Adam Shatz is a Contributing Editor at the London ­Review of Books. (June 2018)

Follow Adam Shatz on Twitter: @adamshatz.


The Mythologies of R.B.

Roland Barthes

Barthes: A Biography

by Tiphaine Samoyault, translated from the French by Andrew Brown

The Friendship of Roland Barthes

by Philippe Sollers, translated from the French by Andrew Brown
In 1978, Roland Barthes embarked on a series of lectures entitled “Preparation of the Novel” at the Collège de France. The novel? Which novel? The one that Barthes had long planned to write, of course. But he didn’t know quite how to begin, and he kept getting distracted. As Laurent …

Bad Boy from Buffalo

Julius Eastman, Buffalo, New York, 1972

Gay Guerrilla: Julius Eastman and His Music

edited by Renée Levine Packer and Mary Jane Leach

Unjust Malaise

an album by Julius Eastman
On a cold winter day in 1989, Julius Eastman huddled in a group of homeless men outside Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, warming his hands by an oil-drum fire, when a reporter from Newsday approached him. The day before, a young female doctor, five months pregnant, had been raped and murdered …

Silence Bigger Than a Table

Wadada Leo Smith at the Montreal Jazz Festival, July 2016

Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk

an album by Wadada Leo Smith
Some artists start out with a bang, others with barely a whisper. The trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith, one of the most influential figures of the postwar black musical avant-garde, could not have begun his career more quietly. In 1972, Smith, then a thirty-one-year-old musician living in New Haven, …

The Sorcerer of Jazz

Miles Davis at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, 1986

Miles Ahead

a film directed by Don Cheadle

Bitches Brew

by George Grella Jr.
In 1975, Miles Davis put down his trumpet and retired. Davis was famous for his dramatic silences in performance: the notes he chose not to play were almost as meaningful as those he did. But this silence would last for nearly five years, during which he all but disappeared into his Upper West Side brownstone.


New Stars in Coltrane’s ‘Interstellar Space’

John Coltrane playing in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 1962

In spite, or perhaps because, of its demands, John Coltrane’s final album, Interstellar Space, has always enjoyed a following among saxophonists. It has also spawned a lively sub-genre of saxophone-and-drums duets, starting with Duo Exchange, which Coltrane’s last collaborator, Rashied Ali, recorded with the tenor saxophonist Frank Lowe in 1973. The latest contributions to this body of work are by two gifted and exploratory young tenor saxophonists, both born in 1982. Neither James Brandon Lewis’s Radiant Imprints, nor Travis Laplante’s A Dance That Empties, is an explicit homage to Interstellar Space, but both are striking tributes to the album’s legacy, and to the vitality of Coltrane’s late style.

Jazz and the Images that Hold Us Captive

The photographer and journalist Val Wilmer grasped that there is a struggle that precedes all others: the matrix in which other struggles are inscribed, which is simply the human struggle to go through life, to endure, and to make one’s mark, whatever that may be. One needn’t embrace a spurious universalism blind to race and gender, or to other forms of discrimination, to see that this struggle is our common one, even if we experience it in very different ways inflected by our backgrounds and experiences.

The World of Cecil Taylor

Cecil Taylor playing at the Sweet Basil nightclub, New York, 1989

Cecil Taylor was the master builder of the free jazz revolution. This was not well understood at the time, in large part because Ornette Coleman’s emancipation of jazz improvisation from the chordal structures of bebop fit so naturally into an American mythology of negative liberty, of removing constraints—or, more to the point, of overthrowing one’s masters. Taylor was less interested in freedom from inherited forms than in the freedom, or obligation, to create new ones. If Coleman left the house of bebop in ruins, Taylor showed what might be put in its place.