Christopher Carroll is a former member of The New York Review’s editorial staff. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Lapham’s Quarterly, and Tin House. (December 2017)

Follow Christopher Carroll on Twitter: @cscarroll222.


The Piano Ain’t Got No Wrong Notes

The jazz pianist Fred Hersch in a still from the documentary film The Ballad of Fred Hersch

Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In and Out of Jazz

by Fred Hersch

The Ballad of Fred Hersch

a documentary film directed by Charlotte Lagarde and Carrie Lozano
In October 2008, two months after waking from a coma that left him without motor function in his hands and unable to walk, eat, or speak, the pianist and composer Fred Hersch played a set at Small’s, a basement jazz club in Greenwich Village. At the time, he still took …

The Knight Errant of Music Criticism

Virgil Thomson, New York City, 1980

Music Chronicles: 1940–1954

by Virgil Thomson, edited by Tim Page

The State of Music and Other Writings

by Virgil Thomson, edited by Tim Page
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.

The Sound of Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins, Los Angeles, April 2002
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.


Love, It’s What Makes ‘Suburra’

Giacomo Ferrara as Spadino and Alessandro Borghi as Aureliano in Suburra, 2017

Suburra: Blood on Rome, an excellent new crime series from Netflix and RAI, manages to combine the pacing of a thriller with an almost sociological diorama of Roman society, a slicker, abbreviated version of The Wire’s portrait of Baltimore. Even amidst Rome’s gaudy beauty, the staccato bursts of violence, and the elaborately choreographed sex scenes—particularly the show’s opening orgy, which resembles a tangle of deviant, writhing Bernini sculptures—the surprising and ultimately tragic intimacy that develops between Aureliano and Spadino stands out as one of Suburra’s great pleasures, setting it apart from the plodding, grisly portentousness of contemporary prestige crime dramas such as Narcos.

Marseus in the Land of Snakes

Otto Marseus van Schrieck: Forest Floor with Thistle and Snake (detail), circa 1665

No one quite knows what led Otto Marseus van Schrieck to the invention of the sottobosco, but it was certainly in the spirit of the times. Born around 1620, Marseus grew up amid the great scientific flourishing of the seventeenth century. This included, among much else, the development of the microscope, which soon led to a widespread enthusiasm for all things minute. Around when Marseus is thought to have been born, the poet and composer Constantijn Huygens looked through an early microscope, later marveling in his memoirs that, “It really is as if you stand before a new theater of nature, or are on a different planet.” The sentiment captures much of the joy of Marseus’s paintings, which at their best give the impression of seeing a world through the eyes of someone encountering it for the first time.

When Pierre Boulez Went Electric

Pierre Boulez, 1987

The piece is written for three separate groups: an orchestra, six soloists, and what the score calls an electro-acoustic system of computers and loudspeakers. No two performances of Pierre Boulez’s Répons are the same, bringing to light seemingly new interactions between the electronically treated soloists and the acoustic orchestra, among the soloists themselves, and even a difference in the way that the sounds, captured and dispersed by the electronics, travel through space itself.

The Mellow Agility of Clifford Brown

Trumpeter Clifford Brown and Bassist Percy Heath during a rehearsal

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.”



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.