Down Beat celebrated its 60th year of publication in 1995 with a book called 60 Years of Jazz, a collection of articles and interviews that appeared in the magazine since it began in 1934. The book opens with a complete history of the publication, and each decade is prefaced with an introduction characterizing the era.
What may surprise contemporary readers are the many references to race and the use of words which are no longer politically correct. In a 1935 article John Hammond criticizes Duke Ellington’s newly released “Reminiscing” as shallow, citing his hiring of “un-negroid” musicians for the band and his failure to involve himself “...with the troubles of his people.” In a 1936 article on jazz in Kansas City, Hammond chides the musicians union for excluding Negroes. A 1939 issue surveys bandleaders on the wisdom of mixing black and white players, and Billie Holiday talks of the indignities of a black singer traveling with a white band. A 1940 articles asks, “Are Colored Bands Doomed As Big Money Makers?” and a 1945 article is entitled “Herman’s Is Finest Ofay Swing Band.”
In 1951 Roy Eldridge stated, “As long as I’m in America, I’ll never in my life work with a white band again!” Ella Fitzgerald obliquely bemoans the lack of black artists on television in 1955.
Nat Hentoff talks with Gil Evans about the birth of the cool, classical composer Aaron Copland assesses jazz, and pianist Marian McPartland offers insight into the music and person of pianist Mary Lou Williams. Thelonious Monk tells the story behind the little red wagon on the cover of Monk’s Music, Weather Report discusses the release of their debut album in 1971, and bassists Ron Carter and Richard Davis talk about their unique relationships with their instruments. Dizzy Gillespie describes music as “a form of worship,” interviewer Larry Birnbaum delves into the unique music of The Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones, both of eclectic musical tastes, discuss music trends in 1990. The many interesting and diverse articles make this a book to be savored by readers of all persuasions.
Frank Alkyer, who edited the collection, joined Down Beat in 1989 as editorial director. Two years later he was also named associate publisher and served the magazine in both capacities.
John McDonough, who contributed the Introduction, is a long-time contributing editor to the magazine, has written numerous liner notes, and writes regularly for other publications.