Archive for December, 2010

Dr. Billy Taylor (1921-2010)

I had only two opportunities to chat with Dr. Billy Taylor.  The first time I called him about 821 Sixth Avenue.  I asked him if he knew Hall Overton and he said, “Of course.”  He didn’t remember taking part in any jam sessions at the loft but he fondly remembered Overton as a congenial colleague and comrade.  The second time I called him was in regard to my research on Thelonious Monk’s background in North Carolina’s coastal plains, a background Taylor shared.  Taylor was born in Greenville, Monk forty miles away in Rocky Mount.  Taylor told me that even though he and Monk moved north as kids (Monk to New York, Taylor to Washington, DC), they often acknowledged that they were “fellow Tar Heels,” sometimes mockingly, sometimes dead serious.  They knew North Carolina was an umbilical part of their heritage and make up, in a manner not unlike, say, Italy for Martin Scorsese or Russia for Bernard Malamud, two great artists born in Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively.  I always wondered if Taylor and Charles Kuralt talked much about their shared North Carolina roots when they were doing the CBS Sunday Morning show.  If anybody knows if that is part of a public record somewhere, I’d like to know about it.

A Blog Supreme has a number of pertinent Taylor links, and Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus has a thoughtful comment plus a link.

-Sam Stephenson

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Ron Free Trio and JLP in Winston-Salem January 6

Sam Stephenson will give an audio-visual presentation at 7pm on January 6 and drummer and loft legend Ron Free will perform with his trio at 8pm.  The trio’s second set will open into a jam session.  HERE is a Winston-Salem Journal clip about it.  HERE is the JLP news page with a link.

-JLP Staff

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NPR on MFA vs. NYC

On this blog I’ve been following the current debate about Masters in Fine Art (MFA) programs in writing because I see relevance with the rise of jazz programs.  The scene at 821 Sixth Avenue may not have existed if jazz were allowed in schools in the 1950s and early 1960s.  My two blog entries were based on Elif Batuman’s London Review of Books article , and on Chad Harbach’s N+1 article.  Harbach notes that today there are 850 writing programs while not long ago there were only 80.  Jazz won’t have the same numbers but the graph might look similar.

Two weeks ago NPR’s All Things Considered joined the fray with a piece based on Harbach’s piece.  You can hear it HERE.

What continues to be overlooked in this discussion, as far as I can tell, are the roles played by race and shame that Batuman stressed in her piece.  It reminds me a little bit of the discussion that, I’ve learned, surrounds the jazz cooperative Tarbaby who issued my favorite jazz CD of 2010.  The more you fight the tar baby the more you become entangled by it.  Here’s an article about Tarbaby that hints at some of this discussion, and another one here.  I’d like to moderate a conversation on some of these issues with Batuman, Harbach, and the members of Tarbaby.

-Sam Stephenson

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Quote of the Year

Like many innovative artists, Monet, I believe, was unclear about what he had achieved.  Or, to be more precise, he could not name his achievement.  He could only recognize it intuitively, and then doubt it.” – John Berger.  “The Enveloping Air.”  Harper’s Magazine, January 2011 issue.  P. 47.

Monet would have had a hard time writing grant proposals.


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Dorrie Glenn Woodson

Dorrie Glenn Woodson. 1956.  Photograph by Harold Feinstein

Dorrie Glenn Woodson. 1956. Photograph by Harold Feinstein

Here is my second Paris Review entry, just put up today, about the pianist and former 821 Sixth Avenue resident Dorrie Glenn Woodson.

I want to add more information to update Dorrie’s career in the San Antonio jazz scene over the past thirty years.  She appeared for five years w her trio The Dorian Mode at the (former) Four Seasons Hotel (her husband Bill Woodson, bass; Bill Gowen, percussion).  For five years she played solo piano at the Fairmont Hotel, and for twelve years in a duo format at Jim Cullum’s Landing Patio, as well as many other venues and private parties.  She recently told me that she finds inspiration in Keith Jarrett’s ability to recover from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, so she may be back on the scene soon.


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A New Series in Paris Review


I’ve begun writing a new series of pieces for Paris Review’s website and the first one is published today.  Most of these pieces will concern my ongoing journey researching Gene Smith, the various people and places I’m led to along the way, some barely connected to Smith if at all.  The first two pieces are about pianist Dorrie Glenn Woodson whose name has come up a time or two in the JLP but her bigger story has never been told.  I feel flattered and fortunate to be in the fold of PR again (they ran an excerpt from the JLP book with a new Intro by me in fall 2009).  In 2010 new leadership came aboard PR in the persons of editor Lorin Stein and managing editor Nicole Rudick and they are bringing exciting new horizons to this venerable institution.

To get an idea of what’s in store from the printed quarterly version of PR under the new regime, I recommend you get your hands on their fall 2010 issue (#194) and check out John Jeremiah Sullivan’s piece, Mr. Lytle: An Essay. Dude knows how to write.


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CD Pick of 2010


TARBABY.  “The End of Fear.”  Posi-Tone Records.  Eric Revis – bass, Orrin Evans – piano, Nasheet Waits – drums, Oliver Lake – alto saxophone, JD Allen – tenor saxophone, Nicholas Payton – trumpet.

I first heard about this record from this piece by Ben Ratliff in the New York Times a couple of months ago.  Then I saw this piece by Doug Ramsey a few weeks later.

Last week when I heard Orrin Evans play a brilliant solo version of Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t” at the Deems Taylor Awards in NYC, with Revis in attendance, I recalled these write-ups and finally bought this album.  Tarbaby is a collective trio consisting of Revis, Evans, and Waits.  The horn players on this record make guest appearances and all three sound fabulous.

Revis is the longtime bass player in the Branford Marsalis Quartet.  On that band’s remarkable, multiform 2006 release, Braggtown, named after a neighborhood in Durham, NC near where Marsalis lives and near the historic African-American church where the album was recorded, Revis contributed the most “out” tune ever recorded by Branford or anybody in the Marsalis family (that I’ve heard), a 14-minute “new music” marvel called “Black Elk Speaks.”

Revis has a huge, old school tone and he errs on the side of playing less notes, not more.  Yet, he’s not conservative at all.  “Black Elk Speaks,” the name coming from the 1932 book about a Sioux medicine man, demonstrates his preferences for history and adventure.  On this Tarbaby record he contributes a tune called “Brews” that makes me think of Andrew Hill in it’s spare tension and groove.

Tarbaby achieves the tenuous, rare blend of tradition and invention that all successful artists in any field seek.  If they could stick together as a full-time working trio for a couple of years, I bet they could rise to the top of the art form, if they aren’t already there.

To connect Tarbaby to the Jazz Loft Project, Waits’ father Freddie Waits was recorded by Gene Smith in loft sessions from September 1963 and April 1964.  There’s one tape where Gene and “Fred,” as the elder Waits introduces himself, meet each other for the first time and they have a conversation about Thelonious Monk and Hall Overton.

-Sam Stephenson

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Scenes from the ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards

We just received a couple of photos from last Thursday’s Deems Taylor Awards event in NYC.  See below.  It was one of those unique NYC events you feel fortunate to experience.  Where else can you find Paul Williams, John Wesley Harding, Michael Feinstein, Greg Garing, Julie Flanders, Paul Moravec, Mathew Shipp, Russell Platt, T.S. Monk, and a bunch of scholars in one relatively small room?  Williams was the benevolent host and emcee of the proceedings.

A highlight of the evening was hearing pianist Orrin Evans play a beautiful solo version of the Monk tune “Well, You Needn’t” in honor of Robin D.G. Kelley’s biography of Monk (Robin couldn’t be there unfortunately – T.S. Monk made gracious remarks about Robin’s work in his absence).

JLP won for book, radio series, and website – the Multimedia award.  It felt good for the whole team to be recognized (Sara Fishko and her colleagues at WNYC, my JLP colleagues at CDS Dan Partridge and Lauren Hart) although space constraints in ASCAP’s gallery meant we couldn’t all be there.

Gene Santoro won an award for an article he wrote about JLP in Chamber Music magazine.  He gave a brief, impassioned speech about how JLP was doing history that wasn’t hero worship, that wasn’t iconography.  He called for more music history work like ours.  It was generous, as was his article.

David Hajdu won an award for his recent book and I regretted not being able to speak to him before we had to leave.  He won’t remember this, but I met him a dozen years ago when he was speaking about his great Billy Strayhorn book at a public library in Hillsborough, NC.  I admired that Hajdu would take the time to visit this small town in honor of Strayhorn’s childhood and family background there.

All in all, it was a terrific event and we were extremely grateful to be recognized by ASCAP, in this kind of company.

Sam Stephenson, Paul Williams, Sara Fishko

Sam Stephenson, Paul Williams, Sara Fishko

My right hand looks strangely deformed in the photo above.  Gene Smith aways said the camera was a liar.  Regarding the photo below, I’m pretty sure it’s the only time I’ll ever speak with this imposing list of names behind me (Art Blakey, Charlie Christian, Johnny Hodges, Earl Hines, Red Norvo, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Tito Puente, Annie Ross, to name a few).  If those actual human beings had been behind me I wouldn’t have been able to speak.

Like most historical jazz photography, the camera man gets down below and shoots up, making the figure look seven feet tall.

Like much historical jazz photography, the upward shooting camera makes the figure look seven feet tall.

- Sam Stephenson

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“Digital Storage Crisis” – Rolling Stone magazine

Here is an interesting article on the problems of digital audio storage from the new issue of Rolling Stone magazine.  Working on JLP for more than a decade, we’ve become pretty conversant on the issues outlined in this article by David Browne.  The issues get more and more intriguing as the digital age matures.  Our original engineer on Smith’s tape transfers and our ongoing advisor, Chris Lacinak of AudioVisual Preservation Solutions in New York, is quoted here.  Another JLP associate, Bob George of the ARChive of Contemporary Music (ACM) in Tribeca, is quoted, too.


p.s. At the bottom of this blog entry from earlier this year there’s a report on the visit Dan Partridge and I made with Chris Lacinak to ACM.

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London Guardian: JLP in Photo Book Top 10


Today’s Guardian from London puts the JLP book in good company.  This is especially pleasing since O’Hagan has long been one of our favorite cultural writers, along with his Guardian colleague Carole Cadwalladr.

Also of interest on O’Hagan’s list is New Topographics which is authored by Britt Salvesen, former curator and director of the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, which is where the W. Eugene Smith Archive resides, of course.  Britt now runs the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

-Sam Stephenson

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