Adam Shatz is a Contributing Editor at the London ­Review of Books. (June 2020)

Follow Adam Shatz on Twitter: @adamshatz.


An Invitation from Jeanne Lee

Jeanne Lee performing at the Banlieues Bleues Festival, Seine-Saint-Denis, France, 1997

The Newest Sound Around

an album by Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake

The Newest Sound You Never Heard: European Studio Recordings 1966/1967

an album by Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake
Twenty years ago, I fell in love with a jazz singer. Jeanne Lee had died earlier in 2000 of cancer, but she couldn’t have been more alive to me. A hip woman I knew had given me BMG’s reissue of The Newest Sound Around, Lee’s 1962 debut album with the …

The Apostle of Now-ness

Don Cherry at the Amougies Festival, Belgium, 1969

Studio 105, Paris 1967

an album by the Don Cherry Trio

Home Boy, Sister Out

an album by Don Cherry
In 1978 the trumpeter Don Cherry was asked about his music in a documentary for Swedish television. “Well, for one thing,” he replied, “it’s actually not my music, because it’s a culmination of different experiences, different cultures, and different composers that involves the music that we play together.” This was …

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 …


The Stanley Crouch I Knew

Stanley Crouch playing drums at the Jazz Journalists Association awards at B.B. King’s, New York City,  2004

For Stanley, the person who best exemplified American culture’s possible grandeur was Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, whom he worshipped. Stanley had no chance of climbing to the top of Mount Ellington, even as he traded in his dashikis for suits. He wasn’t suave or elegant. He was a heavy-set, bald man from a working-class family whom no one would have described as handsome: a bruiser, not an aristocrat. But Stanley was shrewd enough to turn his manner and looks into an asset. That a self-made man like him could become one of the country’s best-known cultural critics would become a source of rugged pride.

In the Vanguard of Trio Jazz with Micah Thomas

Micah Thomas at the piano, 2020

The piano trio has always held a special place in my experience—and imagination—of jazz clubs. And the most exciting debut on record that I’ve heard in the last year is Micah Thomas’s trio, recorded live last spring at Kitano, a small club in New York. Still very young—a twenty-two-year-old student finishing a master’s at Juilliard—and quite unassuming, Thomas isn’t trying to reinvent the piano trio so much as to offer his own gloss on it. The album, Tide, is earnest, even a little old-fashioned; a sound more evocative of the 1960s—or perhaps of a young man’s dream of 1960s jazz—than of the 2020s.

Driss Chraïbi & the Novel Morocco Had to Ban

A father with his sons at home, Fez, Morocco, 1932

Laila Lalami, a Moroccan American novelist who grew up in Rabat, has praised Chraïbi as “the first writer I read as a child who created Moroccan characters that were believable.” But they were perhaps all too believable, and certainly too troubling, when The Simple Past (Le Passé simple) was published in 1954. Some Moroccan readers claimed that Chraïbi’s portrait of Moroccan traditional society was consumed by self-hatred, even a betrayal of the independence struggle. The novel was banned in Morocco until 1977. 

Capturing the Ephemeral Beauty of Improvisation

Tyshawn Sorey and Marilyn Crispell

The drummer and composer Tyshawn Sorey has a lovely phrase to describe the practice of improvisation: “the adornment of time.” It’s the title of his gorgeous new album with the pianist Marilyn Crispell, recorded live in the fall of 2018 during Sorey’s residency at The Kitchen, a performance space in Chelsea. The music begins in near silence, punctuated at first by what sounds like knocking, or maybe hammering. It’s followed by thudding noises, strokes of a piano’s strings, a drum roll so subtle it might be an aural illusion, a crash of cymbals, the tapping of a glockenspiel, the pattering of piano keys. Over the next hour—there’s only one track—the collaboration’s architecture comes into radiant focus, gradually acquiring such physical power that you feel a kind of shock, and even sorrow, when it ends.