The long view

By JON GARELICK  |  January 29, 2008

For Blumenthal, Boston’s golden age of jazz was the ’80s. “One night I went from Ruby Braff at the Regattabar to David Murray at Charlie’s Tap. I remember a Thursday night when I started at Charlie’s Tap and heard Henry Threadgill’s Sextett and then went to the Starlight Roof in Kenmore Square to hear Sheila Jordan and then Roswell Rudd and Beaver Harris at the 1369 in Inman Square. Sheila, who knew them both, said, ‘Oh, would you mind giving me a ride over there?’ ”

When he began, he thought the most important thing was to have an opinion — “that if you had good opinions, you could be basically illiterate if you could just stammer your way through them.” And, like all beginning critics, he relished the clever putdown. “Then you realize: you know what’s really hard? To be enthusiastic without sounding like a fawning tool! So that’s when you begin to worry a little bit more about how you say things and not just what you’re saying.”

At the Regattabar a week ago Tuesday, Blumenthal told a packed house about his life in jazz, read from the book, and sat down for an informal Q&A with his boss, Branford Marsalis. They sparred a bit over the quality of trumpeter Mugsy Spanier (champ or chump?) and then took questions from the audience. Someone asked for information about the semi-obscure singer King Pleasure. Blumenthal gave an extemporaneous two-minute biography: Pleasure’s real name, his recordings, his jukebox fame for “Moody’s Mood for Love,” his preference for tenor solos, etc. “And that’s all I know about King Pleasure,” he finished, almost apologetically. It was a knowledgeable audience, but chances are that what Blumenthal knew was more than anyone else in the room did.

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