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Selected, edited and with a Preface by Bruce Kellner
Before Carl Van Vechten's later careers--as the first dance critic in America, as a best-selling novelist during the Jazz Age of the Twenties, as the leading white champion of African American arts and letters, and as a celebrity photographer--he was Assistant Music Critic for the New York Times (1906-13). Subsequently, he wrote seven volumes of lively and often audacious essays on musical subjects.
From the preface by Bruce Kellner
Carl Van Vechten’s (1880–1964) career included some perspicacious criticism at a time when somnolent audiences in America were paying little attention to the twentieth century and laboring to hang on to the nineteenth. Van Vechten’s early training in musical theory and as a pianist—he performed in public recitals on more than one occasion while he was attending the University of Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century—proved valuable. Also at that time, he became smitten with ragtime and early jazz through Chicago’s black stage shows and saloons...
During that early period in his career—in addition to his regular reviews of musical performances around the city—Van Vechten
began holding extensive “Monday Interviews” with musicians and
opera singers, a series of richly informative question and answer
sessions, masquerading as genial conversations. The reigning divas
and primo dons at that time were the popular equivalent of current
rock and rap performers on stage, or fi lm and television stars with
large followings of celebrity hunters who cling with equal vigor to
accounts of private lives and public appearances. Later, these interviews
served Van Vechten well for a book of biographical portraits
of musicians, Interpreters and Interpretations (1917, revised as Interpreters,
1920, reprinted 1977).
His pioneering essays about African American blues, jazz, and spirituals from the mid-Twenties, written at a time when white auditors still paid little if any attention to black music, are astonishingly perceptive, having had their genesis at the turn of the century for Van Vechten when he fi rst began to champion black performers and music in Chicago and New York in his early newspaper work. These too, have provided ample material for a posthumous collection, which I edited as “Keep A-Inchin’ Along”: Selected Writings about Black Arts and Letters (1979).