Fall 2000 Volume XXX, No. 1
Life with Fatha
by Jeff Taylor
Seven Steps to Piano Heaven: The Artistry of Sir Roland Hanna
by Mark Tucker
Visualizing Modernity and Tradition in Copland's America
by Gail Levin
by H. Wiley Hitchcock
Local Music/Global Connections Conference
by Ray Allen
Country and Gospel Notes
by Charles Wolfe
Rediscovering the Sylviad
by Douglas A. Lee
by Marc E. Johnson
by George Boziwick
by H. Wiley Hitchcock
Pianist, teacher, jazz scholar, and lecturer Mark Tucker succumbed to lung cancer on 6 December 2000. In the context of I.S.A.M. and this Newsletter, his work as a compelling writer on jazz and other popular music comes to mind.
In the fall of 1981, over the Institute’s transom came a brief news note from one Mark Tucker about an enterprise he and a friend, both doctoral candidates in the University of Michigan School of Music, had organized—a Society for the Promotion of American Music. Mark’s write-up of SPAM (!) gave us our first inkling of his gifts as a writer of witty, economical, incisive prose: he ended it by saying, “So, in a town where tofu and sprouts are easier to find than meat and potatoes, SPAM is losing some of its bad rep, as Ann Arborites discover that it can be a wholesome and nutritious addition to their cultural diet.” Of course we printed his note in the Newsletter.
A year later, Mark’s friend and future wife Carol Oja was the I.S.A.M. Research Assistant and acting Newsletter editor. In the Fall 1982 issue, over Mark’s byline she printed a piece titled “Behind the Beat,” introducing it as a regular “ongoing column on jazz, rock, blues, funk—any and all forms of American vernacular music.” Regular, ongoing, and diverse it was, indeed: Mark missed hardly an issue for almost twenty years. His main emphasis was jazz, and thus, naturally, music of black performers. The column was a cornucopia of brief reviews of new publications; new recordings and reissues; new institutes and centers. But he often broadened out into blues, ragtime, and pop/rock (e.g., a 1984 column comparing new superstars Michael Jackson and Prince); and he didn’t neglect white jazz (e.g., a 1991 piece on Vince Giordano). Sometimes Mark upstaged himself by replacing “Behind the Beat” with a lead article—such as a lengthy Fall 1988 piece “Evaluating Ellington.” Other treasurable columns included “Mingusology” (Fall 1992), “No Commercial Potential” on Frank Zappa (Fall 1993), and “Invincible Man” on Louis Armstrong (Fall 1997).
Meanwhile, Mark was writing books. His first was an oral history, Jazz from the Beginning (1988), based on some thirty lengthy interviews of the elderly jazzman Garvin Bushell. Next came a revision of Mark’s dissertation: Ellington: The Early Years (1991), documenting the Duke up to the Cotton Club era, “before he had become famous as a composer, bandleader, and recording artist.” Then came The Duke Ellington Reader (1993), a compilation and brilliant annotation of published articles by and about Ellington—a seminal model for similar “readers” by others. Then Mark began work on the first full-length study of the music of Thelonious Monk, to be titled Blue Sphere; its organization, in about forty fairly brief chapters, was inspired by Robert Richardson’s biography Emerson: The Mind on Fire (1995)—reflecting Mark’s voracious reading outside of music. By late 1999, Mark had drafted ten chapters . . . but did not live to complete the book.
Through all this prolific writing, Mark continued to play the piano—his own brand of elegant jazz and meticulous reproductions of performances by Morton, Hines, Ellington, Monk, and others (derived from recordings, thanks to Mark’s extraordinary ear). It was this vital involvement with the living stuff of music that made his writing, teaching, and lecturing cogent—and intellectually and spiritually important. His is an incalculable loss to music and its scholarship.