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Big Jazz Nerd

December 13, 2007

Real Jazz at The Real School


Big Jazz Nerd, I'm a high school senior and the first-chair alto saxophonist in my school's jazz ensemble. I like playing in the band and I'm thinking about majoring in music in college. Could you recommend some top of the line music schools that specialize in jazz performance? Spencer McLaughlin, Ponca City, OK Spencer: Congrats on your decision to study jazz in college. Like Bird said, now's the time. But as you probably know, not all college jazz programs are the same. In fact they're a lot like cheap vacuum ...

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August 29, 2006

The Adorable Mr. Jarrett

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Dear Mr. Nerd, I think Keith Jarrett is an extraordinary jazz pianist and I really enjoy his playing, but what I don't quite understand is why he regularly bounces out of his seat, makes contorted facial expressions and produces long, constipated whining noises that sound like NNNEEEAAAAAHHHHHUUUUUGGGGHHH!!! when he's playing. What's that about? Francisco Cruz, Boston, Mass Greetings Francisco, The pained facial expressions, quirky body language and primal respiratory ejaculations of jazz musicians have been linked recently to the equally curious behavior patterns exhibited by various endangered ...

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May 31, 2006

Who Was Duke's Sophisticated Lady?

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Dear Big Jazz Nerd, Whom was Duke Ellington referring to when he wrote “Sophisticated Lady"? Amy Alexander Houston, Texas


A good guess would be his mom, Daisy Kennedy Ellington. History tells us that she was a beautiful, intelligent, educated woman who doted on her son, Edward Kennedy Ellington (1899-1974). Duke worshiped Daisy, but his 1932 masterpiece was not written about her or any one woman in particular. Rather, the tune was actually a composite musical sketch of three women--three of young Ellington's grade school teachers in the U Street neighborhood of ...

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February 11, 2006

Bass and Bitter Rivals

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Dear BigJazzNerd:

Given the fact that there have been many publicized rivalries among musicians over the years, which do you consider to be the most bitter?

Bob Peterson Cleveland, Ohio


Try as they might, some musicians just don't get along. Pat Metheny and Kenny G don't exactly see eye-to-eye. Charles Mingus could be a royal pain in the ass to work with. The guys who played in Buddy Rich's band could tell you some stories. The press, one can argue, encouraged controversy among top musicians, promoting concert dates as musical prizefights. Lester Young vs. Coleman ...

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December 9, 2005

Who was Spider Martin?

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Big Jazz Nerd,

I read somewhere that the famous civil rights photographer Spider Martin was also a badass tenor player. True?

Tony Pelligrini Ft. Lauderdale, Florida


I'm afraid yours is a case of mistaken identity. James “Spider" Martin, the photographer, was born in 1939 in a small Alabama town and died April 8, 2003 in Blount Springs, Alabama. He was best known for his civil rights photography, including the March 1965 beating of marchers in Selma, Alabama. That event, known as “Bloody Sunday," influenced LBJ's signing of the 1965 Voting Rights ...

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November 8, 2005

George's Braithophone

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Big Jazz Nerd, Whatever happened to George Braith? I remember listening to him play on the street in NYC decades ago. Is he still playing? Roger Sales, Darien, Connecticut Roger: Yes, George Braith is still making music at age 67. His home base is in Milwaukee where he leads the Braith Family Singers--Flame, Jasmine, Taharqa, Chime, and youngest grandson Chris. Perhaps best known as the originator of the Braithophone--two soprano saxs welded together--Braith was one of only a handful of players to develop a two-horn technique, ...

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October 17, 2005

Shut Yo' Mouth


Yo, Dr. Pravitz, I say Slam Stewart and Major Holley were singers. My friend says they were bass players. Who's right? Bill Dunlop, Cambridge, Mass. Bill: Turns out you're both right. Stewart and Holley were bass players and contemporaries, and they both sang while they soloed on the bass. Of course each guy had his own style. Slam's thing was to simultaneously sing an octave above what he was bowing, a technique he started in the mid-1930's until it became his trademark style. Stewart was perhaps best known for ...

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