Web Letters | The Nation

The Nation seems to be enjoying a cultural renaissance.

Thanks for the deliciously venomous headline for and David Schiff's equally pungent review of Terry Teachout's Pops. Since the addition of William Deresiewicz's literary critiicism and Barry Schwabsky's art criticism to your pages, The Nation seems to be enjoying a cultural renaissance. But I've seldom read an arts review as bracing and insightful as Schiff's in any forum. Please give us more.

Judith Wilson

Irvine, CA

Feb 28 2010 - 12:14pm

Web Letter

As a doctoral student at the University of Cincinnati, I found David Schiff's review of Terry Teachout's biography of Louis Armstrong spot on. My work looks at the First Great Migration through the lens of jazz. As such, I am very familiar with the Armstrong story and the subsequent biographies of his life. I was recently struck by an interview Teachout did with CSPAN, where he claimed Armstrong was not a political thinker. Teachout also praised Armstrong for not reverting to "reverse racism" for the slights he often faced as a black entertainer in Jim Crow America. Such pronouncements seem to miss the political traits of resistance inherent in jazz and the opportunities to act as a vehicle for social change that the music and the musicians fostered. In this regard, Schiff has helped clear the proverbial air and expose the shortcomings of Teachout's methodology. In an age when authors like Charles Hersch, Burton Peretti, Lawrence Gushee and William Howland Kenney have made similar connections, Teachout's inability (or unwillingness) to contextualize jazz and jazz musicians in this light is all the more telling.

Charlie Lester

Cincinnati, OH

Feb 13 2010 - 1:04pm