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April 2008

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Venue:
Kelly Writers House, University of Pennsylvania3805 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA Map
Price: Free Admission
Wednesday, April 9, 2008 - 8:00pm

Sheets of Sound with Francis Davis

Please join Ars Nova Workshop for a very special event featuring acclaimed writer Francis Davis, who will discuss his work-in-progress Sheets of Sound. Mr. Davis will read from his highly-anticipated book, and discuss his writing practices, research and challenges while constructing the first literary biography of the great saxophonist John Coltrane (1926-67).

Sheets of Sound (the title is the critic Ira Gitler's phrase for the rush and simultaneity of notes in Coltrane's solos) will be the first Coltrane biography to give a sense of place in his detailing his childhood and adolescence in High Point, North Carolina (a segregated Southern town founded by Quakers, with no legacy of slavery) and his musical apprenticeship in Philadelphia. It will also be the first to draw extensively from the journals of one of his lovers, an Isabel Archer-type who was his closest confidant for eight years beginning in 1957.

Francis Davis is a Contributing Editor of The Atlantic, a columnist for the Village Voice, and the author of In the Moment (Oxford University Press, 1986), Outcats (OUP, 1990), The History of the Blues (Hyperion, 1995), Bebop and Nothingness (Schirmer, 1996), Like Young (Da Capo, 2001), Afterglow: A Last Conversation with Pauline Kael (Da Capo, 2002), and Jazz and Its Discontents: A Francis Davis Reader (Da Capo, 2004).

Mr. Davis was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. The following year, he received both a Pew Fellowship in the Arts (for Literary Nonfiction) and a Morroe Berger-Benny Carter Fellowship from the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, Newark. From 2001-2, he was a Senior Fellow in the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University. In 1989, he received a Grammy nomination for his liner notes (co-authored with Martin Williams and Dick Katz) to Jazz Piano, an anthology released by the Smithsonian Collection of Recordings. He has won five ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards for excellence in music journalism since 1998, most recently in 2007 for "The Singing Epidemic," an essay published in The Atlantic. Also in 2007, he received an award for Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism from the Jazz Journalists Association, only the ninth writer ever to be so honored.

Explaining how on earth he dropped out of Temple University in 1969, without earning his B.A. in English despite completing honors work in Irish Poetry and Drama, and in Psychoanalysis and Literature, Mr. Davis usually says "It was the '60s" and lets it go at that. He has returned to the classroom on numerous occasions since, but always as an instructor or guest lecturer, never as a student. He taught a combined graduate and undergraduate course in Jazz and Blues in the Department of Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania in 1995 and 1996. He has read from and spoken about his work, and participated on or moderated panels at Reed College, Columbia University, Yale University, Long Island University-Brooklyn, and his alma mater as well as at Lincoln Center, the Village Vanguard, and the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel. He was plenary speaker at the seventh annual conference of the Modernist Studies Association in Chicago, in 2005.

Mr. Davis has also been active in radio and film, writing scripts for National Public Radio's Jazz Alive and Jazz Profiles, conducting interviews for the San Francisco-based series City Arts and Lectures, and hosting and producing Interval, a weekly program of jazz criticism, for WHYY-FM (Philadelphia), from 1978 to 1983. He was the jazz critic for the NPR program Fresh Air in 1987. He produced a jazz film festival for the Ritz Five Theater, in Philadelphia, in 1982, and served as Music Consultant for Saxophone Colossus, a 1986 film biography of the tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins.

Mr. Davis lives in Philadelphia with his wife, the radio host and producer Terry Gross. He is currently at work on another collection of his profiles and essays, and a biography of the saxophonist and composer John Coltrane, to be published by Alfred A. Knopf.