazz band. Even at the time Spade Cooley created “Miss Molly,” in 1945, surprise was part of the point—the formal and the informal, the rural and the urban, conjoined.

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