Terry Teachout‘s 4.13 Wall Street Journal piece about film critic Otis Ferguson (1907-43) struck a chord. Ferguson’s jazzy, loose-shoe prose was a seminal influence when I first began in this racket in the late ’70s. It was Annette Insdorf who gave me a 1971 compilation of Ferguson’s film reviews. Ferguson reviewed books, movies and jazz for The New Republic from 1933 until he joined the Merchant Marines after Pearl Harbor. He was killed at age 36 by a German bomb near Salerno, Italy.
Teachout excerpt: “Like George Orwell, Mr. Ferguson was a sworn enemy of the pretentious, and he wrote in a casual, slangy ‘spoken’ style well suited to his preferred topics. He described Louis Armstrong‘s 1939 recording of ‘Bye and Bye,’ a black spiritual, as being full of ‘the sadness and hope of heaven and jumping rhythm; the open-bell trumpet tones and that magnificent husky voice of his. It is a mixture of horseplay and the faith of fathers, and not to be imitated. Not to be snooted, either.’
“That last line is Mr. Ferguson in a nutshell. Unlike most of his critical contemporaries, he understood that you can be popular and serious at the same time.”
Another key Fergsuon compilation is “In The Spirit of Jazz,” published in 1997.