Reich, Howard 1954-
REICH, Howard 1954-
PERSONAL: Born April 19, 1954, in Chicago, IL; son of Robert and Sonia Reich; married Pam Becker (a journalist), June 29, 1986. Education: Northwestern University, B.Mus., 1977.
ADDRESSES: Offıce—Chicago Tribune, 435 North Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.
CAREER: Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL, arts critic and jazz music critic, 1983—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fellow of Music Critics Association, 1976; awarded key to the city of Fort Worth, Texas, 1993; Beck Award from Chicago Tribune.
Van Cliburn, Thomas Nelson (Nashville, TN), 1993.
(With William Gaines) Jelly's Blues: The Life, Music, and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton, DaCapo Press (Cambridge, MA), 2003.
Contributor to magazines, including Down Beat, and newspapers.
SIDELIGHTS: Howard Reich has been writing about the performing arts since 1976. As the Chicago Tribune's arts critic and jazz critic since 1983, he has interviewed and written about leading figures in the performing arts. These include Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Kelly, Martha Graham, Red Skelton, Van Cliburn, and Andres Segovia.
Reich's first book-length work, Van Cliburn, profiled that famous classical pianist who at only twenty-four won the first Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow. Taking place in 1958, at the height of the cold war, Cliburn's victory was all the more stunning as he hailed from Texas, considered at the time to be a cultural backwater. This marked the beginning of Cliburn's career, and for the next twenty years he toured and recorded extensively. Then, in 1978, he suddenly retired. A contributor for Publishers Weekly explained that Reich demonstrates how such an early retirement was caused by "burnout, not failure," as some of Cliburn's musical critics had postulated. The same reviewer noted that Reich tells his "compelling story" in the voices of many of Cliburn's colleagues, friends, and critics. Charles Ward, writing in the Houston Chronicle, noted the "enormous number of people" Reich interviewed for the biography, including extensive interviews with Cliburn himself, "suggesting this is an authorized biography." Ward commented further that Reich's description of the Moscow competition in 1958 is "particularly revealing." Reich shows in this section that Cliburn's victory was in large part due to the famous Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, who was, like Cliburn, considered a child prodigy. According to Reich, Richter was so bored by the competition and so taken with Cliburn's talent that he gave the American top points in all categories and gave all the others zero points in all categories. This early victory created a life-long love for the Russian people with Cliburn. Such a revelation was not enough to sway the opinion of Joe Queenan, however, writing in the Wall Street Journal. Queenan felt that Reich became "smitten" with his subject, and created a "large, gushy valentine" rather than a critical biography. A reviewer for the Economist (U.S.) also felt that Reich "fails to solve the mystery of the pianist's rise and disappearance." Contrary to such criticism, the reviewer for Publishers Weekly found Van Cliburn an "admirable biography."
Reich teamed up with retired investigative reporter William Gaines for the 2003 title Jelly's Blues: The Life, Music, and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton. The legendary jazz pianist lived from 1890 to 1941 and claimed to have almost single-handedly given birth to jazz. Booklist's Ray Olson noted that Reich and Gaines managed to "sift reality from hype" to show that such a claim "holds a lot of water." Morton—in addition to being a bit of an eccentric in private life and something of a braggart—was the first of the jazz men to put his compositions down on paper. He established many of the pieces that have become part of the standard jazz repertoire, and in the first decades of the twentieth century he helped to spread the popularity of jazz out of the South to cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. The authors also show that Morton recorded some of the best-ever piano solos in jazz.
Olson went on to call Jelly's Blues a "revisionist milestone in jazz studies." A contributor for Publishers Weekly called the book a "sympathetic biography," and noted that the authors demonstrate that even at the end of his life, cheated out of royalties by white publishers who would no longer publish his work, Morton "still composed revolutionary new works." A critic for Kirkus Reviews paid special attention to the "trove of uncovered historical documents" the authors employed in their research. This includes some 65,000 pieces that were assembled by one New Orleans collector. The same critic called Jelly's Blues an "important, vindicatory contribution to music history." James E. Perone, writing in Library Journal, commented that Reich and Gaines "bring to life" Morton's career from his beginnings as a pianist in a brothel to the end in 1941, reviled by younger swing musicians. Perone further observed that the authors provide "much insight into their complex subject." Peggy Scott Laborde, writing in the Times-Picayune, noted that this "sympathetic portrait" would "provide an awareness of a genius whose braggadocio may have prevented him from getting the credit he deserved." Similarly, Renee Graham, writing in the Boston Globe, felt that the biography "redeems a misunderstood life," and Joel Selvin of the San Francisco Chronicle concluded that Gaines and Reich "have rescued the real man from the dustbin of history."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 1, 2003, Ray Olson, review of Jelly'sBlues: The Life, Music, and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton, p. 1564.
Boston Globe, July 7, 2003, review of Jelly's Blues, p. B9.
Economist (U.S.), May 8, 1993, review of Van Cliburn, p. 97.
Houston Chronicle, June 13, 1993, Charles Ward, review of Van Cliburn, p. 22; October 26, 2003, Allan Turner, review of Jelly's Blues, p. 23.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2003, review of Jelly's Blues, pp. 368-369.
Library Journal, March 15, 2003, James E. Perone, review of Jelly's Blues, p. 87.
Publishers Weekly, April 5, 1993, review of VanCliburn, p. 58; March 17, 2003, review of Jelly's Blues, p. 61.
San Francisco Chronicle, May 24, 2003, Joel Selvin, review of Jelly's Blues, p. D3.
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), August 24, 2003, Peggy Scott Laborde, review of Jelly's Blues, p. D6.
Wall Street Journal, April 29, 1993, Joe Queenan, review of Van Cliburn, p. A12.*