Society for American Music

Bulletin, Volume XXVII, no. 1 (Spring 2001)


Jazz scholarship has suffered a major loss. Mark Tucker (1954-2000), author is two books on Duke Ellington and articles on a variety of jazz topics, passed away on December 6, 2000, at the age of 46. A non-smoker, Tucker succumbed to lung cancer. In all of his writings, Tucker demonstrated an exemplary, methodical approach to research and analysis, coupled with a precise and clear writing style. His first book, "Jazz from the Beginning": By Garvin Bushell, as Told to Mark Tucker (University of Michigan Press, 1988), joins some 60 hours of interviews and written materials by Bushell to produce an invaluable perspective of jazz.

In Tucker's major work, Ellington: The Early Years (University of Illinois Press, 1991), he uses musical transciptions, exacting analyses, and interviews to present a musical and personal portrait of the young Ellington through 1927. His Duke Ellington Reader (Oxford University Press, 1993) provides a collection of more than one hundred articles and essays. He left unfinished a book on Thelonious Monk.

Among Tucker's many articles, "In Search of Will Vodery," in the Black Music Research Journal (Spring 1996), stands out as a path-breaking study of the vitally important but mostly forgotten composer-arranger. The work's solid scholarship and significance earned the Sonneck Society for American Music's Irving Lowens Article Award.

Tucker's column "Behind the Beat," appearing regularly in the ISAM Newsletter (Institute for Studies in American Music, at Brooklyn College), covered the full spectrum of jazz with incisive commentary.

In addition to writing books and articles, he was a consulting editor with the Black Music Research Journal (Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College, Chicago). In this capacity, he also took charge of two special issues: the fall 1993, devoted to Ellington's extended composition Black, Brown, and Beige, and the fall 1999, devoted to Thelonious Monk.

Tucker earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in piano at Yale University, and went on to another master's and a Ph.D. in musicology at University of Michigan. He taught at Columbia University for several years and then at the College of William and Mary, where he was David N. and Margaret C. Bottoms Professor of Music and American Studies, a title he shared with his wife, musicologist Carol Oja. He was, by all accounts, a superb and dedicated teacher.

Travis Jackson relates the interest that Tucker had in his students' work: "When I was doing fieldwork for an ethnomusicological dissertation on the New York jazz scene in the 90s, Mark accompanied me on a couple of my outings to get a better sense of what the fieldwork entailed."

I never had the opportunity to observe Tucker in his class, but a few years ago I attended a lecture/demonstration he gave at Columbia University's Miller Theater. For a good two hours, he engaged the audience's attention as he discussed Ellington's music, illustrating his points with superb piano renditions. Although I had often enjoyed his conference lectures, this was the first time I had heard him at the piano. It was a masterful performance, both pedagogically and pianistically.

Many others had comparable impressions of Tucker's musicianship.

Andrew Homzy, an Ellington specialist and professor at Concordia University in Montreal, used Tucker as pianist for his reconstruction of Ellington's "Blue Belles of Harlem," performed at the Amherst College Duke Ellington Symposium in 1999. Homzy writes: "As I directed with Mark as pianist -- he had a few solos in the pieces we played -- I thought: Who else in the world could bring so much knowledge and skill to the interpretation of this music? ... Here is a great talent who would be welcome in ANY jazz band."

Adrienne Fried Bloch recalls, "My favorite memory of him is playing the piano. His focus was so complete, what I heard was really wonderful, as if there was a perpetual musical stream inside that he tapped into whenever he played."

Despite his illness, Tucker did not cut back appreciably on his activities, helping us in the false optimism that he would overcome this affliction. His schedule in his last year was rigorous. He continued producing articles regularly, spoke at professional conferences, met his duties as vice president of the Society for American Music (formerly the Sonneck Society).

Among his last official acts for the Society, he arranged for jazz pianist Oscar Peterson to receive an honorary membership at the fall 2000 conference in Toronto.

When Tucker failed to attend, to greet and present Peterson personally, we realized his condition was worse than we had imagined.

The profession has been hard hit by this loss. Paul Machlin, noted Fats Waller specialist, wrote, "I sense that there is a kind of pervasive sadness about Mark's passing that many in our discipline are feeling, knowing that we've lost an authentic intellect, a brigth and incisive mind that focused intently and skillfully on music that we've all loved for a long time." Early jazz and Jelly Roll Morton scholar Larry Gushee put it more briefly and colloqually: "I can't come up with words for how bummed I am by this. Too cruel, too soon."

There have already been several memorial tributes for Tucker. At one, University of Indiana professor Jeff Magee, author of a forthcoming book on Fletcher Henderson, remarked that, after learning of Tucker's illness a yar ago, he wrote to him and received this response: "I read a recent interview with Albert Murray where he said that while we don't know how many bars we have left to us, the important thing is to keep swinging. That's advice I'm trying to take to heart."

We all regret that the measures of Tucker's life were so few. But we can still hear him in his writings, in his students, in the legacy he left to his colleagues and the jazz public.

--Edward A. Berlin
The Mississippi Rag, February 2001
Reprinted with permission

With the death of Bill Lichtenwanger (1915-2000) on December 16, 2000, American music lost one of its most venerable and knowledgeable authorities, in specialties that ranged across the spectrum of our field and encompassed its whole.

Born on February 28, 1915, in Asheville, North Carolina, he studied at the University of Michigan and, with an interruption for wartime service, served on the staff of the Music Division of the Library of Congress until his retirement in 1974. Here, as part of an eminent staff (includng Harold Spivacke, Edward N. Waters, Richard S. Hill, and Frank C. Campbell), he became preeminent as the master reference specialist, the one who made sense out of disorganized collections and found things in them, the strategist for answering the unanswerable, the councel for perplexed researchers.

In the course of his work on American popular music, he learned the curious and chaotic history of copyright registration and deposit practices. As a wind player, he curated the Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection in a day when it was being rediscovered. He saw to it that the Budapest String Quartet came to know a bit about the Washington Senators. Henry Cowell found in him a devoted chronicler, Nicholas Slonimsky found in him an encyclopedic memory to match his own. He helped Irving Lowens uncover the notebooks of Oscar Sonneck, and he inherited Richard S. Hill's mantle in studying The Star Spangled Banner.

He edited the book reviews in Notes during its formative years, and served as the archivist of for this society, 1977-87; as a member of the Editorial Board of American Music, 1983-86; Chair of the Lowens Book Award Committee, 1988; and on the Honors Committee, 1990-1995. In 1989 he received the Society's first Distinguished Service citation, for outstanding service to the Society and in the field of American music, while his book Oscar Sonneck and American Music (University of Illinois Press, 1983) was the first work to receive support from the Society's Publication Fund.

Although he was plagued by poor health for many years, he could always be depended on for intellectual energy and quiet personal support. He characterized what we aspire to.

--D.W. Krummel
University of Illinois, Urbana

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