Kernfeld, Barry (Dean) 1950-
KERNFELD, Barry (Dean) 1950-
PERSONAL: Born August 11, 1950, in San Francisco, CA; son of Bernard (in sales) and Elsie Marian (in sales; maiden name, Goldstein) Kernfeld; married Sally Ann McMurry (a professor of history), August 15, 1981; children: Paul McMurry, Eric McMurry. Education: Attended University of California—Berkeley, 1968-70; University of California—Davis, B.A., 1975; Cornell University, M.A., 1978, Ph.D., 1981. Politics: "Democrat and Green." Religion: "Lapsed Jew." Hobbies and other interests: Jazz saxophone.
ADDRESSES: Home—506 West Foster Ave., State College, PA 16801-4039. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Hamilton College, Clinton, NY, part-time lecturer, 1981-82; Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, lecturer, 1983-84; freelance writer, 1984—. Part-time saxophonist, 1980-84, 1994—; with Brian Tuttle and Jazza-ma-phone, recorded the album Live at Saint's Cafe, 2002. Presenter of Jazz from Europe, a weekly program broadcast by WKPS-FM Radio, 2001-03; speaker at jazz conferences.
AWARDS, HONORS: Musicology grant, Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music, 1980-81.
(Editor and contributor) The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, two volumes, Macmillan (London, England), 1988, revised and published as one volume, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1994, 2nd edition, three volumes, Macmillan (London, England), 2001, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2003.
The Blackwell Guide to Recorded Jazz, Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1991, 2nd edition, Blackwell (Cambridge, MA), 1995.
Contributor to The New Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music, 1986, and The New Harvard Dictionary of Musicians, 1996, both Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA). Contributor to periodicals, including Annual Review of Jazz Studies.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Pop Song Piracy: Bootleg Song Sheets, Fake Books, and America's First Criminal Copyright Trials.
SIDELIGHTS: Armed with a doctorate in musicology from Cornell University and with his own expertise at playing jazz saxophone, Barry Kernfeld became one of the most prominent independent scholars on jazz in the English-speaking world. Kernfeld first achieved this stature as the editor of the massive New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, published by the distinguished musicological publishing house that had, up to this point, focused almost entirely on classical music. The encyclopedic dictionary contains more than 4,500 entries, 179 of which were written by Kernfeld himself. The bulk of the entries are biographies of musicians, but the work also includes entries on other topics of interest, such as instruments, jazz styles, "Nightclubs and Other Venues," and an essay on "Arrangements" by noted arranger Gunther Schuller.
The longest entry in the volume is the 28,000-word essay titled "Jazz" by James Lincoln Collier. Prominent jazz critic John S. Wilson of the New York Times, in lauding the Grove publication as a whole, singled out Collier's work as "an exemplary summation" of the book's overall subject. Wilson declared that the book's style, although "sedate and scholarly," is "not lacking in comment or innuendo," and noted that, "Although the book's basic purpose is as a reference work, the variety of . . . entries . . . make[s] the New Grove Dictionary a fascinating field for browsing." He quibbled with Kernfeld for including many unfamiliar non-American jazz performers and "borderline" American popsters, but concluded that "in a work so filled with basic information, colorful personalities and exotic locales that for many readers provides a chance to relieve their own past, even the nitpicking can be fun."
Critic Clive Davis wrote in the London Times that Kernfield's "real achievement . . . is to have put together a coherent picture of an art-form that has taken on so many contradictory guises." Noting that the two volumes contain "enough detail to keep even the most devout buff occupied for years," Davis applauded the New Grove Dictionary as "jazz research at its most impressive." Expressing some hesitation to use the word "definitive," Davis announced nevertheless that "Kernfeld and his team have earned it." In addition to its prose entries, the dictionary contained approximately 100 musical examples, two hundred photographs, and 2,000 discographies.
Kernfeld returned to the field of jazz criticism with The Blackwell Guide to Recorded Jazz in 1991. The 446-page volume (approximately one-third the size of the New Grove Dictionary) is essentially a close look at over 100 jazz records chosen by Kernfeld from the many stages of the art form's development. Tony Russell, in the Times Literary Supplement, found the critical tone of the book uneven and expressed confusion at the organization of the discography, which was intended to provide readers with a list of basic albums for a jazz collection; responding to this objection and to complaints that the book focused too strongly on the music's formative years, Kernfeld in the second edition simplified the discographies, focusing on current compact-disc issues whenever possible, and he expanded the suggested basic collection to over 200 jazz recordings.
Kernfeld won critical favor in 1995 for his book What to Listen For in Jazz, which includes a compact disc featuring twenty-one examples of jazz in various styles. The text, which provides an introduction to jazz for the uninitiated but curious listener, is organized into seven sections dealing with the seven major topics in jazz: rhythm, form, arrangement, composition, improvisation, sound, and style. Meg Dyer, audio reviewer for the Bloomsbury Review, described the volume as "a comprehensive and accessible introduction" to its subject. Kernfeld, for his part, commented to CA at the time that he intended to continue writing about jazz on a freelance basis.
Kernfeld once told CA: "With the consistent high praise received for What to Listen For in Jazz, I seem to have entered a middle phase of my career, no longer quite the unknown jazz writer, but still variously Kernfeld, Harry Kornfelt, and in one delightful instance, Edward Barry (the new forename and dropped surname evidently generated from the standard bibliographical citation, 'ed. Barry Kernfeld'!). Work is underway on a grand second edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, to be published in three volumes with over one million additional words and countless corrections made in light of recent research. Work progresses smoothly, almost incredibly so considering the turf war that arose with the publication of the first edition. Evidently over the years the book has proved to be quite useful; that particular turf war has evaporated (though the world of jazz literature remains as contentious as ever), and leading jazz writers and musicians are now keen to help to eliminate the dictionary's warts and blemishes, insofar as that is possible in this difficult field.
"The older I get, the more obsessed I become with sorting out the who-where-when-what of jazz, and the more cautious I become in offering interpretation, because I have grown almost painfully aware of the extent to which conceptualizations of jazz are built on shaky ground. I love jazz, and I suppose you could say that I've given my life to writing about it, in an attempt to figure it out; I have no naive expectation of success in this final endeavor.
"I think that any biographical note on my career should end with recognition of my loving wife Sally McMurry, whose flourishing permanent career as professor of history at Pennsylvania State University allows me to indulge in a life of writing about and playing jazz."
Kernfeld later added:"Twenty years of jazz reference work was enough! After publishing the second edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, I was keen to do something else with the music I love. I am working on a book titled Pop Song Piracy: Bootleg Song Sheets, Fake Books, and America's First Criminal Copyright Trials. It tells the story of pop song lyrics collected on 'song sheets' which were bootlegged to the general public in the 1930s and early 1940s, after which they fell out of fashion; and the story of pop songs in musical notation collected in 'fake books' which began to be bootlegged, initially to professional musicians only, in the 1950s, and which continue to flourish, now reaching a broad audience. I endeavor to address such diverse issues as the changing nature of pop song and its relationship to copyright, the role of bootlegging in the American marketplace, the history of criminal copyright infringement cases in America, and the ways in which these two principal types of printed music piracy anticipated controversies currently swirling around recorded music piracy. The project would logically lead in the future to a second volume Pop Song Piracy: From Record Bootlegging to Internet Song-Sharing, but currently that idea is nothing more than a casual fantasy.
"As a component of my relaxed life after finishing the dictionary, I presented a well-received Jazz from Europe show weekly on the local university student station, WKPS-FM Radio, from October, 2001, to May, 2003. I continue to play jazz locally on a regular basis and in 2002 made my first compact disc, Live at Saint's Cafe, a vanity project as coleader, with vibraphonist Brian Tuttle, of the group Jazza-ma-phone. I have had the privilege of being invited to be a keynote speaker at international jazz conferences in Jyväskylä, Finland, Prague, Czech Republic, and Leeds, England. I also had the extraordinary privilege of being allowed to make a multi-track recording of a spectacular concert which Amiri Baraka gave with Archie Shepp's quartet in April, 2002, and I hope that in some future year an agreement can be made which will allow this disc to be released commercially, because it's the best recording they ever made."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bloomsbury Review, September 1995, Meg Dyer, review of What to Listen For in Jazz, p. 21.
Cadence, July, 1995, review of What to Listen For in Jazz, p. 29.
Chicago Tribune, December 11, 1988, Larry Kart, review of The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz.
Choice, March, 2002, A. J. Adam, review of The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, p. 1210.
Crescendo and Jazz Music, June-July, 1995, Ken Rattenbury, review of What to Listen For in Jazz, p. 22; August-September, 1995, Ken Rattenbury, "Addendum to Review of What to Listen For in Jazz by Barry Kernfeld," p. 2.
Jazz Educators Journal, January, 1996, Lee Bash, review of What to Listen For in Jazz, p. 117.
Jazz on CD, August, 1995, Andy Hamilton, review of What to Listen For in Jazz, p. 62.
Jazz Times, September, 1995, Jack Sohmer, review of What to Listen For in Jazz, p. 97.
Library Journal, January, 2002, Harold V. Cordry, review of The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, p. 86.
Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 23, 2001, Michael Anthony, review of The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, p. F8.
New York Times, December 30, 1988, John S. Wilson, review of The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz.
People, May 8, 1989, pp. 37-39.
Rocky Mountain News, November 16, 2001, Norman Provizer, review of The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, p. 16D.
San Francisco Chronicle, December 8, 2001, Philip Elwood, review of The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, p. D4.
Times (London, England), December 10, 1988, Clive Davis, review of The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz.
Times Literary Supplement, January 7, 1994, Tony Russell, review of The Blackwell Guide to Recorded Jazz, p. 15.
Washington Post Book World, December 4, 1994, p. 4; August 20, 1995, p. 13.