Jazz And America

Geoffrey C. Ward, writer of a major new book and 19-hour
documentary (directed by Ken Burns) on the subject, discusses the joys and wonders of our native art form

Geoffrey C. Ward is no stranger to American Heritage, where he served as editor and later as a columnist. Born in Ohio, raised in Chicago and India, he reveals in all his work a singular generosity in assessing the achievements of American leaders, artists, and scoundrels, displaying an eye for the telling eccentricity and a fascination for the razor’s edge between myth and reality.Read more »

Jazz Liberates Paris

American jazz musicians once enjoyed a freedom and respect in France’s capital that they could never win at home. Landmarks of that era still abound.

For all the books and films that have been done about painters and writers who went to Paris, far less has been written about the lives of musicians from the United States who settled there, some for a while, a few for their whole lives. Yet American jazz musicians have felt the influence of that city on their creative abilities no less than did the Lost Generation of American writers after World War I and the impressionists and their successors before them. Much of their world, and of jazz itself, is still there to be seen and enjoyed. Read more »

The Diamond Jubilee Of Jazz

Seventy-five years ago this month, a not especially good band cut a record that transformed our culture

About 325,000 jazz performances have been recorded for commercial release in the twentieth century, according to the Institute for Jazz Studies, at Rutgers University. Plus thousands more have been taken from radio and concert events. Unknown billions of jazz records have been sold. But it was the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB) that made and sold the first jazz records seventy-five years ago this month (now reissued in a diamond-jubilee edition by RCA Bluebird). Read more »

Congo Square

An Inquiry Into the Origins of Jazz

Jazz endures in a special sort of American reserve. Accepted as a part of our national heritage, still it is as if the interior sound of this music prevents most of us from embracing it as fully as we have its derivatives, pop music and rock. We hear in that interior sound an intensity of purpose and also a frustration that fends off our casual familiarity and makes us content with the image of the music rather than its reality.Read more »

Benny Goodman

An Interview With the King of Swing

Benny Goodman strolled down New York’s Second Avenue one recent morning, covering the nine blocks between his apartment and a health club, where he swims each day, in about ten minutes. During that time no fewer than four strangers recognized him and vigorously shook his hand. They varied in age from near-contemporaries to youngsters clearly born long after Goodman’s glory days. But all had much the same thing to say. “I just want to thank you,” said one, who appeared to be in his late forties.Read more »

Crossword In History

F. Scott Fitzgerald surverying the ashes of the Jazz Age from the vantage point of 1931, wrote: “By 1927 a wide-spread neurosis began to be evident, faintly signalled, like a nervous beating of the feet, by the popularity of cross-word puzzles.”

Of course, at the time he was writing, the twenties were tarnished for Fitzgerald, but there is no doubt that toward the end of the decade the crossword puzzle was a ubiquitous and obsessive element of American life. Read more »