The Queen’s Gambit (by Walter Tevis)

The new Netflix show The Queen’s Gambit is getting some buzz. I haven’t seen it yet, and truthfully such an activity is not high on my list, for I am an old-school fan of the very great novel by Walter Tevis.

Tevis was not prolific but each book was important. His best was The Queen’s Gambit. When it first came out in 1983, it was unexpectedly promoted at certain mystery bookshops. Mystery fans are very good at word of mouth, and this new novel — while not a mystery — seemed to have everything mystery lovers require.

Don’t take my word for it. Lawrence Block included it on his list of Five Books to Read More Than Once.

Block says he’s read it five times; I’m at least at that number, perhaps even six or seven. When I was first dating my future wife Sarah Deming I gave her copy; eventually she created the first Wikipedia page for The Queen’s Gambit in February 2008. (True story.)

I may get to the Netflix adaptation eventually. It doesn’t matter. I simply appreciate how a publication from 1983 has a fresh shot in the arm; many more people are now going to have a chance to read this classic book. Long live the Queen.

[Pause]

There’s not much reason to be on social media until after the election, so I’m going to take the rest of October off from DTM, Twitter, and FaceBook. We all pray for a smooth transfer of power to Biden and Harris.


My next record will be a release of the Umbria Jazz concert Bud Powell in the 21st Century with Ingrid Jensen, Dayna Stephens, Ben Street, Lewis Nash, and the Umbria big band.

Enzo Capua of Umbria asked several musicians to comment for the Italian magazine Musica Jazz, “about the situation in USA during these dramatic times.” I wrote back to Enzo:

2020 has certainly seen a reckoning. I feel lucky to be involved with jazz music, for there is always optimism around jazz. Most of the people involved playing, promoting, or listening to jazz do it simply out of love, for, as we all know, there is not much money or personal power to be found. In my profession as a pianist I have seen up close the high perch of classical music and the money machine of rock music; I am always happy to return to the comparatively soulful environs of jazz.  

COVID-19 is devastating blow for the scene, for the very livelihood for the musicians. My wife and I are about to move from an expensive apartment to a more reasonable one, and we both know that if the restrictions keep up, we will have to move in with my wife’s mother.

But at the same time, all the musicians are practicing and growing! Everyone is thinking about what kind of music is truly important to make. We are going to hear some incredible sounds when we start gigging again, and the audience will be so eager to discover our growth.

It was the summer of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. While jazz does not have a perfect score, at least anyone in jazz looks up to heroes who are black. In this way we are further along than many citizens, although more could be done, perhaps especially in the field of institutional jazz education, which can be as banal and white as a Wall Street business office. I predict much good to come of the protests and the brave young people who are tired of the status quo.

And then there’s Donald Trump. It is very hard to contemplate this kind of evil sin. Trump seems to embody every terrible thing about American culture. I have nothing to say to Italians and other Europeans except, “I’m sorry. We are sorry.” It is truly a grave situation. Right now it does not feel like he will be re-elected. But if he does get re-elected — I say to my Italian friends, “You will see much more of me starting next year, for I am giving up on America and moving to Italy!” I am quite serious about this.


The year so far on DTM:

Art Hodes, Selections From the Gutter

Steve Reich’s Tehillim

The Sandbaggers and Michael Gilbert, Establishment Espionage

Charlie Parker Centennial with Steve Coleman, Charles McPherson, Mark Turner, Tom Harrell, John Scofield, and Bertha Hope

Boogie Backbone

Leon Fleisher plays Grieg and Schumann Piano Concertos

Rex Stout, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, Comfort Food

The Shadow of Johnny Mandel

Interview with John Cumming

Riffs about Jarrett, Bill Evans, 70’s jazz, Mary Lou Williams, Dicky Wells, Leroy Jenkins, Gershwin a.o. for my students

 Mel Powell Unfurnished

 The Best of Robert B. Parker

R.I.P. Lee, Ice Cream Konitz

Black Music Teachers in the Era of Segregation

RIP Jon Christensen

 Interview with Guy Klucevsek (by Anthony Creamer)

Interview with Bertha Hope

RIP Peter Serkin, In Real Time

RIP Jimmy Heath

Thomas Perry, The Professional

Genre-Specific, Kenny G


The most widely-read essay of the year was my NPR obit for Stanley Crouch. Many people have sent me fabulous clippings and other Crouch items in response. When I return I’ll have another post on Stanley showcasing these rare items….


The Chronology essays for JazzTimes:

  1. James Newton
  2. John Scofield, Steve Swallow, Adam Nussbaum
  3. Mary Lou Williams
  4. Don Cherry
  5. Charli Persip (RIP)
  6. Shirley Horn
  7. Harold Mabern, Larry Willis, and Richard Wyands
  8. Bertha Hope
  9. Gary Peacock (RIP)
  10. Jimmy Lyons
  11. Wynton Kelly at Left Bank
  12. Paul Desmond
  13. Old and New Dreams
  14. Larry Young and Woody Shaw

The next two are already written, Jacob Garchik + Andrew D’Angelo big bands then Meredith D’Ambrosio. For January I will look at Eubie Blake.