So Goodbye Already, but Why d’You Call it Weatherbird Anyway?


At first I thought the column would co-exist, unnamed, with other writings in Music. But, of course, it had to have its own heading; I objected to Jazz because I was sensitive to the implication—rampant at the time—that jazz and music were mutually exclusive, and reasoned: Let the banner be neutral and personal. I chose Weatherbird mainly because the Armstrong-Hines record’s humor, drama, finery, and thrills incarnate the essence and peculiar logic of jazz. It is also the greatest of jazz duets, and in my naïveté I thought of criticism as a dialogue between writer and reader—that’s the way it always seemed to me, the impressions of great critics fueling my own.

Dialogue aside, the name served as a quadruple-whammy pun, signaling Armstrong; New Orleans funerals (“Flee as a Bird to the Mountain”); Charlie Parker (Bird), the god of post-war jazz; and Bob Dylan (“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”), the swami of my generation, which I had vainly sought to engage. So much for my illusions. Yet singer-songwriter Joe Henry recently told me of an interview in which Dylan, upon watching Ken Burns’s Jazz, said, “It never occurred to me that Bing Crosby was on the cutting edge 20 years before I was listening to him. I never heard that Bing Crosby. The Louis Armstrong I heard was the guy who sang ‘Hello, Dolly!’—I never heard him do ‘West End Blues.’ ” Success at last! And with the swami himself! Not necessarily from my writing, true, but from a TV show, which is fine with me.

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