Apr 27, 2010
Gene Lees, a jazz critic and historian who approached his subject with a journalist’s rigor and an insider’s understanding, died on Thursday at his home in Ojai, Calif. He was 82. The apparent cause was a stroke, said Leslie A. Westbrook, a family spokeswoman.
The author of numerous books, Mr. Lees was not just an observer of the music scene, he was also a participant. He was an accomplished lyricist whose credits included “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars,” the English-language lyric for Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Corcovado,” sung here by Astrud Gilberto. He was also a vocalist, with several albums to his credit.
That experience, and the friendships he built over the years with musicians, singers and songwriters, informed the project that had been his primary focus since 1981: publishing (monthly at first, later at irregular intervals) the subscription-only Gene Lees Ad Libitum Jazzletter, mostly as an outlet for his own biographical and historical essays. Clearly, here was a man who was a blogger before blogging existed.
He was the editor of Down Beat magazine from 1959 to 1961 and went on to write about music for The New York Times and other publications. In addition to seven collections of Jazzletter essays, Mr. Lees’s books include biographies of musicians Woody Herman and Oscar Peterson, and the songwriters Johnny Mercer and the team of Lerner and Loewe. At the time of his death he was working on a biography of Artie Shaw.
Thanks to Frank Dickert for calling his demise to my attention.