Welcome to the media site for Why Jazz Happened (University of California Press)—the first social history of jazz from World War II to Watergate. Below you'll find links to contact info, a bio, upcoming appearances, reviews, interviews and a book excerpt.
Click here to reach author Marc Myers for an interview, speaking engagement or high-resolution images.
Click here to reach Alexandra Dahne, publicity director at the University of California Press.
Feb. 4— 92Y Tribeca/200 Hudson St., New York; noon to 1 p.m. For this multimedia event, I will be talking about why jazz styles changed so often between 1942 and 1972—using music tracks and large-screen images to illustrate the dramatic changes. Tickets: $21. Go here. Need directions? Go here.
Billed as the "first social history of jazz," Why Jazz Happened looks at the unlikely political, business, social, cultural and technological events that forced jazz styles to change between 1942 and 1972—jazz's golden era.
Marc Myers is a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal, where he writes about jazz, rock, soul and R&B as well as art and architecture. His daily JazzWax.com column was named "2012 Blog of the Year" by the Jazz Journalists Association. Myers began his career at the New York Times and has a masters degree in U.S. history from Columbia University. [Author photo by Hank O'Neal]
"If you want to know why jazz changed so often between 1942 and 1972, Why Jazz Happened is a good place to start. Marc Myers has made a serious contribution to the discussion about how jazz went from a practical art entertaining dancers to one aimed at listeners." —Tim Marchman, the Wall Street Journal
"I lived and breathed this period during my extensive career in jazz, and this book brings a new perspective to the music's golden era." —Creed Taylor, multi-Grammy Award-winning jazz producer.
"Why Jazz Happened will shape the way all subsequent commentators think and write about jazz history." —Terry Teachout, author of Pops, A Life of Louis Armstrong.
"A deeply illuminating and engaging portrait of the essence of jazz as it is experienced by the musicians themselves." —Nat Hentoff, author of At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene.
"Myers’s first-rate social history, like a great jazz recording, pulls us into its complex rhythms and harmonies, casting its mesmerizing spell." —Publisher's Weekly
"In a cogent manner, Myers gives compelling evidence for the many non-musical reasons that influenced jazz's evolution in the 30-year period from the 1940s to the 1970s." —Ian Patterson, All About Jazz
"The book is consistently lively because Marc, like the best investigator, is deeply curious and not easily satisfied with the pat answers previous works have (sometimes) offered. And his curiosity has taken him to contemporary reporting . . . but most often it has taken him to the primary sources." —Michael Steinman, Jazz Lives
"A readable volume an academic can appreciate, being sourced with lots of Myers' original interviews. But any casual history buff or random dude who owns a Miles Davis album would dig it too." —Patrick Jarenwattananon, A Blog Supreme.
"Deftly written to accommodate those who don’t know much about jazz, Myers’ matter-of-fact style holds a steady rhythm." — JazzTimes publisher Lee Mergner, reviewing in Northeastern
"[Why Jazz Happened] aims to dissect what was happening offstage and how changes in the broader cultural and political zeitgeist propelled the music forward...a vividly detailed and well-researched book." —Jon Ross, Downbeat
"Why Jazz Happened does an excellent job of exploring the most significant period in the history of the music. It is hard to believe that so many changes happened in just 27 years. This is a fascinating read, and one I think every jazz fan will enjoy." —Greg Barbrick, BlogCritics.com
"In Why Jazz Happened, Marc Myers of JazzWax.com has given us an important contribution, but this is a contribution with a difference....A refreshing aspect of the book is its richly nuanced treatment of the relationship between commerce and creative individuality." —George H. Smith, Reason.com
Interviews + mentions
Tom Reney of New England Public Radio.
Publisher's Weekly's "Our Favorite Books We Read in 2012" list.
Salon.com—Scott Timberg's Did the American Songbook Kill Jazz?
Interview—Scott Timberg at The Misread City.
Interview—Ron Wynn at the Nashville Scene.
Podcast—Chris Cowles on WRTC (Hartford, Conn.).
Interview—Jeffrey Siegel on Straight No Chaser.
Interview—Mark Hayes's Passing Notes on WDNA (Miami).Table of Contents
- Record Giants Blink
- DJs, Promoters and Bebop
- G.I. Bill and Cool
- Speed War, Tape and Solos
- Suburbia and West Coast Jazz
- BMI, R&B and Hard Bop
- Bias, Africa and Spiritual Jazz
- Invasion and Jazz-Pop
- Alienation and Avant-Garde
- Lights, Volume and Fusion
- Jazz Hangs On
Chapter One (Excerpt)
On February 16, 1944, a dozen jazz musicians met at a New York studio to record three songs for Apollo Records. The band's leader was the tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, who at age 39 was the oldest jazz musician present and easily the most famous. Almost five years earlier, Hawkins had recorded Body and Soul, on which he seemed to improvise seamlessly for about three minutes without once playing the famed song's original melody—except for the opening four bars. Hawkins's brash reworking of the Tin Pan Alley standard had become a jukebox hit for RCA Victor and made Hawkins a saxophone sensation. But jazz reputations in the 1940s required reinvention and fresh achievement. To remain ahead of the creative curve, Hawkins frequently invited younger jazz musicians to challenge him in clubs—a risky move because it exposed him to a possible besting by up-and-comers. But the open invitation also allowed Hawkins to stay sharp and remain in control. The musicians who assembled that day for the Apollo Records session were both his admirers and his stylistic rivals.
The February 16 gathering at Apollo was the label's very first recording session. Apollo had been founded just weeks earlier by Teddy Gottlieb, the white owner of the Rainbow Music shop on 125th St., one of Harlem's most popular record stores. With the Apollo label, Gottlieb hoped to create a pipeline for his record shop by having musicians re-create on disc the excitement of Harlem's after-hours clubs. He also fully expected the label's records to sell well in the store's neighborhood, particularly among younger buyers who weren't old enough to gain entry to the clubs. In Gottlieb's favor was the Rainbow Music Shop's regular sponsorship of the After Hours Swing Session, an overnight radio show on WHOM hosted by "Symphony Sid" Torin. The animated disc jockey had been on the air in New York since 1937, spinning jazz records by black musicians, and the show was revered by Harlemites.
What Gottlieb did not know—and could not have known on February 16, 1944—was that Apollo Records was about to make history. On that day, Hawkins and the other musicians—trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Vic Coulsen and Eddie Vanderveer; the saxophonist Leo Parker, Leonard Lowry, Don Byas, Ray Abrams and Budd Johnson; the pianist Clyde Hart; the bassist Oscar Pettiford; and the drummer Max Roach—would take part in what is now considered the first commercial bebop recording. The music they recorded that February wasn't known officially then as "bebop"—it was too new, and the word bebop wouldn't be used in print to describe the new style of jazz until later in the year, when magazine writers needed a snappy word to summarize the animated style. But the musical language of bebop—with its strange-sounding notes and breakneck tempos—had been developing aggressively over the preceding years, at jam sessions and in black bands...
But if Gillespie and other bebop pioneers—including the alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, the drummer Kenny Clarke and the pianist Bud Powell—had been developing the jazz form since 1941 and 1942, why did it take until February 1944 to record the music? And how did a frantic form of improvised music played mostly by black musicians in dimly lit nightclubs for audiences seated in chairs rather than moving about on dance floors manage to become a national sensation four years later—not to mention jazz's predominant style?