Dan Morgenstern's Career: An Eyewitness to Jazz
April 27, 2012. Posted by Simon Rentner.
Nobody doubts Dan Morgenstern’s storied life. His 8 Grammy awards, NEA Jazz Master honors, and other laurels back up this fact. But when we see him at WBGO – every time he co-hosts Jazz from The Archives – we witness his character. All of the awards and compliments in the world could never turn him into a blowhard. His friends and close peers all know about his sensitivity in his writings and compassion for his subjects, and they also rely on his insight and analysis.
That lightness of being is reflected in WBGO’s recording studio, the way he smiles, bobs his head, and dances to the music he plays on the radio. His enthusiasm for jazz is “Olympic” in its brightness and scope. His work ethic -- unyielding. The torch within just keeps burning, and he passes all of that fire and knowledge to the next person so effortlessly.
As Morgenstern prepared to step down from his longtime role as director of the Instutitute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University-Newark's Dana Library, he sat down with me in our studios for an extended conversation. We talked about his childhood, growing up Jewish during World War II. He hesitatingly talks about when he was saved by the Danish how that experience shaped him.
He also talked about his early musical encounters, one with composer Albam Berg, who befriended Morgenstern’s father. And, he shared the epiphanous moment that changed his life, the moment he saw Fats Waller. He also spoke candidly about being the editor of Down Beat Magazine in the 1960s, when America was being torn apart by civil rights unrest, and how he, as “Mr. Whitey” – was perceived by some as a symbol of America’s institutional racism.
His story, as rich as it is layered, is well worth telling and hearing. And it may be fully told one day. Now that he’s stepped down from the IJS, he told me, he may find time to write that autobiography.
In the meantime, Dan, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, so we can share them with our listeners here. We featured a segment of our conversation on Friday's WBGO Journal, and are happy to share our conversation in its entirety with you now. Enjoy! – Simon Rentner
© 2012 WBGO
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