Avoiding academic blathering and worshipful reverence, NPR’s Ben Sidran was a deft and effective interviewer. On his program Sidran on Record-which aired from the summer of 1984 to the spring of 1990-he redefined the art of talking shop with jazz musicians.
Now these conversations-60 in total-are available in a 24-CD box set entitled Talking Jazz: An Oral History, in which Sidran narrowed down his favorite interviews from well over 100; among these are dialogues with legends like Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins and Jackie McLean. Notable non-musicians like recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder, spoken-word maverick Ken Nordine and Village Vanguard owner Max Gordon are also represented.
Sidran, who is also a successful jazz/rock pianist, composer and producer, answered the following queries via e-mail. The set is available at talkingjazz.com.
JazzTimes: Who were your favorite subjects and why?
Naturally I have some great memories of the afternoons spent sitting around a microphone with these musicians-especially Miles at his beach house in Malibu, where he wound up taking me through his wife Cicely Tyson’s closet to show me how many clothes she had; or Dizzy in a hotel suite in Chicago with all three televisions tuned to different stations, showing me how he packed his suitcase; or Dr. John, sitting around a piano in Chicago playing boogie-woogie-but what I love about each conversation is how they fit together to describe a life that now, only a few years later, seems long gone. In my mind, I can still see Art Blakey’s face, that gleam in his eyes as he’s telling me how he finds young players, and it’s like remembering a fire.