The Complete Collection Of Gene Lees' Jazzletter Is Now Online
Gene Lees (1928-2008) was a journalist, novelist, lyricist, vocalist, and a perceptive writer on music in general, and jazz in particular. Born in Canada, he began as a journalist there, came to the USA and wrote on the arts in the Louisville Times, was editor of Down Beat from 1959 to 1961, and a contributing editor at Stereo Review and then High Fidelity during the 1960s, where he became a mentor for me, because he wrote so well about the things that he loved. Gene's entry in my Encyclopedia has a fuller list of his accomplishments:
In 1981, tired of working for commercial publishers, whose advertising departments often called the shots, Gene began publishing his monthly Jazzletter. It was highly regarded by musicians and critics alike for its treasure trove of interviews and personal recollections of encounters with musicians and songwriters of the "Great American Songbook", many of whom were his friends: Bill Evans, Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, Oscar Peterson, Clark Terry, Johnny Mercer, and many more; and for his sharp and opinionated musings on American popular music and any number of related societal subjects. He wrote most of the Jazzletter himself, but invited a number of musicians and critics to contribute, such as Mike Zwerin, Bobby Scott, Bill Crow, Grover Sales, Dick Sudhalter, and more.
Though some of his writing for the Jazzletter was collected in several (sometimes award-winning) books, much of it has remained out of print, including some historical analysis (a prime example being his six-part essay A Death in the Family: The Rise and Fall of the American Song, which begins in the issue of February 1992). Another contributor to the Jazzletter was Claude Neuman, a friend of Gene's, a huge fan of the greatest American lyrics, and himself a meticulous translator of poetry. With the help of some friends, Claude and I have compiled a set of the Jazzletter, and here it is complete, for the benefit of future generations of music lovers.
The first issue was August 1981. Gene sometimes fell behind, and suffered ill- health: 1985 stops with July; February/March 1994 and July/August 2005 are each combined in one issue; there were no issues in 2006, when Gene had heart surgery, and publication stopped in November 2008. A note on copyright: this is a purely non-commercial endeavor. We have been unable to make contact with Gene’s family, but should they wish to upload or publish the Jazzletter themselves, we would gladly pass the torch to them.