Dan Morgenstern

Jazz Historian, Archivist, Author, Editor, Educator (Award for Jazz Advocacy)
Portrait of Dan Morgenstern

Photo by Tom Pich/tompich.com


"I'm still somewhat overwhelmed at having been shown this great honor, but of course proud and delighted, especially so since this is in recognition of Jazz Advocacy. Like everyone who writes about jazz, which still is one of the things I do, I’ve been called a critic, but never really liked that term; I much prefer advocate. It’s a blessing to have been able to make a living and a life involved with something one loves, and the music has never lost its magic; I first got involved as a fan and I still am, of the music, of the wonderful artists who create it, (and so many of whom I’ve been lucky to get to know), and of the precious legacy that I’ve been privileged to help collect, preserve, and share. Jazz brings people together; it’s America’s gift to the world.”

Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University since 1976, Dan Morgenstern is a jazz historian and archivist, author, editor, and educator who has been active in the jazz field since 1958, and the recipient of the 2007 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy. The Institute of Jazz Studies is the largest collection of jazz-related materials anywhere.

Born in Germany and reared in Austria and Denmark, Morgenstern came to the United States in 1947. He was chief editor of DownBeat from 1967 to 1973, and served as New York editor from 1964; prior to that time he edited the periodicals Metronome and Jazz. Morgenstern is co-editor of the Annual Review Of Jazz Studies and the monograph series Studies In Jazz, published jointly by the IJS and Scarecrow Press, and author of Jazz People. He has been jazz critic for the New York Post, record reviewer for the Chicago Sun Times, and New York correspondent and columnist for England's Jazz Journal and Japan's Swing Journal. He has contributed to reference works including the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Dictionary of American Music, African-American Almanac, and Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year; and to such anthologies as Reading Jazz, Setting The Tempo, The Louis Armstrong Companion, The Duke Ellington Reader, The Miles Davis Companion, and The Lester Young Reader.

Morgenstern has taught jazz history at the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University, Brooklyn College (where he was also a visiting professor at the Institute for Studies in American Music), New York University, and the Schweitzer Institute of Music in Idaho. He served on the faculties of the Institutes in Jazz Criticism, jointly sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution and the Music Critics Association, and is on the faculty of the Masters Program in Jazz History and Research at Rutgers University.

Morgenstern is a former vice president and trustee of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences; was a co-founder of the Jazz Institute of Chicago; served on the boards of the New York Jazz Museum and the American Jazz Orchestra; and is a director of the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation and the Mary Lou Williams Foundation. He has been a member of Denmark's International JAZZPAR Prize Committee since its inception in 1989.

A prolific annotator of record albums, Morgenstern has won seven Grammy Awards for Best Album Notes (1973, 1974, 1976, 1981, 1991, 1995, and 2006). He received ASCAP's Deems Taylor Award for Jazz People in 1977 and in 2005 for Living with Jazz.

Selected Bibliography

Jazz People, H.N. Abrams, 1976 (reprinted by Da Capo Press, 1993)
Louis Armstrong: A Cultural Legacy (with Donald Bogle, Richard A. Long, and Marc H. Miller), University of Washington Press, 1994
Living with Jazz: A Reader, ed. Sheldon Meyer, Pantheon, 2004

Interview by Molly Murphy with Katja von Schuttenbach
October 25, 2006
Edited by Don Ball, NEA


Q: I find that a lot of people who are involved in music usually had some formative experience when they were a child where they either heard a recording or they heard a live concert and it really resonated with them. Did you have any experiences like that, any live concert that you saw as a kid?

Dan Morgenstern: Well that's easy, because as you know, I grew up in Europe where there wasn't exactly an abundance of live jazz, and of course it more or less terminated when World War Two broke out. But luckily Fats Waller came to Copenhagen in the fall of 1938, shortly after I had arrived there. And my mother, God bless her, got tickets for one of Fat's several concerts. And seeing Fats Waller in the flesh -- and there was a lot of flesh there -- was quite an amazing experience. I forget -- I was not quite 9 years old, but old enough to really be impressed by this wonderful, vibrant pianist. He did a solo act. He didn't have his combo with him so he just played piano and sang, and he was remarkable—a remarkable experience.

Q: So was it his presence or was it what he was playing? Was it the sound of the music?

Dan Morgenstern: No, it was pretty much everything; Fats was huge. Also, at that point in time, I hadn't seen too many black people. In Vienna where I had been before that, I think there was a very old lady who I used to see in the street. I think she was somebody's widow or whatever. But, you know, it was very rare. And naturally I'd see movies and so on. But he was really the first African American that I was exposed to at any great length and proximity, and he was an amazing performer. As we know, unfortunately there isn't enough of him on film, but there is sufficient to give you an impression of what he was like. He was a very, very vibrant performer; he had a very expressive face. He used to move his eyebrows up and down, and he was very funny. I mean, he would do serious stuff too, did some serious playing, but he was very funny, and certainly that was entertaining for a young kid. But most of all I think it was his beat because he had fabulous time. And I liked music anyway; I mean I had already struggled with the violin. I was taking violin lessons, and I had been exposed to quite a bit of live music, although most of it was classical, but also some entertainment stuff. And I already liked records. I had the little beginnings of a record collection.

Q: So had you heard any American jazz?

Dan Morgenstern: Yes, on records. There wasn't much on radio, but once I got to Denmark, there was more there, needless to say, than in Austria or on German radio under the Nazis. My mother and her younger siblings had some dance records and stuff, which they had when they were teenagers, and that was mostly from the '20s, but some of it turned out in retrospect to be jazzy.
This is Swing Era, you know, this is 1938. And the Swing Era was definitely resonant in Europe as well. So very shortly after that, the Mills Brothers came to Copenhagen and I saw them, and they may not be strictly jazz but they were very hip actually. And then the Hot Quintet of the Hot Club of France with Stéphane Grappelli -- who since I was taking violin lessons he should have been the one I was most impressed with -- but I was most impressed with Django [Reinhardt, jazz guitarist]. Django had such terrific time and his solos were really like very dramatic statements. But from then on I was more or less hooked.

Q: Do you remember from those early days of your record collecting what your most treasured possession was in that collection?

Dan Morgenstern: Well I think after I heard Fats Waller, naturally, I had to have to some Fats Waller records. But actually one of my favorites when I was a kid was Chick Webb with Ella Fitzgerald; there's a thing called "The Dipsy Doodle," which is something that would appeal to a kid who didn't know that much English, and it had really nonsense lyrics with "The cow jumped over the moon," and stuff like that. But the thing about that record was that after Ella's vocal -- and Ella, of course, was barely out of her teens at that point in time herself -- there was a terrific trombone solo by Sandy Williams which got to me. And then there was the Benny Goodman Quartet. I had a record which related to Fats because one side was "Handful of Keys," which was a great Fats Waller composition, performed by the quartet, with Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton and Gene Krupa, and Teddy did a great piano solo in that. But the other side was actually an Italian little ditty called "Vienne." So these were things that I liked. And then not too much later, I was at a boarding school in Denmark and I had my little record collection and the older kids wanted to borrow my records when they wanted to have a little dance or something on the weekend. And I said, "You can have my records but I come with them"; you know, because I wouldn't let them out of my hands. So then I got to hobnob with the older kids there and I had a crush on one of the girls...


Q: You have mentioned that your first night in New York City, the spring of 1947, you saw Dizzy Gillespie on your very first night.

Dan Morgenstern: No, I didn't see Dizzy on my first night in New York, but on my first night in New York I listened to the radio and I had this mistaken impression that I would find a lot of jazz on the radio. This, of course, is in the days when it was AM only -- 1947. And I finally found something at the tail end of the dial that was Symphony Sid. Symphony Sid was not yet as famous as he became later, but there was Symphony Sid, and at that time I was sure he was black because he cultivated that. I heard a little bit of something and then he talked and he did commercials, which I had no relationship to at that time. And then he played Dizzy's "I Can't Get Started." And I knew the tune, I knew the tune from Bunny Berrigan's famous record, which I definitely had heard a number of times. Also Billie Holiday had recorded it. But Dizzy's version was very different and it sounded weird to me because of all the dissonant background. It's a beautiful record, which is all Dizzy. He takes it much slower than Berrigan did, and sort of turns it into a dirge. So that was really my introduction to bebop.

There was some hint of bebop in Denmark, but because the bebop records were on the small labels, like Savoir and Music Craft and so on, those were not really imported, and it was still not too long after the war. But there was a record store in Copenhagen that had one of the Music Craft's [albums], and they would play it for you, but you had to pay the equivalent of it. You couldn't buy it, but you could listen to it; you'd pay the equivalent of about five bucks to hear it. So you could go with some friends and chip in to hear it. But that wasn't enough to give me any idea of what it was. In my very brief appearance in Ken Burns' Jazz, I say that when I first came to New York, unlike most people who wanted to see The Empire State Building or something like that, I wanted to see 52nd Street.

Q: Had you heard Symphony Sid live?

Dan Morgenstern: Symphony Sid at the time when I first heard him was not yet doing live broadcasts but he started very soon. I think this was '47; by '48 he was broadcasting from The Royal Roost, which was the predecessor of Birdland; it's actually owned by the same people and it was just down the street a bit—it was on 47th and 7th. Symphony Sid dubbed it the Metropolitan Bopera House. And then, you know, Birdland of course was named for Charlie Parker. But yes, he broadcast from The Roost. It wasn't live every night, if I remember it, but there'd be a segment that was live. And then once Birdland opened he had a booth there and was a fixture there.

Sid wasn't exactly a master of the English language and sometimes he messed up the musicians' names too, and then he would apologize. Most of the time he was really, you know, pretty loaded. But he had a great radio voice, a wonderful radio voice. And he never messed up the commercials. Those he did right.
He was a character, Sid was. John Hammond told me that he first met Symphony Sid in the early '30s when Sid was not yet "Symphony" but Sid Torin and was a clerk in a record store on 14th Street, which John would frequent because they had a lot of used 78s that were race records; you know, blues and jazz, Paramount, Sony. And he said that Sid used to save the Paramounts for John. So he had quite a background in pre-bop.


Q: I read that before you even started a career in writing about jazz and teaching about jazz, that your biggest pleasure was to hang out around the musicians. And you made some very famous musician friends early on.

Dan Morgenstern: Well I had no idea that I was going to wind up being involved in jazz as any kind of professional person. I was a fan, but I was a pretty dedicated fan, and actually to the chagrin of my parents I hung out a lot. I had a job; I wanted to be a journalist. Actually my first ambition was to be a movie director, but my father who had already spent a year and a half of his American life living in L.A. said no. He had friends there and I said, "I want to go to Hollywood; you know people there." And he said, "No." He said, "If you go to California you'll get the wrong idea of what this country is all about." He didn't want me to spend my formative American years in Hollywood. So anyway I had a job at Time/Life. They had something called The March of Time. When I went to see a very nice man there, he said there's something called television that has just come on the scene and he said within a year or two we'll be out of business. The March of Time was a weekly news documentary that Time/Life produced. And he was right. Those of you who know Citizen Kane will know that there's a satire sort of on The March of Time with Xanadu and Charles Foster Kane who created it, and so on. So anyway I wound up with Time/Life and I spent most of my money, what little money I was making, on records and on hanging out in jazz clubs, which you could do then for relatively little money if you'd learned how to nurse a beer and stuff like that.
I got to know quite a few musicians and I became very friendly with an unknown, unsung, unrecorded trumpet player named Nat Lorber; everybody called him Face. Musicians were very fond of him. At the time he was kind of a protégé of Hot Lips Page, who was a wonderful trumpet player and singer, one of the greatest blues singers ever. With Nat, after I met Lips, we'd go to Harlem at the after-hours scene, and then there was downtown in the Village, there was a lot of jazz, and of course there was 52nd Street. So I got to know a lot of musicians and I absorbed quite a bit. Nat Hentoff, in his memoirs about growing up in Boston, he has a chapter called "Night School at the Savoy." The Savoy was a club in Boston. Well my night school was that hanging out and it turned out to be a very important experience because I also learned to hate jazz critics. No, I would read this stuff and I would say, well, you know, what has this got to do with [the music]? All the big warfare that was going on then between bebop and so called moldy figs who were traditional fans or whatnot. But the musicians and the music didn't reflect all that.

Q: You said that you were wary of critics, but I know you admired Nat Hentoff's writing. So what in Nat's writing appealed to you and what did you take to put into your own style that was not like what you had read before and that you didn't like as much?

Dan Morgenstern: Well in spite of my general aversion to critics, and not to all critics, I found stuff. Naturally I learned from reading writing about jazz, and I wouldn't dismiss everybody. But somebody who seemed different to me was Nat Hentoff who was then Down Beat's Boston correspondent but also had started doing quite a lot of liner notes. And it was his liner notes, most of them for Norman Grantz, that really impressed me. He'd written about Roy Eldridge and other people that I liked a lot. So we invited him to come to Brandeis and give a talk about jazz. And he also had a very good radio program in Boston at the time, which covered everything from classical to jazz, on what was then very early FM. And so I showed him some things I had written for the school paper and he said, "Well you should write more."

Nat's approach was not one of always setting up a comparison, of shunting people into some kind of historical ghetto, so to speak. I remember a typical example: there was a review in Down Beat of a fine record under Illinois Jacquet's name and was Illinois and Roy [Eldridge], and [the review] dismissed this record saying, this would've been great 15 years ago but these guys said what they had to say. I hated that kind of stuff. And Nat was different. Nat was very open and appreciated all kinds of music from traditional to contemporary, and gave it all a fair shake, and he had good ears. That was what I appreciated.

Q: You think of yourself more as an advocate than a critic, as far as terminology.

Dan Morgenstern: I never liked to be called a critic because I did a lot of writing, I started as a writer, but fairly early in my career as a jazz journalist I became an editor. I never really relished the term critic because I think very little of what you find in the average jazz writing for periodicals and newspapers and so on could really be called criticism. It's reviewing. Reviewing is not the same as criticism. There are some very fine jazz critics; Martin Williams was a superb jazz critic. Whitney Balliett was a superb interviewer, and I think Whitney Balliett is a fine critic, but I think his main contribution has been that he's a brilliant interviewer who knows how to really get something out of people. But I always considered myself more of a reporter than a critic, and I think what I really wanted to do, if I was interviewing a musician, I wanted to let him or her speak for themselves rather than imposing my own opinion on them. And as an editor I'd try to be as fair as possible to all deserving artists. And an advocate is something that I'm very pleased about, to be called a jazz advocate, because after I stopped being primarily a writer, editor, journalist, I moved into another realm with the Institute, which was something that was totally unexpected to me but turned out to be a very fortuitous event. I've been there for over 30 years now and it's been a great experience to really work on preserving and making accessible the legacy of this wonderful music.

Q: Do you sort of realize the impact that you've had on listeners and on helping them learn about the music and appreciate the music?

Dan Morgenstern: Initially, when I was still a little younger, I would be taken aback somewhat by being approached by some person, male or female, in their 40s telling me how much they were influenced by reading my Down Beat record reviews and how they went out and got something and then really became fans of a particular artist. That would make me very happy. And nowadays -- when you do radio, you never know who's out there listening -- I really get a kick out of when one of my musician friends would tell me, "Oh, I was driving home from the airport and I caught your show [Jazz from the Archives] about so and so..." You know, that's great. That's when you know that you're reaching somebody. It's nice to sometimes get a letter from somebody out of the clear blue sky just thanking you for whatever it is. That's very gratifying, it is indeed.


Q: You organized a concert with Art Tatum in Boston.

Dan Morgenstern: Let's see, I got drafted, I was in the Army, and the Army sent me back to Europe. I was in Germany for most of my two years, and then I came back. There was the G.I. Bill, so I decided to go back to school. European education is different from American education, so I was not interested really in continuing my studies in something that seemed very elementary to me. But then I decided that I should really take advantage of this. So I wound up at Brandeis where my father had friends. That was a very new school then. In fact when I got there in January '53, the first class had just graduated, the Class of '52. So, you know, it was a small school and it had a very good faculty. I wound up eventually becoming editor of the school paper, but I had to use my influence. There was a handful of jazz fans, and there was some money for cultural presentations on campus, but nobody was doing any jazz.

So Art Tatum was at Storyville and I'd gotten to know George Wein a little bit. Newport had just started; I think this was in '55. The first group we brought in was Stan Getz, a nice group with Bob Brookmeyer and so on. But then there was Tatum and that was great because he was working with a trio then, had been working with a trio for many years. But I wanted him solo and he was only too happy to do that. So we got him on a Saturday afternoon, and got the best piano on campus and had it tuned and everything. And he gave a wonderful concert. And I think on an experience of driving him back to Boston; we were talking, you know, to thank him for doing this, and he said, "I should thank you because this is the first time I've done a solo concert all by myself." And he said, "I've played solo on a bill with other attractions but I've never done a complete solo recital." And I think in retrospect that may be one of the things that got me to eventually become involved in the way that I did because that was a serious, serious injustice. And, you know, Art died just barely a little more than a year after that. And he should have had, by all that, should have had a brilliant solo career. But the times were not right for that. And we're lucky that Norman Grantz recorded him so much, and other people, that he did get recorded as much as he did.


Q: Tell us a little bit about The Institute of Jazz Studies.

Dan Morgenstern: Well the Institute is something that I could talk about for hours. Basically the Institute is a very large collection of all kinds of materials related to the music, and it is probably -- although we don't like to claim this unequivocally -- the largest collection of this kind of materials under one roof. Certainly the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian have tons of stuff, but it's not broken out specifically in the category. We also believe in making materials that we have accessible; we believe in access not in squirreling it away. We believe in preservation, which is very important.

The collection came to Rutgers in 1967. It was founded by Marshall Sterns, who was one of the first really serious American jazz scholars. I don't think Marshall, although he did write reviews and stuff, would have called himself a critic. He certainly was a jazz advocate, but he accumulated this wonderful collection, which was housed in his big apartment in Greenwich Village. He was an English professor by trade; he was a jazz scholar by avocation. And he decided to incorporate the collection as the Institute of Jazz Studies, as a nonprofit, and open it by appointment to people who wanted to do jazz research because there was no place where you could do that then. This was in 1952. And at the same time he began to actively solicit donations and contributions too. He had a very impressive Board of Advisors and so on. Marshall was active as a lecturer. He was active as an advisor to the State Department, once the State Department got into using jazz as a cultural weapon in the Cold War, notably with people like Armstrong and Ellington. Then Marshall, before his death, had looked for an institution to take it over, and by the time of the Civil Rights movement and the opening up of Black Studies in colleges and universities, the atmosphere had changed and became more receptive to jazz. Nevertheless, though Marshall had originally offered it to Fisk and Howard, they turned it down at the time because there was still some cultural resistance to jazz and blues among middle-class blacks. So it came to Rutgers because Rutgers then had a president named Mason Gross whose real interest was American popular culture. He even had a television show on what was then called Educational Television about that very subject. So there were people who had his ear who knew Marshall and the value of this collection. So he made arrangements for it to be transferred to Rutgers, and he had expected to have an orderly transition over a period of time, but then suddenly Marshall dropped dead of a massive heart attack. He was only 58-years-old, and tall and thin and didn't look like a likely candidate for that, but...

So it came to Rutgers and they weren't really prepared for it. By 1976, they had hired a part-time curator, and that was Ed Berger, and then they hired me and I was the first one to have the title of Director. There had been Chris White, the bassist, who was a faculty member in the Music Faculty at Rutgers, and had the title of Executive Director, but he was really mainly a music professor. So it was a part-time thing for him. So I became the first full-time Director of this. And my only staff was Ed half-time. So Ed converted to full-time after awhile, and then we started plotting to do things like trying to get some grants and so on. So it moved along. And it was Ed and I and Vincent Pelote -- who was then a Music major. The Music Department was on the same floor, right opposite the Institute at the time, and Vincent was a volunteer. But we snared him and sent him to Library School, and then he became our librarian. So the three of us have been together for 30 years now, and added other people. And the collection has grown about six-fold since it came to Rutgers. It's been a very, very gratifying experience.

There was the Oral History Project, which was funded by NEA, and we have lots of treasures, including musical instruments that belonged to famous musicians. We have Lester Young's horn, which Marshall got already from him, the one that he used with Basie. And along with that we have a fake gardenia that belonged to Billie Holiday, and they sort of make a nice couple. And we have Ben Webster and we have Roy Eldridge and we even have a Miles Davis green trumpet, but it's a trumpet in C; it's got his name on it, but I don't think he used it very much. And we have manuscripts, beautiful Armstrong handwritten manuscripts, and letters typed in green ribbon on yellow paper, it says Satchmo on top, and a 13-page letter to Leonard Feather, single spaced.


Q: Hot Lips Page, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong: would you mind addressing each of those musicians and just talking about what qualities you love in their playing, maybe as though you're writing liner notes to kind of a general audience?

Dan Morgenstern: Billie Holiday had a kind of magic with a song. She was greatly inspired by Louis Armstrong, and by Bessie Smith she said, but Louis was the outstanding influence on her. Carmen McRae, who knew Billie very well, said that the only time that Billie Holliday was really at ease with herself and with the world was when she was singing, when she was performing. She did not have a happy life, as we know, but she immersed herself totally in her music and that had a kind of magic quality. So if you caught Billie live and she was on form, it was quite something, it would really pull you in. And what she could do with a song, a popular song -- I'll give you a for instance. There's a beautiful recording, a fairly late Billie, her with Oscar Peterson, doing "These Foolish Things." It's just something that transforms that into real poetry; it's mostly the emotional content that gets you.
When I was at Brandeis on the G.I. Bill, and I think I had blown most of my monthly allowance in taking my first girlfriend at Brandeis to see Billie Holiday at a club in Boston -- it kept having fires; it closed periodically because I think management had something to do with that, so they could collect some insurance. Anyway, this was in 1953, which is supposed to be already Billie's declining period. But she was in wonderful form. So I'd expected to be there for one set; Flip Phillips was opposite her with a very nice quartet; so that didn't hurt. But we decided after the first set -- it was on a weekend so there were three sets -- we had to stay for the second set. And then we decided we had to stay for the third set too. My lady friend, who had never seen Billie and knew very little about jazz, was totally transfixed by her. (She was quite a good poet actually, this lady, and she later became a French professor.) She was totally taken with Billie, and of course I was too. I had seen Billie before, but she was in rare form. So we stayed for the third set. When Billie was beginning to get ready for the third set, and we were sitting up front, she saw that we were still there. So she came over to the table and sat down with us and of course I said, "Miss Holiday, can I buy you a drink?" and she said, "No, let me buy you one." She wanted to know why we were still there. And of course we told her how much we loved her, and it was quite an experience.

Louis could take any kind of material, no matter how tawdry, and he could transform it into something that had artistic, emotional meaning. And the best example of that maybe is "Hello Dolly," which is a trifle, it's nothing. Even he had forgotten that after he recorded it, and then once the record came out everybody started asking for it, and he'd scratch his head and ask his trombonist and friend, Trummy Young, "What's Dolly? Oh, that's that record we made a few months ago." So then they had to go out and get it to relearn it. But, you know, he put so much into that, even if it's a piece of fluff, and he forgot it the moment after he'd done it. Then, of course, he thrived on it. He could just walk out on stage in front of several thousand people and immediately establish intimate rapport with them. And then there was the sound of his horn, which as well as it was captured by a recording device, I think anyone who really knows music -- and this is true of classical musicians and of singers, opera singers -- knows you can't really replicate what that sound is like live, and Louis's trumpet sound was just astonishing. It was so deep and dense and it just went right through you.

Hot Lips Page was greatly inspired by Louis Armstrong, but he had his own thing. Lips was from Texas and he had some of that Texas blues quality. He was a master at jam sessions, which has more or less vanished. Well, we still have sessions occasionally but not like there used to be. He just knew how to spark a jam session. He would sort of without doing anything in the way of asserting himself in any kind of unpleasant way, he just sort of took over because he had so much experience. And he was a master at setting riffs. Actually we do know that he's responsible for the brass portions of the famous "One O'Clock Jump." A man named Buster Smith who had worked with him in The Blue Devils, a famous band from the Midwest in the '20's, did the reeds part and Lips did the brass part. So he was a master at setting riffs. He could do that for a half an hour, setting different riffs behind all the soloists and things. He was also like his friend Count Basie and they had worked together in Kansas City; he was a master of setting tempos. But again what was unique about Lips was the quality he had as a communicator. And he was a master at working a plunger with the trumpet and growling. He died much too young. If he had lived just a little longer he would have benefited greatly from the increasing popularity with a wider and whiter audience for the blues that benefited B.B. King and, most of all, Ray Charles. Lips could've held his own with Ray Charles. And once that music really came into full focus and had a resonance in the marketplace, Lips would've been a great star. But unfortunately he didn't live to experience that.


The recipient of the 2007 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy discusses the 2011 class of NEA Jazz Masters.

Transcript of conversation with Dan Morgenstern

Jo Reed:  That was flutist, Hubert Laws. Hubert was named a 2011 NEA Jazz Master, which is the highest honor that our nation bestows on jazz artists. Welcome to Art Works,  the program that goes behind the scenes with some of the nations great artists to explore how art works.  I'm your host, Josephine Reed.

On January 11, 2011, the 29th class of NEA Jazz Masters will be given their awards at a ceremony and rocking concert that will take place at Jazz at Lincoln Center. In case you missed the announcement, Hubert Laws will be joined by saxophonist, David Liebman; Composer and arranger, Johnny Mandel; Producer Orrin Keepnews and The Marsalis Family. Today, we're going to take a look at each of the Jazz Masters' contribution to this uniquely American Art form, and who better to talk about jazz masters than a Jazz Master.  In this case, Mr. Dan Morgenstern. Dan is a  gammy award winning  jazz historian, author, editor, and educator who has been is the Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University since 1976. Dan is the recipient of the 2007 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy.  But his relationship with Jazz masters goes back much further than 2007.

Dan Morgenstern:  I was kind of in on the ground floor, insofar as I was-- I'm the NEA Jazz Panel, when it was decided to start the, the Jazz Masters Award, and I remember the first year, it was Roy Eldridge, and Dizzy Gillespie, and Sun Ra, and it was a very, very satisfying thing to- to do for the United States, to officially recognize this great music, and to honor musicians, and also in some cases, give them some you know, w- welcome cash as well.  Of course the- the program has grown from there, so many great people have been honored.

Josephine Reed: Well let's talk about the 2010 class of Jazz Masters, and why don't we begin with David Liebman?   David plays practically any style of jazz, and his instruments are the tenor and soprano sax.

Dan Morgenstern:  He is equally adept at both of them. He is of course maybe best known to the general public for his association with Miles Davis, you know, working with Miles is always this kind of imprimatur, you know, and that- that stays with you. But David is a very original, very imaginative musician, and as you say, no, he- he is at home in many styles, but he's really sort of always on the cusp. He's- he's definitely a contemporary player, and he is also a great educator, he is wonderful with young people. He is very articulate, and currently working on his autobiography. That book should be something very interesting. Dave has been all over the world, and has a very fine output of recordings, and he's a major figure, and he's really a very original stylist on both horns, both tenor and soprano.

Josephine Reed: And he also founded-- we mentioned him as a jazz educator. He's the founder of the International Association of Schools of Jazz.

Dan Morgenstern: Right.

Josephine Reed: Yeah.

 Dan Morgenstern: And that is the-- that is significant even though great jazz musicians are now you know, originate in other countries, America is still the beacon, and to have somebody like Dave going to various countries and being active on the educational front is a very- a very important thing to do.

Josephine Reed: We're going to hear a piece by Dave Liebman, called, "There Will Never Be Another You."  <playing music track>

Josephine Reed: Dan, what are we listening to?

Dan Morgenstern: There Will Never Be Another You, is of course a standard. It's part of what we call the Great American Songbook, and it has been interpreted by oh, many people, but what Dave was doing there was very original, and he is working, playing his tenor saxophone, which, it's got a great sound there, with just bass and drums which is demanding. That's something that Sonny Rawlins really pioneered, and it's demanding because you don't have the kind of harmonic bed, you know, that a pianist who accompanies you, or a guitarist can furnish, so you have to have very good ears to stay in the correct harmonic climate there, and of course Dave does that. And he's got a wonderful kind of vocal quality on his horn, and great range, very expressive, and also with a constant pulse, which is something that we expect from jazz.

Josephine Reed: You know, and it's easy to see, Dan, why you've won seven Grammy awards for your liner notes.

Dan Morgenstern: Well thank you.

Josephine Reed: You're welcome.

Dan Morgenstern: Actually- actually, it's eight.

Josephine Reed: Eight, excuse me. I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to take one away.

Dan Morgenstern: No, but that's the database is not up to date, no, but I got one- I got one at last year's Grammys I got one, yeah, yeah.

Josephine Reed: Johnny Mandel is another winner. He's a composer and arranger. And he is-- he has worked with everyone in every field in jazz, in pop, in film music. The breadth of his work is-- it's really impossible to exaggerate it.

Dan Morgenstern: Yeah, well Johnny is- is one of the, you know, one of the really great composer-arrangers, I think, a lot of people will know him, if- if for nothing else, from "The Shadow Of Your Smile," which was the theme from The Sandpiper, before somebody put lyrics to it. One of Johnny's great film scores he is an outstanding example of how you can apply compositional skills to jazz. I mean, he's written t- tunes like Shadow Of Your Smile, which have become standard, but he started out actually, playing an unusual instrument, which was like a valve bass trombone, and played in some big bands as a young man, and including Count Basie, and he wrote a lot of stuff for Basie, some great things for Basie, and even though he made a career in Hollywood, in writing for films and television, so on, he always remained true to his heart, which is really in jazz, and he's a- he's a wonderful, wonderful writer. His arrangements are, you know, you can always tell that it's Johnny, you know.

Josephine Reed: Well we're going to hear one of his arrangements now. This is, actually, "Let's Fall In Love," - the singer, Frank Sinatra.

<playing music track>

Dan Morgenstern: We heard the verse, which is unusual. You know, most popular songs have something called a verse, that is to say, popular songs in the Great American Songbook tradition. Today, who knows from verses, you know, but what we heard there was- was the verse, which is seldom heard, but Sinatra likes to do verses, and what you heard there was great background that Johnny Mandel created for him. The thing about writing for singers is that you don't want to dictate, you want to enhance and that's what Johnny was doing there and you can tell from the sound of the orchestra, you know, his mastery as an, as an orchestrator. And it's interesting to hear him writing for Sinatra. Of course we know about Nelson Riddle who was writing for Frank and this is different. And just as great.

Josephine Reed: And when you listen to it, you can tell that it's Johnny Mandel who's done the arranging?

Dan Morgenstern: Yes he has, he has a characteristic way of phrasing for a band. You know it's just like- it's just like a great instrumentalist who has his own way of phrasing and his own sound so great arrangers have that same kind of stamp that identifies their work.

Josephine Reed: Another Jazz Master is flutist Hubert Laws. And he has a background in classical music. He's played with the New York Phil and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestras. But he is a great, great jazz player.  You really don't hear jazz and flute together that often. It's not an instrument one thinks of when one thinks of jazz.

Dan Morgenstern: Flute was a relatively late arrival in jazz. There were some isolated examples … the great drummer Chick Webb. Chick had a saxophonist in his band who doubled flute and they had a little group of you know they had these bands within the bands like the Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet, and Artie Shaw's Gramercy Five and so on. And Chick Webb had a group called Chick Webb and His Little Chicks and that was a combination of clarinet and flute. That was very interesting, but that was very unusual and the flute did not really come out into jazz until the '50s. The pioneer was Jazz Master Frank Wess who was with Count Basie and played tenor but also doubled on flute, and really put the flute on the jazz map. Now Hubert Laws, Hubert came along and came along with his own sound and his own facility on the instrument which is very impressive, and also with a solid background in classical music and Hubert is a wonderful player with a- with a beautiful sound on that instrument.

Josephine Reed: Here's an excerpt from Hubert Laws playing "Amazing Grace".   <music>

What a sound that is.

Dan Morgenstern: That's a beautiful warm sound and what Hubert Laws is playing there is an alto flute. The flute like saxophones and clarinets you know comes in different editions, different registers. The alto flute has a deeper and warmer sound than the most commonly used flute which is the C flute so there is also a bass flute which is very rarely heard. But what Hubert does there is he creates such a beautiful warm sound and that's characteristic of, of his playing. He has- he has a beautiful sound. He's also a fine jazz player. We didn't hear that on "Amazing Grace" but he can improvise and he can swing.

Josephine Reed: Yeah, he certainly can. He can do it all. And we have your counterpart, the recipient of the 2011 AB Spellman Award for Jazz Advocacy, Mr. Orrin Keepnews.

Dan Morgenstern: Well there is no counterpart to Orrin. Orrin is unique. <laughs> But but we happen to be very good friends and we have done a lot of work together. I mean I have done lots of liner notes for Orrin who is one of the great producers in jazz. And no mean writer himself and actually one of the best editors I ever had. He was editor of called The Record Changer. That's how he really entered the jazz scene officially and  that was a magazine that went from being a record collector's traditional jazz magazine to actually printing the first really intelligent article about Thelonious Monk which happened to be by Orrin himself.

Josephine Reed: And here's what we're going to hear. We're going to hear something obviously that Orrin produced and this is "More Than You Know" with Jimmy Heath.


Josephine Reed: Dan, what makes a good producer a good producer?

Dan Morgenstern: Well the most important thing is to have good taste and have a good ear and to be able to you know, really relate to musicians and to kind of not be a dictator but a facilitator. And Orrin has marvelous taste and what we heard there by the way was Jazz Master class of 2003 Jimmy Heath, one of the famous Heath Brothers, his older brother Percy who is no longer with us also was a Jazz Master and one of the great bassists of all time. And his younger brother Tootie, not yet in the Jazz Masters I think but he's due. Great- great- great drummer. Jimmy is an example of another aspect of a great producer's virtues which is loyalty. Jimmy made many albums for Orrin at a time when you know he wasn't that famous and still Orrin stuck with him through thick and thin and that's something that is very commendable. And in the end of course it turned out to be a positive thing to do all around. But this is loyalty to artists which is very important for a producer, and Orrin has other talents which is he also very often did his own liner notes which he did just as well if not better than many writers. He's a writer, and of course he started out as a publisher's editor and that's how he came to be the editor of The Record Changer and then one thing led to another. There's a very funny interesting story which may take us too far a field but uh.. you know the way uh.. Orrin and his partner at at The Record Changer, Bill Grauer, became involved in making records was that there was a period in the early days of LPs when bootlegging started and there was an LP label that called itself Jolly Roger which <laughs> showing the flag for sure. But the interesting thing was that The Record Changer magazine the investigative journalism so to speak <laughs> which was not notable in jazz circles found out that the Jolly Roger recordings were being pressed by RCA Victor no less. So they were <laughs> they were doing this in some cases pressing their own bootlegged materials. So this became a kind feather in the cap of The Record Changer and Orrin and Bill Grauer who were then asked by RCA Victor to start a reissue program which was called Label X and produced some wonderful reissue recordings. And that's how they came into starting their own label, Riverside, and that's how Orrin became eventually a major producer of new recordings and one of the first people he recorded actually was Jazz Master Randy Weston.

Josephine Reed: Indeed and that was the first time Randy Weston was ever recorded was with Orrin.

Dan Morgenstern: I think so yes that's correct that is right.

Josephine Reed: Finally we have for the first time a group that's honored with the award, a family the Marsalis family. We have Ellis, Wynton, Delfeayo, Jason, and Branford Marsalis.

Dan Morgenstern: Yes, that is amazing and needless to say it was also you know a bit of a surprise but it seems like a wonderful thing to do. I think we should make it clear though which is something that I didn't know initially is that Ellis is the one who is getting the 25,000 dollar award. I think it was a wonderful idea because it is such an amazing, an amazing family and Ellis of course is the you know the the father who uh.. knew how to raise his sons, no question about that.

Josephine Reed: That's right he has six sons and four of them are jazz musicians. Ellis is a wonderful pianist aside from being an educator. He's the Director Emeritus of Jazz Studies at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts but in his own right a wonderful pianist and kind of swimming against the grain down in New Orleans, really wanting to bring bebop to New Orleans.

Dan Morgenstern: Well yes he did that and he is somebody who has very strong opinions and knows what he wants to do and always has managed to do it. And uh.. he you know became a very influential educator in New Orleans no question about that. One of his students I believe was Harry Connick Junior.

Josephine Reed: That's right.

Dan Morgenstern: I remember a wonderful little duet that the two of them did on two grand pianos down in New Orleans. I was there. I witnessed that and that was also- that was the prelude at the concert to a reunion of the brothers which hadn't taken place at that time for- for some time and that was also really wonderful. 

Josephine Reed: Well the brothers as we said Branford is the oldest, then Wynton, Delfeayo is a jazz producer, and-

Dan Morgenstern: And a pretty good trombonist too.

Josephine Reed: And I was about to say and a trombonist, and Jason is the youngest and a drummer. And they also what they learned from their father was how to listen. What a gift.

Dan Morgenstern: That is a great gift and it's a gift that they've all …. Wynton started with winning unprecedented Grammy awards for both jazz and classical and of course is an accomplished classical trumpeter and Branford is a very accomplished classical saxophonist who has done beautiful recordings by Mio and Debussy and so that's another aspect of being great listeners. And Delfeayo has produced some massive amount of recordings. He's a great record producer. He's won Grammy awards for that. Among other people he has recorded is Marcus Roberts and Harry Connick, Junior. And and Ellis and Branford and Wynton and and the youngest

Josephine Reed: Jason.

Dan Morgenstern: Jason by the way is also an excellent uh.. vibes player. He's not just a drummer.

Josephine Reed: That's right.

Dan Morgenstern: He plays very good vibes, yes.

Josephine Reed: Well we're going to hear the whole family and what we're about to hear is "Sultry Serenade".

Dan Morgenstern: That piece "Sultry Serenade" is an Ellington piece. Actually composed by a at that time an Ellington trombonist Tyree Glenn and Delfeayo really gets Tyree's sound there. It's remarkable. And that's a charming little tune, isn't it? Yeah.

Josephine Reed: Yeah, I like it a lot. 

Josephine Reed: Well 2011 certainly has a great class of Jazz Masters.

Dan Morgenstern: Yes indeed.

Josephine Reed: Dan Morgenstern, I want to thank you so much for giving me your time on a wintry day. And I look forward to seeing you in New York.

Dan Morgenstern: Yes indeed.  Thanks for having me.

Josephine Reed: That was 2007 Jazz Master, Dan Morgenstern.  We were talking about the current class of jazz masters who are being honored with a ceremony and star-studded concert on January 11.  You can join the festivities because we are live streaming the concert from Jazz at Lincoln Center. Just visit our website ---arts.gov---on Jan 11 and grab a front-row seat!  We have 7:30 pm start time.

You've been listening to Art works produced at the National endowment for the Arts.  Adam Kampe is the musical supervisor.

Excerpt from: "All Soul" from the cd The Laws of Jazz / Flute By-Laws, performed by Hubert Laws, used courtesy Atlantic recording

Excerpt from: "Amazing Grace" from the Cd The Best of Hubert Laws, performed by Hubert Laws, courtesy Sony Music Entertainment

Excerpt from: "There Will Never Be Another You" from the cd Return of the Tenor – Standards used courtesy of Double-time jazz

Excerpt from: "Let's Fall in Love," from the album Ring a Ding Ding sung by Frank Sinatra, used courtesy of Warner brothers music

Excerpt from: "More Than You Know," from the cd Swamp Seed, perfomed by Jimmy Heath and Brass, used courtesy of Fantasy.

Excerpt from: "Sultry Seranade" from the cd The Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration, performed by the Marsalis Family, used courtesy of Marsalis music

Excerpt from: "Duke in Blue" from the cd Duke in Blue, performed by Ellis Marsalis, used courtesy of SBME.

The Art Works podcast is posted every Thursday at www.arts.gov. And now you subscribe to Art Works at iTunes U….just click on Beyond Campus and look for the National Endowment for the Arts.  

Next week, a conversation with novelist Luis Alberto Urrea.

To find out how art works in communities across the country, keep checking the Art Works blog, or follow us @NEAARTS on Twitter. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I'm Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.

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