[Dixielandjazz] Dick Sudhalter's NY Times Obit
bhaesler at bigpond.net.au
Sat Sep 20 15:47:05 PDT 2008
Thank you for the interesting NY Times obit.
The following, more personal one, by Doug Ramsey has just arrived via
a mate of mine.
Note to uninterested DJMLer friends. The following email is very long.
Please don't shoot the messenger.
Dick Sudhalter, 1938-2008
Richard M. Sudhalter gave elegance and exactness to speech, writing
and music-making. Dick's perfection of expression came in natural
flows, whether he was writing, playing the cornet or chatting over
dinner. Gene Lees observed that Dick was the only person he knew who
always spoke in perfect sentences and paragraphs. Sudhalter's mastery
of language is everywhere in his biographies of Bix Beiderbecke and
Hoagy Carmichael and his monumental study Lost Chords. Currents of
coherence, logic, passion and humor are equally evident in his playing.
A few years ago, a stroke robbed Dick of the ability to play and
caused halting speech. Then a disease called multiple system atrophy
(MSA) attacked him and, over a few years, shut down his body. He lost
speech and the use of his limbs. The disease left his intellect intact
but destroyed his ability to communicate, the thing he did
extraordinarily well. Friends and admirers around the world donated to
a fund for his medical expenses and there was a benefit concert, but
MSA is progressive and incurable. Dick died in a New York hospital
shortly after one o'clock this morning.
He sometimes used trumpet and he had a distinctive way with the
flugelhorn, but he preferred cornet, the instrument his hero
Beiderbecke stayed with despite the trumpet's having come to dominance
in jazz. Dick was a man out of his time in other ways, too. In an era
of increasingly casual dress, he preferred the bespoke tailoring he
learned to love during his London years as a UPI correspondent. He was
open-minded about new developments in jazz, but had a firm attachment
to the emotional and intellectual straightforwardness of Bix and the
Chicago School. You can hear it on all three of his instruments in
this CD with friends including Dave Frishberg, Daryl Sherman, Dan
Barrett and Bill Crow, among others. (In the picture, Dick, on the
left, is with Crow.) Sudhalter is exclusively on cornet in The Classic
Jazz Quartet with Dick Wellstood, Joe Muranyi and Marty Grosz -- a
gathering of four spirits aligned in their love for music, writing and
Because of its subtitle, Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their
Contributions to Jazz, 1915-1945 was reflexively attacked by partisans
who chose to see it as an effort to diminish the importance of black
musicians. Had they bothered to read the book, they would have found
that Sudhalter does quite the opposite while balancing the historical
record of achievement in jazz and providing deep insights into the
nature of the music. As a player, Bix was his hero and primary
influence, but Dick also wrote beautifully about Louis Armstrong in,
among other places, the notes for Heart Full of Rhythm, Vol.2, a CD
with some of the music Armstrong recorded for Decca. Here's a small
sample of his ability to draw on the present in illuminating a
performance from the past.
Pianist Bill Evans used to insist that excision of sentimentality
yielded the purest form of romanticism. My bet is he'd have been
delighted with what Louis does to "Once in a While." Even on paper its
lyric teeters precariously on the edge of bathos. Yet Louis manages
(how? what's the secret?) to strip away the self-pity and make it
affecting, even poignant.
A few months after Dick's stroke, I was in the lounge above the front
lobby of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. His close friend Daryl
Sherman was playing Cole Porter's piano and singing. She told me that
Dick was going to try to be there, but not to count on it; he was
having some bad days. Soon, though, I saw him making his slow way
across the room to where our friend Jill McManus and I were listening
to Daryl. He was impeccably turned out in sport coat, slacks and tie,
just the right late-afternoon outfit for the proper New York gentleman
of the 1940s, a decade in which I think he would have preferred to be
living. When Daryl took a break, the four of us sat chatting. Dick's
wit and incisiveness shined through the slow speech, but he tired
quickly and returned to the apartment to rest.
After that encounter, we talked by telephone a few times. Then, he
could correspond only by e-mail -- then, only through relays from
other people -- then, not at all. One can only imagine how it was for
this most articulate of men to be imprisoned within himself, unable to
express ideas or emotions.
Dick wanted to go, I'm sure of that. His ordeal is at an end. Knowing
that it was inevitable and coming soon did not prepare me for this
depth of sadness. His music, his books, the good luck of his
friendship, will enrich me for the rest of my life.
Our mutual close friend Terry Teachout was extremely helpful to Dick
in his last year or two.
The following by Terry Teachout has also just arrived from my mate:
September 19, 2008TT: Richard M. Sudhalter, R.I.P.
Dick Sudhalter wrote three of the most important books ever published
about jazz and American popular music, Bix: Man and Legend, Lost
Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945, and
Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael. He was also a
trumpet player of great elegance and distinction who didn't make
nearly as many records as he should have, though Melodies Heard,
Melodies Sweet showed him off to the best possible advantage.
In private life Dick was as dapper as his playing, and old-fashioned
in all the best ways. He liked Chicago-style jazz, British tailoring,
black-and-white movies, Marmite, and The New Yorker before Tina Brown
got her hands on it. Not surprisingly, he was more than a little bit
at odds with much of the modern world, and I suspect that he would
have been vastly happier had he been born in 1908 instead of 1938. He
was also a pessimist by nature, but like many such folks, he gave more
pleasure than he got--and, I suspect, got more pleasure than he
usually cared to admit.
Dick and I were close friends, and so it grieved me deeply when his
body began to betray him a few years ago. First came a stroke that
robbed him of the power to play his horn and left him increasingly
slow of speech (though never of mind). Then he fell victim to multiple
system atrophy, an appalling disease that in time made it impossible
for him to talk at all. That such an ailment should have struck down
so brilliantly articulate a man was one of those horrific ironies with
which life likes to remind us that it holds the whip hand.
I knew that Dick wanted to die--he told me so while he still could--
and so I suppose I should be glad that his suffering is now over. Yet
I find it impossible to greet the news of his death with anything
other than black sorrow, though I know that it will someday be a
comfort to have his books to read and his records to play. When I
heard that he was dying, I sat quietly in my hotel room for a few
minutes, then opened up my iBook and listened to the sweetly elegiac
performance of Duke Ellington's "Black Butterfly" that he recorded
with Roger Kellaway in 1999 (it's on Melodies Heard, Melodies Sweet).
It isn't given to very many of us to write our own epitaphs, much less
play them, but I can't think of a better way to sum up what Dick
Sudhalter was all about than to listen to that song.
The above obit included the following link:
Musician Richard Sudhalter; Jazz History Left Bitter NoteBy Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 20, 2008; B05
Richard M. Sudhalter, 69, a jazz musician, critic and biographer whose
history of white jazz musicians prompted gales of protest when it was
published in 1999, died Sept. 19 at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in
Manhattan, N.Y. He had multiple system atrophy, a degenerative
condition similar to Lou Gehrig's disease.
Mr. Sudhalter was a first-rate trumpet and cornet player who
specialized in the early styles of jazz. He led groups in the United
States and Europe, recorded widely and was considered one of the
finest heirs of Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Bunny Berigan and
Mr. Sudhalter's more lasting contributions, however, came as a writer,
first with "Bix: Man & Legend," a 1974 biography of Beiderbecke, the
doomed trumpet star of the 1920s who drank himself into an early grave.
Critic Terry Teachout yesterday called the book, co-written with
Philip R. Evans and William Dean-Myatt, a "landmark of jazz
scholarship" and the "first jazz biography written to the standards"
of a serious study of a classical composer or other major historical
figure. The book helped revive interest in Beiderbecke, whose lyrical
recordings and compositions have inspired generations of musicians.
In 2002, after years as a performer, promoter and critic, Mr.
Sudhalter published a biography of Indiana-born composer Hoagy
Carmichael, which Washington Post critic Jonathan Yardley pronounced
"meticulous, admiring, perceptive and informative."
But he made his greatest impact in 1999 with the 890-page "Lost
Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945."
The exhaustively researched history, which challenged the prevailing
notion that jazz was exclusively a black art form, ignited an angry
Mr. Sudhalter highlighted many ethnic and musical strands that compose
the rich brocade of jazz, emphasizing that "black and white once
worked side by side, often defying the racial and social norms of
their time to create a music whose graces reflected the combined
He delved into the lives and legacies of scores of musicians,
maintaining that many white performers, including Bud Freeman, Red
Norvo, Pee Wee Russell and Artie Shaw, had not received their full due
Many critics and musicians were incensed at Mr. Sudhalter and called
him the Pat Buchanan of jazz, referring to the often-inflammatory
conservative commentator. Saxophonist Branford Marsalis said the book
"does not deserve the dignity of a response. It's not an argument I'm
prepared to devote five minutes to."
Critic Gerald Early wrote in the Chicago Tribune, "I fear that the
length of the book may be a sign of the author's desperation."
At public forums, where he gamely tried to defend his work, Mr.
Sudhalter was sometimes mocked and jeered.
"The angrier the denunciation, it seemed, the less the writer had
actually read," he told the Contemporary Authors reference work in
2000. "Far from a racial screed, 'Lost Chords' was simply a book of
Richard Merrill Sudhalter was born Dec. 28, 1938, in Boston. He began
playing trumpet at 11, when he first heard Beiderbecke on record. In
high school, he formed groups with two classmates who became
celebrated jazz pianists, Roger Kellaway and Steve Kuhn.
At Oberlin College in Ohio, Mr. Sudhalter majored in English and
studied with a trumpeter from the Cleveland Orchestra. He graduated in
1960 and moved to Austria to teach English and play jazz.
From 1964 to 1972, he was a foreign correspondent for United Press
International, based in London, Berlin and Belgrade. He covered Cold
War flare-ups and was one of the few Western reporters to report from
inside Czechoslovakia in 1968 as dissidents battled Soviet military
In 1972, Mr. Sudhalter settled in London to concentrate on performing
and writing the biography of Beiderbecke. He also organized a 29-piece
orchestra to present the 1920s music of bandleader Paul Whiteman and
often appeared with his aging heroes, including Hackett, Freeman and
He was drawn to early jazz, he said, because "this music is more
emotionally direct than other jazz styles. After the 1940s, jazz
musicians gained more technical complexity, but they lost their warmth
In New York since 1975, Mr. Sudhalter followed a dual career as
performer and critic, including nine years as jazz writer at the New
York Post. (He usually wrote as "Richard" and performed as "Dick.") He
had a television interview program and was a concert promoter in the
In 2003, Mr. Sudhalter suffered a stroke but recovered enough to begin
performing again. Soon afterward, however, the signs of his systemic
disease appeared and eventually robbed him of all ability to
His marriages to Karen Rolf Sudhalter and Vivian Darien Sudhalter
ended in divorce.
Survivors include his companion of 22 years, Dorothy Kellogg of New
York; two daughters from his second marriage, Kimberley Sudhalter of
Los Angeles and Adrian Sudhalter of New York; a sister; and a brother.
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