The Jazz Life — Dinosaurs in the Morning: Whitney Balliett

Steve Newman Writer
4 min readOct 29, 2018

A Book about Jazz and Jazz Musicians

Dinosaurs in the Morning cover

Back in 1962, when Whitney Balliett’s book, Dinosaurs in the Morning, was first published in the US, Jazz was serious stuff: an important part of life, and not just the musical side of life, but life, in fact it had become — with the arrival of machine-gun fast Bebop in the late 1940s — an art form, which took most of the older musicians a bit by surprise, having spent the last fifteen years or so playing in the well paid big Swing Bands. They also knew that playing in small groups (most of the swing bands had disbanded after the war) the money wasn’t going to be as good. The less imaginative began to change their playing styles, learning new techniques, new jargon, and the apparent necessity of wearing dark glasses, which was a bit precarious in ill-lit smokey clubs. The best embraced the changes, becoming damn near indispensable.

One of the best of these was the tenor sax player Coleman Hawkins, ‘Bean’, who never went in for dark glasses, preferring a rather classy trilby hat instead. Balliett, in a piece from 1957,writes:

“ Hawkins, in fact, is a kind of super jazz musician, for he has been a bold originator, a masterly improviser, a shepherd of new movements, and a steadily developing performer. A trim, contained man, whose rare smiles have the effect of a lamp suddenly going on within, he was the first to prove that jazz could be played on the saxophone, which had been largely a purveyor of treacle. He did this with such conviction and imagination that by the early thirties he had founded one of the two great schools of saxophone playing…”

Hawkins never stood still, creating new groups with such ‘modern’ musicians as Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. Hawkins was shaping Modern Jazz.

I was fortunate to hear Hawkins in concert back in the 1960s.

Coleman Hawkins 1950s. AllMusic

The late English musician, critic and writer, Benny Green, wrote that Whitney Balliett had been performing:

“ …a unique and invaluable service to jazz. Through his coverage and criticism in The New Yorker…” . Which is the…

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