Jazz à la Mode Blog

Tom Reney’s writings delve into the history and mystery of jazz, blues, and beyond. The Jazz à la Mode Blog has plenty to stimulate your interest and curiosity in American music.

Thelonious Monk
Jean-Pierre Leloir

It's now 35 years since his death in 1982, and over 45 since his last significant recordings were made. The pianist was 30 by the time he made his first session as a leader for Blue Note, and it took another decade before he began to develop a dedicated following and the respect of critics. 

It's been over twenty years since the late Steve Lacy last came to town, but the memory remains vivid of his annual visits to the Iron Horse in Northampton. 

Bud Powell Revisited

Sep 27, 2017
Bud Powell
Robert James Campbell

Today is Bud Powell's 93rd birthday anniversary. In this 21st century moment in which police brutality and shootings of African Americans have become matters of national outrage and discord ranging from the 'hood to the gridiron to a reactionary and divisive White House, it must be noted that Bud was a victim of a severe beating by Philadelphia police in 1945. 

Father Gerald Pocock and Duke Ellington
The Catholic Register

“Is God a three-letter word for love?”

Illinois Jacquet
Illinois Jacquet Foundation

Scott Hamilton, the great tenor saxophonist and keeper of the flame, posted concert footage of Illinois Jacquet playing “Blues for Louisiana” on Facebook on September 6. 

Walter Becker at the Beacon Theater, New York City, on November 16, 2016
Gregory Pace / /BEI/Shutterstock /AP

Leave it to Marian McPartland to host a relaxed, conversational hour with Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker, and to foster the novel experience of hearing them ask questions of her. It should come as little surprise to fans of Steely Dan to know that the band's co-founders were jazz heads throughout their lives, and that their meticulously crafted records employed such jazz greats as Jerome Richardson, Phil Woods, Wayne Shorter, Victor Feldman, Plas Johnson, Pete Christlieb, and Supersax with Warne Marsh, Bob Cooper, and Med Flory. 

Lester Young was born 108 years ago, on August 27, 1909, in Woodville, Mississippi. The state's been the birthplace of countless blues legends, but very few jazz artists, and fewer still who grew up there. (What's up with that?) Two of those few, Gerald Wilson and Teddy Edwards, got out early, as both moved on to benefit from the excellent music education curriculum in the Detroit public schools. As for Lester, Woodville wasn't much more than a dateline in his life, as Algiers, Louisiana, which sits across the river from New Orleans, became his family's primary residence until he was ten.

It doesn’t require more than a casual knowledge of blues to know that there were two prominent figures in the music named Sonny Boy Williamson. On his new album, Brain Matter, Randy Newman declares unequivocally for one of them, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, as the one true owner of that moniker. In his song, "Sonny Boy," a sprightly cadence drives the pianist's dreamy narrative about the Jackson, Tennessee, native's short, productive life.

Jimmy Rowles
Sy Johnson / All Music

Tomorrow is Jimmy Rowles's 99th birthday anniversary. The Spokane, Washington, native was quirky, unpredictable, and utterly compelling, making even the most hackneyed standard sound fresh, alive, and better than you'd remembered it. He had a unique harmonic sense that left plenty of room for surprise. He's reputed to have known more tunes than anyone else in the business, and he knew potential when he heard it. Diana Krall took lessons with him in 1983 before she enrolled at Berklee, and he (and bassist Ray Brown) encouraged her to sing.

Jane Ira Bloom at the Dickinson Homestead in 2016
Emily Dickinson Museum

Last Friday, I had the honor of presenting to Jane Ira Bloom the Jazz Journalists Association 2017 Award for Soprano Saxophonist of the Year. Jane was at Amherst College to perform her new work, "Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson." The August 11 concert was sponsored by the The Emily Dickinson Museum in conjunction with a Dickinson conference.

Pages