Introduction

What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Interesting Emendations: Whitney Balliett's "New Coming"


I’m pleased to see Whitney Balliett quoted in Christopher Carroll’s excellent “The Sound of Sonny Rollins” (The New York Review of Books, September 27, 2012). The quotation, which is from an April 1, 1972 New Yorker piece, describes how Rollins blended the best elements of Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker. It reads as follows:

He extracted the muscle from Hawkins’ tone and left the velvet lopped off Hawkins’ famous vibrato, and sharpened Hawkins’ method of melodic playing by making it parodic. He learned Parker’s teeming disregard of bar lines, Parker’s way with rhythm (the oddly placed notes, the silences, the avalanches of thirty-second notes), and Parker’s trick of mixing surreal melodic passages with tumbling bursts of improvisation. And over all this he superimposed a unique and witty garrulity that made his immensely long solos seem, paradoxically, like endless strings of epigrams.

It’s a wonderfully vivid description. Interestingly, Balliett changed it when he included the piece (titled “New Coming”) in his great Collected Works (2000). Here’s the Collected Works version:

He extracted the muscle from Hawkins’ tone, lopped off Hawkins’ famous vibrato, and sharpened Hawkins’ method of melodic playing by parodying it. He learned Parker’s teeming disregard of bar lines, Parker’s way with rhythm (the oddly placed notes, the silences, the avalanches of sixteenth notes), and Parker’s trick of mixing surreal melodic passages with bursts of improvisation. And over all this he superimposed a witty garrulity that made his immensely long solos seem, paradoxically, like endless strings of epigrams.

Balliett deleted “and left the velvet,” changed “making it parodic” to “parodying it,” changed “thirty-second notes” to “sixteenth notes,” and deleted “tumbling” and “unique.” The Collected Works version is leaner. But I confess I miss that evocative “left the velvet lopped off” in the New Yorker article. Nevertheless, the Collected Works piece is the final version. It’s likely the one that Balliett would want quoted.  

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