I can’t remember who said that writing about music was like dancing about architecture, or even if that is the correct quote, but it’s a useful reference point to the work of Whitney Balliett who surely danced up a considerable storm.I’ve been looking for my copy of the first collection of his New Yorker columns that set me off on his trail, called “The Sound of Surprise”, and I’ve failed to unearth it so I’ll have to rely on memory for those crucial early observations of his that fired my enthusiasm.
A perfect example of his influence working positively was his piece on Thelonious Monk that told of Monk’s approaching the piano as if he were a dentist and it had teeth .Certainly I remember his description of Monk’s titles as ‘fearless’. I could now use these metaphors as an instruction manual and, by God, it worked. Monk’s clenched flower began to creak open.
Ballietts famous and anthologised piece on Pee Wee Russell, “Even his feet looked sad”, is a wonderful example of his art, and one of many Balliett Despatches that have become Reasons to be Cheerful. Hit me,Whitney !
( Balliett died in February , 2007 .)