Virgil Thomson gave friends positive reviews, enemies negative reviews, and usually made sure his own music was reviewed by a stringer (occasionally he did it himself). He routinely slept through performances he was reviewing, had a penchant for making sweeping and sometimes perplexing generalizations, and dismissed beloved works and composers with little explanation, which made him seem at times like a dyspeptic, irascible crank.
Though he ranks alongside Charlie Parker and John Coltrane as one of the greatest jazz saxophonists in history, no one knows why exactly Sonny Rollins hasn’t recorded a first-rate studio album since the 1960s. Some say that his style was irreparably damaged by years spent experimenting with funk, disco, and fusion in the Seventies and Eighties. Yet anyone who has seen Rollins perform on a good night knows that, even at eighty-two, he is still capable of playing with the same brilliance that first made giants like Parker, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk take an interest in him in the 1950s. And if there were any lingering doubts, the news that Rollins won three major jazz awards this summer should dispel the notion that his best years are behind him.
Clifford Brown was only twenty-five years old when he died, but even then was already known as one of the greatest trumpet players in jazz. An undisputed virtuoso, he played with seeming ease in every register of the instrument, spinning out long, intricate solos that often sounded less like improvisations than compositions. Dizzy Gillespie claimed that Brown changed the way that the trumpet was played. Even Philip Larkin, who found listening to bebop comparable to “drinking a quinine martini and having an enema simultaneously,” admired Brown’s “mellow agility.”
“Measuring and Mapping Space,” at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World through January, aims to explain how Greeks and Romans thought of the world around them, and how these beliefs were in turn represented in maps, globes, and even coins and pottery. Unfortunately, though a number of ancient geographical treatises still exist today, almost no actual maps have survived. But the show’s curator, Roberta Casagrande-Kim, has dealt with this brilliantly. By displaying, among much else, a striking collection of illustrated Renaissance manuscripts on geography and cosmology—themselves reconstructions of the work of classical geographers like Ptolemy—the exhibition manages at once to suggest not just what ancient maps may have looked like, but how ancient geography influenced modern notions of topography and geography.
For all of the controversy surrounding Reza Aslan and his book Zealot, the work follows in a long tradition of study of the historical figure of Jesus—a subject that has provoked vigorous debate in The New York Review’s pages over the decades.
Charles Mingus’s audiences never knew quite what they were going to get, and this kept them coming. Mingus, the bassist, composer, and bandleader who reached the height of his fame in the mid-1960s, was notoriously mercurial. He was known to fire and rehire band members over the course of a set, and was once fired himself for chasing a trombonist across the stage with an axe. His reactions to noisy crowds ranged from announcing, “Isaac Stern doesn’t have to put up with this shit,” to ordering his band to read books onstage. His music, which drew omnivorously on the blues, gospel, Dixieland, Duke Ellington, bebop, and classical music, among much else, was similarly unpredictable. It blurred the boundaries between improvisation and composition, often ignoring standard form, and was famous for its rapid shifts in mood and tempo.
No one knows why exactly Sonny Rollins, the tenor saxophone colossus, hasn’t recorded a good studio album since the 1960s. Though he ranks alongside Charlie Parker and John Coltrane as one of the greatest jazz saxophonists in history, some say that his style was irreparably damaged by years spent experimenting with funk, disco, and fusion in the seventies and eighties. Yet anyone who has seen Rollins perform on a good night knows that, even at eighty-one, he is still capable of playing with the same brilliance that first made giants like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk take an interest in him in the 1950s.
Simone Weil once wrote that “nothing of all that the peoples of Europe have produced is worth the first known poem to have appeared among them.” She was referring to the Iliad, and, judging by the recent raft of translations, adaptations, and novelizations of the poem, we would seem to agree. Four new English versions, all published within a few months of each other, enter a market already glutted with Iliads, many of them—like Richmond Lattimore’s recently reissued classic 1951 translation and Robert Fagles’s widely used 1991 rendering—still vital. Now, the New York Theatre Workshop has staged An Iliad (up through April 1), a play that compresses the entire epic into a one-man, hundred-minute performance.
1,791 years ago this month, the Roman emperor Elagabalus was assassinated while hiding in a latrine. The Gotham Chamber Opera commemorates the occasion with Eliogabalo, a seventeenth century opera about the emperor.