Duke Ellington

The Provincials
July 22, 2010

There is localism, and there is yokelism. Which was the greater factor in Harvey Pekar’s mystique? I considered the question in an illuminating location this week. My wife, who is a singer, took a booking at a swanky hotel in Palm Beach, and our seven-year-old son and I tagged along to support her and to sunbathe.

On Harvey Pekar
July 16, 2010

I'd like to honor divergent traditions and share a couple of thoughts about Harvey Pekar, the comic-book writer, cult celebrity, and jazz lover, who died on July 12 at age 70. In eulogistic tradition, I have some nice things to say. Pekar cared deeply about music and made a life-long study of jazz. He came to the genre, as many of his fans came to him, in pursuit of a kind of anti-heroism that reinforced his self-image as an outcast marginalized for his superiority.

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

I am little enriched for having listened over the past week to most (though not all) of more than 90 songs published with Paul and Linda McCartney credited jointly as co-writers. In fact, I almost wish that President Obama had never given Sir Paul the Gershwin Prize and stirred me to reconsider this remarkably unmemorable work, much of which I had heard at one time or another over the years and appropriately forgot.

Pretending
January 07, 2010

The Beatles: Rock Band Guitar Hero When smug old children of the 1970s such as my friends and I get together, we play a game. We talk about the bands we loved when we were kids; we trade grumbles about the fact that music no longer seems to dominate youth culture, as we nostalgically recall the role that rock had in our past; and we try to guess what happened. I call this a game and not a discussion, because really it is diverting silliness that boils down to a competition to reach an agreed-upon goal--that is, to prove our generation’s superiority to our successors.

Keys To the Kingdom
March 18, 2009

David Hajdu: Why the best jazz was made by a great human being.

Stolen Moments
September 10, 2007

Abbey Sings Abbey Abbey Lincoln Love Is What Stays Mark Murphy Near the end of 1956, two young jazz singers made their first albums: Abbey Lincoln's Affair … A Story of a Girl in Love, released by Liberty Records, a quality-conscious shoestring operation, and Meet Mark Murphy, issued by Decca, then a major jazz-pop label. Lincoln was twenty-six and black and a woman, Murphy twenty-four and white and a man, and both had talent and looks. For half a century, they followed separate and circuitous but roughly parallel career paths.

Heroine
December 25, 2006

David Hajdu: High on the music of Anita O'Day.

God Only Knows
October 25, 2004

Brian Wilson Presents Smile (Nonesuch) No masterpiece is so great as a lost one—a symphony unfinished, a painting painted over, a novel shredded or suppressed. Largely or wholly unheard, unseen, or unread, such a work derives its life, as most objects of legend do, from scraps of generative evidence and the accretion of romantic speculation about them, and it takes its lasting if ethereal form in the creative imagination of the public. The lost masterpiece is the only artwork that is perfect, the fulfillment of all our artistic dreams, because it exists primarily or solely within them. Incom

The Body Eclectic
February 09, 2004

DAVE DOUGLAS: STRANGE LIBERATION (RCA) If this paragraph were a piece of music by Dave Douglas, it would make a summing-up statement here at the beginning, then proceed in reverse motion until it ended with an introduction of its main theme. Or it would start with a core idea and build through accretion, amassing in layers instead of progressing conventionally in any direction. Phrases would be planned exactingly to sound spontaneous, and improvised parts would take off on subtle compositional elements such as timbre. The vernacular and the formal would conjoin. You would recognize the musical

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