It seemed to happen overnight. One minute it was all video games, with the boys totally immersed in furious thumbwork. They'd sit together for hours on end, staring at a busy screen, manipulating cartoon adversaries to kill each other in great bursts of color and noise. There was considerable musical talent among them, and assorted lessons here and there, but no burning interest that any adult could detect. Then suddenly the group shifted, like a flock of birds responding to a secret signal and abruptly tearing off in a whole new direction. Their new direction was guitar, and ...read more
The Mingus Excerpt" shows a sweet side of Charles Mingus that few people saw or could imagine. After all, his nickname was The Angry Man of Jazz," and most biographical material supports that designation in one way or other. But for all his bluster and bombast, there was also generosity and kindness. This story describes his unlikely friendship with Steve Reichman, a young Jewish kid from the suburbs who eventually committed suicide in Morocco, at the age of 19. His parents' frantic need to understand what happened led to Mingus's surprise gift for the memorial, and ultimately to ...read more
There's much to say about the extraordinary My Coma Dreams, the new multimedia piece that describes the medically induced coma experienced by pianist/composer Fred Hersch in 2008. But three days after its world premiere at Montclair State University's Kasser Theater, I'm still looking for the right words to describe it. It seems that my usual critic's concerns keep dissolving under the visceral pull of the thing.This 70-minute piece grew out of eight dreams Fred remembers having during that awful time. For two months he was kept alive with nine tubes and a flank of machines while doctors hunted ...read more
For those interested in the continued rumors about bipolar geniuses and mad musicians, here's the latest installment of my campaign against those popular myths.
This article appeared in the May/June issue of The National Psychologist , the 19 year-old newspaper for independent psychology practitioners that prints what's really going on in the trenches, as opposed to the party line" of the American Psychological Association. It is reprinted here with their permission.
Great talent always comes at a great price. To be a genius means to suffer--if not the chronic paralysis of depression, then surely the emotional ...read more
On April 23, 2010 we all lost Gene Lees, the incomparable jazz writer, historian, and lyricist. I also lost an irreplaceable mentor and friend.
Unlike the great pianist Eddie Higgins--who died criminally unsung in 2009--Gene was granted a New York Times obituary. Published on April 27, it was written by Peter Keepnews, who attributes Gene's contentiousness to his strong and thoroughly informed opinions, rather than the inherent pugnaciousness that others have emphasized. While we all had to wrestle with him, I found such sparring to be noisy but ultimately harmless, like puppies in a box. In any ...read more
Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, by Robin D. G. Kelley, was published in the fall of 2009.
It arrived surrounded by buzz that, since the author had unprecedented access to the Monk family, he could finally answer those lingering questions about his mental illness"--as in, was Thelonious schizophrenic, bipolar, obsessive-compulsive, or something else?
The book is dense, with 588 pages of meticulous detail. After a few chapters I decided to scan the index for mentions of bipolar disorder, and judge the relevant evidence for myself. (In the process, I was ...read more
If Jeff Hamilton isn't the world's greatest living drummer, he's on the short list for coronation. For the past five years, he's been in Modern Drummer's top five (#1 in 2004 and 2006), and was #4 in the most recent Jazz Times readers' poll. Whether you think such polls reflect true quality or just recent visibility, the undeniable fact is that Hamilton is a reliably creative, classy and swinging drummer whose live shows contain a nearly balletic grace that few performers can match. (For a small glimpse of his uniquely elegant moves, check out his two videos on drummerworld.com.)