Bill Shoemaker

Bill Shoemaker is a Music Critic.

Recent Articles

The Two Tenors

T he jazz critics love a horse race, especially when they help create it. The late 1950s saw what is arguably their greatest fabrication. Trumpeter Miles Davis, with his high-profile contract with Columbia Records (not to mention his impeccable style in clothing and Ferarris), was already a star, and the jazz press was on the lookout for the next young trailblazer who would ascend to the pantheon. It found not one, but two contenders, who had contrasting approaches to the same instrument, who had worked with heavyweights like Davis and pianist Thelonious Monk, and who seemed to be only a few sessions away from greatness themselves. They were tenor saxophonists John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, who quickly became the stalking-horses of two camps of critics, each of which wanted to shape jazz's future. Then as now, the jazz press was split between the keepers of the flame: establishment-anointed critics (the precursors of Stanley Crouch, who, in the continuing debate over what jazz is...

Jazz's Changing of the (Avant) Garde

Jazz rode the 1990s surprisingly well. It was a decade in which the recorded-music market was flat compared to other media; and traditionally, jazz--which has a perennial single-digit market share--is an early casualty of the budget cuts and corporate take-overs that market slumps spawn. But that didn't happen in the 1990s. Moreover, jazz benefited from plunging CD production costs and e-commerce, which created a slew of independent labels and direct marketing conduits. And tens of millions of dollars from public and philanthropic sources, combined with increased corporate sponsorships of jazz festivals from coast to coast (a bid for the jazz audience's alleged upscale demographics), sustained a healthy live performance market throughout the decade. Yet boom times did little to counter jazz's "condition of epilogue," the syndrome of "virtuosic deconstruc-tions and recapitulations" that art critic Gary Indiana observed plaguing modern art in general. In...

Made in Cuba

I n all probability, it was just a coincidence that in July the House of Representatives voted to repeal some of the more draconian aspects of the economic embargo against Cuba the day after PBS aired Buena Vista Social Club , Wim Wenders's Oscar-nominated documentary film about an instantly lovable aggregation of Cuban crooners and virtuoso instrumentalists, several of whom are in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. Only time will tell if the love songs of Ibrahim Ferrer, Cuba's answer to Nat King Cole, or the cascading piano runs of Rubén González, whose originality has prompted comparisons with Thelonious Monk, will be the soundtrack for the United States's contorted mambo toward normalization with Cuba. Still, the national broadcast gave millions here their first real look into Cuban culture, guided by the likes of singer/guitarist Compay Segundo, an endearing nonagenarian who sings of shaking bottoms and boasts of the efficacy of his rum hangover prevention regimen. The growing infatuation...