Harvey Pekar, the originator of the autobiographical comic American Splendor, which was later made into a critically acclaimed movie, died in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio on Monday. He was 70 years old.
Pekar's stories of the mundane, usually centered around the colorful characters he worked with while a clerk with the Veteran's Administration, brought him collaboration with noted underground illustrators such as R. Crumb. His quirky personality came to the forefront of American culture when he appeared as a frequent guest on Late Night with David Letterman in the late 1980s.
The film premiered in 2003, with actor Paul Giamatti playing Pekar, but Pekar himself also appeared in live and animated form in several scenes.
What isn't as well known about Pekar was that he was a long time jazz critic, whose pieces were published by Jazz Times, Downbeat and The Village Voice. He also regularly wrote liner notes for Verve and other record labels. In a previous interview with smithmag.net, Pekar listed his "Top 10 Jazz Innovators." It's a great primer or refresher for our readers:
Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers
"A great early jazz composer/arranger."
RECOMMENDED: Jelly Roll Morton, Vol. 2: The Red Hot Peppers
Louis Armstrong with Earl Hines
"Swing wasn't exactly a quality of jazz in the beginning; it started about 1923 with Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. Armstrong's playing was idea rich and thrilling. The combination of Armstrong on trumpet and Hines on piano was just amazing. Huge innovators."
RECOMMENDED: The Louis Armstrong Collection, Vol. 4: Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines
Duke Ellington"Around 1940/41 Ellington and Basie had the two greatest big bands in jazz history. Ellington was the greatest composer/arranger and his personnel was at a peak in 1941 with Jimmy Blanton on bass and Ben Webster on tenor sax."
RECOMMENDED: Never No Lament: The Blanton/Webster Band
"In the '30s, Basie led the greatest most swingin'est big band rhythm section of all time, the 'All American Rhythm Section' with Basie on piano, Jo Jones on drums, Freddie Greene on guitar, and Walter Page on bass."
RECOMMENDED: Count Basie: The Complete Decca Recordings
Lester Young (with Count Basie)
"Young was incredibly graceful and swinging on tenor sax and had a great melodic imagination. His work with Count Basie on Columbia is particularly of note. It's also worth listening to the classic sides he did with Billie Holiday."
RECOMMENDED: Count Basie: America's Number 1 Band, The Columbia Years
Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker
"The main contributors to the bebop movement, to creating the language of bebop in the early '40s. Their collaborations are coincidentally the best stuff they ever did and my favorite is the complete Savoy records . . . but 'Bird & Diz,' the reunion record they did in 1950, was somethin'. I don't know what they had in mind before they came to that session, but it's like they were loaded for bear, not necessarily to tangle with each other but wanting to play their best. At that session, both of them invented licks and phrases that they never played before -- as good as they were they had pet licks -- but this was fresh and just unprecedented . . . they were so imaginative, and it was still bebop."
RECOMMENDED: Bird & Diz
"Miles was very sharp and at different points he would take an overview of the whole jazz scene, who was heading in the direction he was wanting to go in . . . he was often the second guy, the guy who popularized movements not who started them. 'Kind of Blue' did that for modal jazz, and the guy he brought in with the sound he wanted was pianist Bill Evans."
RECOMMENDED: Kind of Blue
"'Giant Steps' -- on this record Coltrane plays with blistering heat and boundless imagination."
RECOMMENDED: Giant Steps
"The records Coleman made for Atlantic was the real beginning of Free Jazz, which means jazz not based on set foundation like chord changes or anythin'. His band was terrific with [Coleman on sax], Scott LoFaro and Charlie Haden on bass, Ed Blackwell on drums, and Don Cherry on trumpet."
RECOMMENDED: Beauty Is A Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings