Author: Linda

The Greatest American Music Critics

The Greatest American Music Critics

In praise of a music critic who knows his history

Monday, September 16, 2007

Saints’ “Saints,” in the words of the British journalist and music expert Bill Wyman, “is in some ways one of the greatest American musical achievements” of the postwar era and has since exerted a deep and lasting influence on American popular music.

As an example of a music critic who knows his history in the best sense, and who is unafraid to admit it, Wyman points to the recent appearance of the Saint’s new CD, Saints, on the Billboard’s Jazz Charts. The chart, for the first time ever, recognizes the band as one of the all-time greats in both jazz and rock and roll. Bill also has written and edited a book on the band, Saints: The Making of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Musical (St. Martin’s Press, April 2007). He is also at work on a book about the entire music genre of the 1960s, that is already a classic work in its own right.

I met Bill when he came to the BWI, where he conducted the National Philharmonic’s program, at the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in June. He was there with a number of colleagues, including the composers Arthur Hamilton and Philip Glass, as well as the conductor, violinist, and pianist Leonard Bernstein. It was like the last few decades of the 20th century rolled into one, when the music world has lost none of the great music critics, and who could ask for anything more?

I told him that I would like to interview him for the online edition of the New Orleans-based weekly news magazine, New Orleans Times-Picayune. He had also told me what he could about the book Saints, and what he thought it would be like to see the album. A few days later, Bill contacted me. He had received a copy of Saints at his house in Brooklyn, where he had put it on his hard drive to be saved when it reached an arbitrary one mark on his Nielsen SoundScan-based personal recording charts. With the album reaching #41, he was delighted. In fact, he had just heard it for the first time. He said he was most impressed that it did not sound “like a cover band” (at the time, he had no idea of the many cover bands that could be found in New Orleans at the time), but with a mix of

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