John Hammond’s Jazz
If John Hammond had not been born, it would never have occurred to anyone to invent so unlikely-sounding a character. The great-great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the 19th-century railroad baron, he grew up in a mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, attended Hotchkiss and Yale—and became the greatest talent scout in the history of American popular music. Starting in the 1930’s, he was intimately involved in the early careers of Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, and Teddy Wilson, and later on he did the same thing for Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. He is widely credited with having “discovered” many of these artists, and while the use of that ambiguous word would be criticized after the fact, there can be no possible doubt that he played a pivotal role in making each of them famous.
About the Author
Terry Teachout is COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, runs through November 4 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.