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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.