Re: [JPL] An ode to Studs Terkel – conceived in jazz

Louis Erlanger louisx at
Tue Jan 18 00:03:48 EST 2011

Funny this should come up today because I just pulled out an old Folkways 
recording of Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee that I hadn't 
listen to in a long time and there's this voice on it saying "It's close to 
three AM and we're playing the blues"  and it's Studs Terkel. He's 
interviewing the three of them throughout the recording.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Dr. Jazz" <drjazz at>
To: <jazzproglist at>
Sent: Monday, January 17, 2011 9:18 PM
Subject: [JPL] An ode to Studs Terkel – conceived in jazz

> An ode to Studs Terkel – conceived in jazz
> Howard Reich
> Arts critic
> 9:04 AM CST, January 17, 2011
> Studs Terkel loved jazz.
> He wrote about it poetically in his first book, "Giants of Jazz" (1957), 
> and in one of his last, "And They All Sang" (2005).
> In the decades between, Terkel's celebrated radio show illuminated our 
> understanding of jazz musicians, as well as their brethren in blues, 
> gospel and other distinctly American folkloric sounds.
> So perhaps it's not surprising that a promising Chicago jazz pianist, Josh 
> Moshier, has composed an epic work exploring Terkel's connection to a 
> music as indelibly associated with Chicago as Terkel himself.
> Next Monday night, Moshier will present the world premiere of "The Studs 
> Terkel Project," an extended suite for jazz quintet inspired by Terkel's 
> writings but, Moshier hastens to add, not tethered to them.
> "We're not going to be reading Studs in between the movements," says 
> Moshier, of the forthcoming performance in the Chicago Cultural Center.
> "And I didn't transcribe his speech and represent it rhythmically in 
> music," adds Moshier.
> Instead, says Moshier, he studied Terkel's texts to learn how the oral 
> historian structured themes and emotional narrative, how Terkel built 
> dialogue and sustained a sense of spontaneity.
> If all this sounds a bit ephemeral and only tangentially linked to 
> Terkel's works, it's worth remembering that Terkel's prose – whether 
> spoken on the radio or printed on the page – itself embodied the spirit of 
> jazz. Read or listen to a Terkel soliloquy, and you're beholding what jazz 
> musicians try to do: state a theme and develop it in headlong bursts of 
> energy, one phrase often tumbling urgently onto the next.
> Terkel's words were jazz, complete with rhythm and pitch when he was 
> speaking, and Moshier's jazz suite aspires to capture some of the 
> character – if not the sound – of Terkel's artistic voice.
> What's surprising is that Moshier, at 24, has focused on the work of an 
> author-broadcaster several generations removed.
> "That never was a barrier to entry," says Moshier, whose suite was 
> commissioned by Chamber Music America.
> "I think his work speaks for itself, it's compelling and there's a reason 
> why so many people are drawn to it, why it's a reference point to many 
> people.
> "I just came late to the party."
> Not that late, considering his age, but not very long ago, either. Moshier 
> recalls that he was doing some canvassing in Iowa during the 2008 
> presidential campaign, and on the way back to Chicago he picked up a 
> newspaper and read that Terkel had died, at age 96. The people Moshier had 
> been riding home with had known Terkel well, and their passion for Terkel 
> proved contagious.
> "They started to tell me a lot about who he was and what his loss meant," 
> says Moshier, "and that was the trigger for me, my curiosity in learning 
> more about what he meant to Chicago."
> Naturally, Moshier expressed that interest in music, the commission 
> enabling him to articulate his thoughts on a grander musical scale than he 
> otherwise might have been able to do.
> "I think that this project was a chance for Josh to take on a more 
> ambitious chunk, to try to create a whole statement," says saxophonist 
> Mike Lebrun, Moshier's partner in the Moshier/Lebrun Collective and a 
> colleague since both were students at Northwestern University's Bienen 
> School of Music.
> "He's very interested in Chicago culture," adds LeBrun.
> Moshier grew up in St. Charles and as a student drew inspiration from 
> saxophonist-composer John Wojciechowski, one of the more accomplished jazz 
> instrumentalists in this city. When Moshier wasn't taking classes at NU, 
> he was studying somewhat less formally at Pete Miller's Steakhouse, in 
> Evanston, where he savored performances of Chicago pros such as guitarist 
> Bobby Broom and pianist Ron Perrillo.
> Following next week's premiere of the Terkel homage, the Moshier-Lebrun 
> Collective will perform the suite at the Jazz Showcase in February and in 
> the San Francisco Bay Area in March, with further shows to be planned.
> Though Moshier regrets that he never met Terkel, he has his own theories 
> as to why the author was smitten with jazz.
> "I think he was drawn to the fact that in jazz, you have to listen," says 
> Moshier, indeed referring to a world-class listener.
> "I think he was drawn to beauty. And I think that there might have been a 
> little bit of a subversive quality in jazz that he took pleasure in."
> More than a little.
> To read more from Howard Reich on jazz, go to
> hreich at
> The Moshier/Lebrun Collective will perform "The Studs Terkel Project" at 
> 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Claudia Cassidy Theater of the Chicago Cultural 
> Center, 78 E. Washington St.; free; 312-744-6630 or 
> Copyright © 2011, Chicago Tribune
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