David Hajdu

Mick Jagger studied finance at the London School of Economics, not law. So it is perhaps understandable that his most recent initiative—one offered up to the world as a new single, music video, and album bonus track—makes splendid economic sense while teetering treacherously close to fraud. Jagger, as de facto COO of the multinational conglomerate that is the Rolling Stones, recently oversaw a lavish and suitably well hyped reissue of Exile on Main Street, the 1972 album that Stones connoisseurs regard, with ample reason, as a rock masterpiece.

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Heaven and Hell

It was a dark Sunday—yes, yes, a black Sabbath—for lovers of music in two schools that have nothing whatsoever in common except for the fact that a pair of artists revered in their spheres, the heavy-metal singer Ronnie James Dio and the jazz pianist Hank Jones, died on the same day: May 16, 2010. I'm not suggesting an act of music-savvy gamesmanship by the Reaper, a band call to the great venue in the sky.

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Django Reinhardt, the Gypsy jazz guitarist whose centennial fell early on this year's calendar, infuriated his closest friend and best collaborator, Stephane Grappelli, with stereotypically Gypsy-ish bad behavior that only his sublimely atypical but deeply Gypsy-ish music could excuse. Early in the mid-'90s, when Grappelli was in his eighties but still playing regularly at the Blue Note in Manhattan, I did a fairly long interview with him in which he said, emphatically, "Django made me very angry. Django would not be there--we could not find him anywhere. He drank every day.

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It's not that she lied. It’s that when Lena Horne told Rosie O'Donnell, "I like show business," she was being truthful only in small part. The occasion, a talk-show interview to promote a charity for singers, was one of very few interviews Horne did in the years before her death this week, at 92, and, for the sake of a good cause, she allowed herself to say something that she had devoted her final decades to disproving. As she went on to make plain, Horne cared deeply about singers, and she loved the art of music.

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The calendar provides this week a perfect excuse to reconsider Geri Allen (whose superb new suite for jazz piano, Flying Toward the Sound, I took up here recently) in the context of her great precursor, Mary Lou Williams. This Saturday, May 8, is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the pianist and composer who stands out as Allen's deepest influence, despite the fact that Flying Toward the Sound is a tribute to Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner, and Herbie Hancock.

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In art created through not-for-profit funding, the grant proposal too often is the art form. The requirements of application give shape to the work that the artist (or the hired grant writer) proposes to create. The funding process  is valuable—indeed, an essential alternative to the free market—but also limited by its necessary politics. You can just smell the grease of the grant machinery in some of the work that comes out of the Guggenheims.

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Until my last post, on Julia Wolfe—the undervalued also-ran for this year's Pulitzer Prize in music composition—I had never done much to remind myself of Garry Moore. I was describing an anonymous, home-made YouTube video set to Wolfe's richly textured short piece, "Lick," and I pointed out how easy it is to pigeonhole Wolfe as Cagean. Then I made a wiseass crack: "Whatever. I like the music." Apart from the lame use of "whatever," which no one in real life has used sacrastically since 1994, I should have done better than to use the subject of John Cage and his music to make a snarky joke.

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As a serial finalist for nice awards I've never won, I believe in the secondary value in prizes—the value in not only honoring achievement but also in stimulating debate over who wins those honors. Among the major American prizes in arts and letters, the Pulitzers have an exemplary record at stirring that worthy debate.

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I liked "Radio Gaga," the bombastic Queen single from the Eighties that provided Stefani Germanotta with a name to match the pop-star image she concocted; it was a fun tune. I liked "Lady Marmalade," the Labelle funk hit; it was sexy and fun, too. I like marmalade itself; it's a fun food. And I like Lady Gaga; she's delicious and nothing but fun, if not my idea of sexy. (Her jokey ridiculousness is fine to watch, but not inviting to me.) To fail to get some pleasure from Lady Gaga songs is to fail to appreciate American pop.

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Every artist has a story, or so we in the audience for art like to believe. In music, certainly—particularly in styles of music rich in abstraction, such as the avant-garde and jazz­—it’s easier for us to make something of challenging work if we can conceive of the composer or performer in easy-to-grasp narrative terms. If we imagine John Coltrane as a sojourning mystic, we can process his difficult late work as mystical sojourning.

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