Deep Dive

MCA/The Raymond Scott Archives

People all over the world can hum his tunes, yet relatively few have ever heard his name.

He was championed for creating a new sound in jazz, but never made it into jazz history books. His music was harmonically daring, but found its greatest audience through popular cartoons. A swing-era celebrity, he also stood at the vanguard of electronic music. These are among the dichotomies in the musical legacy of composer, bandleader, pianist, engineer and inventor Raymond Scott.

Juan Tizol Collection, courtesy of Steven Lasker

Duke Ellington was among the preeminent American composers of the 20th century, and the most exhaustively studied of all jazz artists. There are more books and articles about him than any other jazz musician, and collectors have pored over his vast discography — not just a prolific half-century studio output but also hundreds of hours of radio broadcasts, audience tapes, and film and television appearances.

Jim Marshall / Jim Marshall Photography LLC

You’ve surely seen reports about the newly discovered studio session by the John Coltrane Quartet, recorded on March 6, 1963.

Bruno Bernard

George Shearing became identified, even in the headlines of some of his 2011 obituaries, as the composer of “Lullaby of Birdland.”

Like many a trademark hit, this could be a mixed blessing. In his autobiography, Lullaby in Rhythm, Shearing struck a perfect chord of ambivalence: “I've played it so many times that it is possible to get quite tired of doing so — although I never tire of being able to pay the rent from it!”

Dave Dexter, Jr. Collection, LaBudde Special Collections, Miller Nichols Library, UMKC

When most people think of Walter Page, they think of a steady, driving rhythm. Yes, absolutely — but there was a lot more to his art.

FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Gene Krupa has to be one of the most misunderstood musicians in jazz history.

In his time, he was a drummer whose energetic charisma propelled him into a rare level of celebrity. A marquee star from the 1930s on, he appeared not only onstage but also in Hollywood films. In 1959 he was even the subject of a major biopic, The Gene Krupa Story, starring Sal Mineo. As an emotional psychodrama with drumming at the center, it’s an obvious precursor to Whiplash, the 2014 Damien Chazelle film.

Sub Press / sub-press.com

When it comes to the origin of the word “jazz,” it seems that each person simply believes what she or he wants to.

Jim Marshall / Jim Marshall Photography LLC

Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie were both born a century ago, in 1917. In their honor, here’s a heap of information about “‘Round Midnight,” a bedrock jazz standard whose evolution reflects their mutual regard.

Chuck Stewart / Courtesy of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

The previous installment of Deep Dive with Lewis Porter concerned the sources that John Coltrane used to create one of his most famous works, “Impressions.” Here is a two-part coda: a final reflection on the bridge of that piece, and another on Coltrane’s composition “Big Nick.”

John Coltrane
EVENING STANDARD/GETTY IMAGES

John Coltrane, the revered saxophonist and composer, would be turning 91 this week. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of his death, at the age of 40.

Had he lived, he might have been astonished to witness how the power and impact of his musical legacy continues to grow. This year, a documentary film by John Scheinfeld, Chasing Trane, has been screening worldwide to considerable acclaim. (Full disclosure: I appear in the film several times.) And just this month, a beautiful mural of Coltrane was unveiled in North Philadelphia, near his childhood home.

Bill May

Dr. Lewis Porter has been busy since penning the biography John Coltrane:  His Life and Music.  Porter, an author, musician, and educator is bringing his extensive knowledge and insight to a new project. 

“What I have are a number of short lessons about individual jazz performers, certain jazz techniques, the origins of be-bop is one of them.”

The first “Deep Dive with Lewis Porter” takes a look at pianist Art Tatum.

Columbia Pictures/Handout/Getty Images

Few figures in jazz loom as large as Art Tatum. Plug his name into any search engine and you’ll find page after page calling him “one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time,” or “one of the greatest technical virtuosos in jazz,” or something to that effect.