David Hajdu

Renee Fleming, Rock Star
June 18, 2010

  I won't argue with Plato—where did quibbling get Adeimantus?—so I'll go along with the proposition that imitation qualifies as art of a kind. On that principle, what Renee Fleming has done on her attention-grabbing new recording, Dark Hope—her first rock album—deserves nothing but the kind of praise that Fleming's usual work as a lyric soprano is typically and justly accorded. She has earned her reputation in classical music, and, with Dark Hope she has earned lots of money.

Just How Bad Were the Songs Paul and Linda McCartney Did Together?
June 11, 2010

Just How Bad Were the Songs Paul and Linda McCartney Did Together?

Original Research Into the Hypocrisy of Paul McCartney
June 04, 2010

Speaking of aged beknighted idols of the British Invasion who have engaged in dicey songwriting practices, as I started to do in my last post about Mick Jagger, the fact that the Library of Congress has presented Paul McCartney with the Gerswhin Prize led me this week to review Sir Paul's vast output as a composer, and I found something baffling in it. As background, I should point out that McCartney has been jockeying for some time to reverse the order of the songwriting credits—from "Lennon and McCartney" to "McCartney and Lennon"—for Beatles songs that McCartney wrote solely or mainly on h

End the Beguine
June 04, 2010

Artie Shaw, who is thought of as a clarinetist from the big-band era when he is given thought at all, spent far more of his long life writing prose th

Mick Jagger's Plundered Soul
May 28, 2010

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.

Heaven and Hell
May 21, 2010

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.

Triumph of the Gypsies
May 20, 2010

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.

Lena Horne: Maybe … Maybe Not
May 14, 2010

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.

Happy Hundredth, Mary Lou Williams
May 07, 2010

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.

Flying Away from the Guggenheims
April 30, 2010

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.