Iverson on Sandke and Race in Jazz

Recently my friend who shares a Hall Overton jones, Ethan Iverson, posted two long blog entries about race and jazz, based on Randy Sandke’s recent book.

I’ll let Ethan’s pieces speak for themselves.  The discussion is important.  I admire Ethan’s willingness to stick his neck out.  I don’t  know Sandke – I’ve enjoyed his trumpet work on a number of records – and I haven’t read his book.  So I’ll make only a couple of comments here:

1) I wouldn’t mind taking a stab at editing what Ethan calls a Jazz and Race Reader. I would never do it with a committee, as Ethan suggests, but I might sign up to do it with one partner such as Robin D.G. Kelley, if Robin were interested.

2) Ethan’s jabs at Whitney Balliett’s late work make me squirm.  I feel a need to stick up for the late, great New Yorker scribe.  Balliett was one of Ornette Coleman’s earliest and most prominent champions, as he was of Cecil Taylor and Roland Kirk.  He also wrote favorably and well about Mingus and Monk.  Given the real estate Balliett’s writing occupied weekly, it made an impact.  Mid-town Mad Men or The Apartment or Revolutionary Road types would read Balliett’s words and check out Monk or Ornette at the Five Spot.  For a writer of my generation, his work provides access to a certain kind of jazz history that would be otherwise hard to find today, a documentary record of a bigger scene.  Plus he wrote sentences as well as anybody.  Maybe Balliett came to enjoy less challenging music as he got older; his colleague Adam Gopnik noted this, too, in a New Yorker obituary a few years ago.  But it makes me uneasy to see Balliett scrutinized without his full body of work in focus.  So I needed to say something, especially in this space where I’ve written about Balliett before.  HERE is a piece I wrote on him last year.

3) I fully agree with Ethan about the deep significance of Arthur Taylor’s book, Notes and Tones.  When the Jazz Loft Project book came out I did an interview with Powells.com and I remembered putting Notes and Tones on my list of recommended books.  Looking at the list again today, I see Balliett in there, too, and I’m glad.

-Sam Stephenson

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