“SITTING IN” by WHITNEY BALLIETT

Searching online, Marianne Mangan found something I treasure — Whitney Balliett’s January 1998 piece from The Atlantic, “Sitting In,” his recollection of playing drums on one of Hank O’Neal’s jazz cruises.

This semi-autobiographical piece was the only time I know that Balliett wrote about himself.  True, it was possible to intuit his shadowy presence in the Profiles published in The New Yorker — after all, a human being was sitting with Ruby Braff in that coffee shop, a person was getting ready to eat peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches with Bobby Hackett.  But Balliett was as far from a narcissist as it is possible to be without vanishing utterly behind the wallpaper, and he kept out of sight.

I told Balliett more than once that I loved this piece and thought he should be writing his autobiography.  He only laughed and shrugged his shoulders.  So “Sitting In” offers us glimpses of a young Balliett, sitting in for a brief hapless interlude at Sidney Catlett’s drums, losing his way with Hackett and Dave McKenna, then finally vindicating himself with pianist Bob Greene on the jazz cruise.  I’m sorry that I never heard him swing the band, and I miss his gentle, perceptive view of the world.

I was sorely tempted to shoplift the whole Atlantic piece directly into this blog, but I have some vestiges of respect for intellectual property remaining, so I will try to keep my criminality down to a minimum, and simply say to my readers, “Pssssst!  Check out http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/98jan/jazz.htm for some irreplaceable reading.”

P. S.   I have had trouble with the link above — for whatever reason — so I went back to Google and accessed the piece that way.  I never promised my readers a high level of technological finesse, but I apologize in advance!

One response to ““SITTING IN” by WHITNEY BALLIETT

  1. Your post made me yearn (at the risk of dating myself) for the old New Yorker, not for the magazine of Pauline Kael’s interminable movie reviews but for the OLD old New Yorker – the magazine of Peter Arno and, above all, Whitney Balliett. His articles were always a joy to read, but I especially enjoyed his listings of nightclubs featuring jazz (in the days when there were nightclubs featuring jazz). No other writer had his poetic ability to sum up musicians’ styles so briefly yet so perceptively. Balliett’s club listings were, unfailingly, brilliant jazz haikus.

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