Saturday, September 20, 2008

R.I.P.: Richard M. Sudhalter

Richard M. Sudhalter, 69, Author and Jazz Trumpeter, Is Dead
Published: September 19, 2008

Richard M. Sudhalter, who won wide respect as a mellifluous trumpet player and perspicacious jazz historian — and ignited controversy for a book arguing that jazz was shaped by white as well as black musicians — died on Friday in Manhattan (Sept. 19). He was 69.

The final cause was pneumonia after a long period of declining health, said his partner, Dorothy Kellogg.

Mr. Sudhalter ranged widely across the jazz scene, from critic to concert producer to bandleader to scholar to raconteur to teacher to album annotator. He shared a Grammy in 1982 for notes he and John Chilton wrote for “Bunny Berigan (Giants of Jazz).” He organized the New Paul Whiteman Orchestra; became an admired fixture on the classic-jazz scene, playing with groups that included the short-lived but highly lauded Classic Jazz Quartet; and recorded for Audiophile, Challenge and other labels.

In his 1999 book, “Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945” (Oxford), he strove to controvert the widely held belief that white players contributed little to the development of jazz. His account began at jazz’s inception in New Orleans, providing captivating accounts of many important soloists, among them Bix Beiderbecke, Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden, Red Norvo, Bud Freeman, the Dorsey brothers, Bunny Berigan, Pee Wee Russell and Artie Shaw.

Jason Berry, in The New York Times Book Review, praised the book’s “elegant musical analysis” and did not dispute that whites greatly contributed to jazz. But Mr. Berry questioned whether Mr. Sudhalter had properly apportioned credit by giving too much of it to whites.

Writing in The Atlantic Monthy, William H. Youngren defended Mr. Sudhalter’s balance, saying the tendency at the time would be to see the book as an attack on black achievement. “Nothing could be further from Sudhalter’s intent,” he wrote.

A month before the book was released, The Times published a long essay on the topic by Mr. Sudhalter in its Arts & Leisure section. A storm of letters followed.

In an interview with Contemporary Authors, Mr. Sudhalter said most critics had not grasped his point. “The angrier the denunciation, it seemed, the less the writer had actually read,” he said. His book, he said, was a history, not “a racial screed.”

Mr. Sudhalter, who was a music critic for The New York Post in the 1970s and ’80s, also wrote “Bix: Man and Legend” (Arlington House), a highly praised 1974 biography of Beiderbecke, with Philip R. Evans. His friend the critic Terry Teachout compared its thoroughness to “a scholarly biography of a major classical composer.”

In 2002 Mr. Sudhalter published “Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael” (Oxford). Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post said the book showed “that Carmichael’s mind was deeper and tougher than first impressions might suggest.”

Richard Merrill Sudhalter was born in Boston on Dec. 28, 1938. His father was a saxophonist who adored jazz, particularly Beiderbecke, and took his son’s musical education seriously. By his teens the younger Sudhalter was playing his cornet in Boston clubs. He earned a degree in English literature and music from Oberlin, worked as a musician in Germany and then was a reporter for United Press International in Europe.

He gave more emphasis to playing after he visited the Williams College library to research his Beiderbecke book. He discovered all the arrangements of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra of the 1920s, in which Beiderbecke had played, and decided to form a band to play the arrangements.

So he returned to London, where he was then living, and gathered top British musicians to play as the New Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Fans applauded them wildly at a jazz festival, a recording was made four days later, and the group went on to successful appearances at Carnegie Hall and elsewhere. Mr. Sudhalter played the cornet in the role of Beiderbecke, with inflections reminiscent of his other idols, Louis Armstrong and Bobby Hackett.

In addition to Ms. Kellogg, Mr. Sudhalter is survived by his sister, Carol, of Queens; his brother, James, of Harrisburg, Pa.; and his daughters Adrian, of Manhattan, and Kimberly, of Hollywood, Calif.

Dan Morgenstern, director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, said jazz lovers were disappointed years ago when the Classic Jazz Quartet suddenly broke up after the death of its pianist, Dick Wellstood. He recalled that all four members of the group were writers of various sorts, and all had a hearty sense of humor.

Their first choice for a name, Mr. Morgenstern said, was the Bourgeois Scum, but “they were told that was not commercial.”

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