8:30 PM20:30

Constellation, Chicago

Constellation, on the north side of Chicago, just might be the finest jazz club in America that I still haven't visited. I'm looking forward to rectifying that.


Mike Reed, a drummer, composer, bandleader and organizer of boundless vitality and bright ideas, is the owner of Constellation. And he has not only graciously agreed to open the club's doors; he will take part in a conversation with me about the book and its themes. Reed will also offer a tantalizing preview of The City Was Yellow: The Chicago Suite, which he's presenting the following night at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival. 

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3:00 PM15:00

Hyde Park Jazz Festival, Chicago

  • Reva & David Logan Center For the Arts (map)
  • Google Calendar ICS

The Hyde Park Jazz Festival, now in its 12th season, consolidates a great array of artistry and talent on the South Side of Chicago. "No other jazz festival in the Chicago area, and few elsewhere in the country, embraces and celebrates its neighborhood as effectively as the Hyde Park event has since its inception," wrote the Chicago Tribune critic Howard Reich in his review of the 2017 edition.

For this among other reasons, I've been meaning to attend the Hyde Park Jazz Festival for a number of years. There was always a scheduling conflict, or some prior obligation. So I'm really pleased to be attending (and presenting!) this year, as part of the festival's lineup at the Logan Center screening room, on campus at the University of Chicago. I'll talk about Playing Changes with Mike Reed, the brilliant drummer, composer, bandleader and organizer. (Mike and I will get warmed up the night before on the North Side with an event at his club, Constellation.) Many thanks to Kate Dumbleton, the festival's executive and artistic director, for making this event a possibility.

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5:00 PM17:00

Kelly Writers House, Philadelphia


At one point in my early 20s, the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania was a literal second home. During my senior year, when I had a job as its first assistant coordinator, I probably sent more cumulative hours there than at my actual apartment: shuttling brilliant novelists and poets to and from 30th Street Station; listening to said writers both in formal and informal settings; playing a Thursday-night gig with my resident jazz combo, a quintet. (Somewhere there's tape.) This photo at right is me as a college senior, reading an occasional poem for the Kelly Writers House grand reopening in 1997. 

So there was never any doubt that the KWH would be the Philadelphia stop on my book tour. I'm looking forward to seeing some familiar faces there — and, I'm sure, some new faces too.

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7:00 PM19:00

BRIC JazzFest, Brooklyn


The marquee New York City event for Playing Changes will be this reading and discussion, presented as a part of the 2018 BRIC JazzFest in downtown Brooklyn. It's free and open to the public, though an RSVP is required. Folks from Greenlight Bookstore will be on hand to sell copies of the book, which I'll be happy to sign.


I couldn't be happier about this event, which will largely consist of a conversation between myself, trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard, and guitarist and singer-songwriter Camila Meza. These artists, both appearing on this year's BRIC JazzFest, represent two generations of improvisers, hailing from different backgrounds and cultures but with a clear overlap of creative intention. Blanchard came up in the first wave of so-called Young Lions in the early 1980s, and has since become a leading mentor of his generation, as well as an acclaimed film and operatic composer. He's a proud product of New Orleans, though his perspective is emphatically global.

Camila Meza Promo Photo Header.jpg

Meza, born in Santiago, Chile, is another artist of cosmopolitan ideals. She's a brilliant guitarist, and could easily have established a career on that basis alone. But she's also a composer and a singer, with a style that streamlines even the most sophisticated inflection and turn of phrase. Meza has an album coming out soon with her Nectar Orchestra; her most recent release, Traces, was widely and justly acclaimed. 

I'm really looking forward to this one, and hope you can join us. 

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7:30 PM19:30

SFJAZZ, San Francisco

There isn't a more dynamic jazz organization in the world than SFJAZZ, a nonprofit founded some 35 years ago by Randall Kline.

 Ben Ratliff at an SFJAZZ Listening Party, 2017. © Scott Chernis Photography

Ben Ratliff at an SFJAZZ Listening Party, 2017. © Scott Chernis Photography

In addition to the San Francisco Jazz Festival, SFJAZZ runs fantastic year-round programming at a purpose-built facility in the Hayes Valley neighborhood. I covered the opening of the building in 2013, and have been eagerly plotting my return. 

I'm excited to be a part of the 2018-9 SFJAZZ season with a Listening Party — an onstage conversation with Kline and members of the audience, around various themes and touchstones in Playing Changes. I'll be thinking about my playlist for the event, which will surely dovetail with the 129 Essential Albums list at the end of the book.

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5:00 PM17:00

Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson

  • Reem-Kayden Center Laszlo Z. Bito '60 Auditorium (map)
  • Google Calendar ICS

My second Hudson Valley event will be a presentation at Bard — part book lecture, part onstage Q&A, with plenty of musical illustration — in the Reem-Kayden Center Laszlo Z. Bito '60 Auditorium. I’m really looking forward to this one. It’s free and open to the public, so please come by!

Copies of Playing Changes will be available thanks to Oblong Books, an excellent indie bookseller in Rhinebeck.

Special thanks to Pete L’Official and the American Studies Program, which is co-presenting this event with the Africana Studies Program, the Division of Languages and Literature, and the Ethnomusicology Program.

For more info, contact Pete at 845-758-7662, or

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7:00 PM19:00

Hudson Valley Vinyl, Beacon

Any small city in America would consider itself fortunate to have a record store like Hudson Valley Vinyl. Since opening a little over a year ago in my adopted hometown of Beacon, it has been a magnet for serious collectors and dabblers alike, and an excellent hang besides. This past April, on Record Store Day, the amazing electronic artist Four Tet played a live set there, just because. 


So I was thrilled when Chris and John, the shop's owners, suggested I hold a book party there. Emphasis on the word "party" — this will all unfold in the midst of Beacon's Second Saturday celebration, and I'll spin records from the store as well as my own collection. Copies of Playing Changes will be available for purchase thanks to Binnacle Books, yet another righteous anchor of Main Street. If you're local, come on out. If you're not, here's a good excuse for a weekend getaway.

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3:30 PM15:30

Detroit Jazz Festival


The Detroit Jazz Festival is often proudly hailed as the world's largest free jazz fest, but until I finally attended last year, I didn't quite grasp what that means. Taking up an enormous swath of urban downtown real estate for the duration of Labor Day weekend, it's as much a grand civic tradition as it is an artist showcase. This will be its 39th annual edition, and I've met folks older than me who have gone every year, since they were children.

Because there's so much local pride in the festival, and because Detroit was and still is an important jazz town, the feeling on the ground is different than at so many other events of its kind. Every single set is free of charge, but audiences take the music seriously, no less than if they had paid top dollar. Last year, the artist-in-residence was Wayne Shorter, and I was serving as an emissary of Jazz Night in America, which documented him there, in an all-star group with Esperanza Spalding on bass and vocals and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. This year, Spalding and Carrington will anchor a resident ensemble in tribute to the late Geri Allen; the artist-in-residence is Chick Corea.

Talk Tent Detroit.jpg

One small but terrific innovation of the Detroit Jazz Festival is its Talk Tent, a dedicated space on the main thoroughfare that features interviews and discussions throughout the weekend. Programmed by Jim Gallert and Lars Bjorn, it's a great environment for close-up interaction with artists and writers. The photo at right is a pic I snapped last year: Detroit's own critic and historian Mark Stryker speaking with Danilo Pérez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade, about the mysterious ways of playing with Wayne. (Something I write about in the book, as a matter of fact.)

I'll be at the Talk Tent on Sunday afternoon, discussing Playing Changes. Right now I'm not at liberty to say who, but I'll be joined by a very special guest. The event, like all programming at the Detroit Jazz Festival, is free and first-come, first-served. Come say hello!



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12:00 PM12:00

Newport Jazz Festival, Newport, R.I.

I'm proud to be presenting a talk at the 2018 Newport Jazz Festival, and while it isn't technically a book-release event, it falls close enough to count. 


My talk, Lensing the Newport Mob: On Jazz on a Summer's Day, is a historical and critical analysis of Bert Stern's film, which famously documented the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. (So in a sense, it's a 60th-anniversary observance.) This was originally the keynote address for the 2016 Film and Literature Conference at Rowan University. I'll be using images and music to illustrate the talk, and answering questions afterward.

Please join me for Lensing the Newport Mob during the first day of the festival, in the Storyville space at Fort Adams State Park. 

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