Friday, May 20, 2005


A musical offering

I've been reading a galley of Studs Terkel's And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disk Jockey, which is enormous fun. Terkel is probably one of the only human beings to interview both Louis Armstrong (in 1962) and Henry Threadgill (in 1988), but the focus is by no means confined to jazz. He trades conversational fours with the likes of Andrés Segovia, Thomas A. Dorsey, Alfred Brendel, Janis Joplin, Birgit Nilsson, Big Bill Broonzy, Aaron Copland, Ravi Shankar, and (last but not least) a wet-behind-the-ears Bob Dylan, who shares this classified info about his nicotine habit: "I started smoking at eleven years old, I stopped once to catch my breath." Other highlights: when Leonard Bernstein starts to discuss the glories of Marc Blitzstein's 1937 musical The Cradle Will Rock, Studs simply notes that he was in it. Also, the exchange with Virgil Thomson is a keeper. One example, on the perils of modern technology circa 1965: "Grandeur requires limitations. It's pretty hard to write something grand, which is inevitably going to be performed though one small loudspeaker about fifteen inches across. That circumstance itself is not exactly the entire Michigan lakefront, mobilized for a Fourth of July." (Full disclosure: And They All Sang is published by The New Press, which also published Amazonia, but I would have relished this book if it had been hand-cranked off a mimeograph machine.)

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