Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News
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Jeff Simon

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Jeff Simon is the News' Arts and Books Editor. He has been writing for the paper since Spiro Agnew was the vice president.

Toni Morrison, the last specifically American novelist to win the Nobel Prize, was announced Thursday evening to be the headliner of the 2017-2018 season of Babel, the remarkable literary reading series sponsored by the Just Buffalo Literary Center. Morrison was an Oprah Winfrey show favorite and remains one of the most famous writers in America. She won the Nobel in 19…

Ben Wheatley laughed. We were talking about the excesses and extremist lunacy of his film "Free Fire" in which the final hour is nothing but a long gunfight with 16 gun-toting combatants played out in "real time." I tell him that just before seeing his movie, I'd seen "The Fate of the Furious" in which there was a grandly orchestrated scene of car mayhem in which a r…

JAZZ Chris Potter, "The Dreamer Is The Dream" (ECM) Utterly undeniable about Chris Potter's third and newest record for ECM is that its "cross-generational mix of personalities feels special." The two finest omni-saxophonists around were born within a year of each other -- James Carter and Potter, both of whom are in their very early '40's. Both of whom play all reed…

BIOGRAPHY Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night By Jason Zinoman Harper 344 pages, $28.99 The first thing I looked up in the excellent index to this excellent book is "cocaine." Not there. Next I tried "green room." Not there either. Taking a different tack, I tried "Bill Cosby." Uh-uh. No luck. I looked for a few more unsavory topics that might have co…

"Later Essays by Susan Sontag," Library of America, 876 pages, $45. “Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender and Feminism," by Camille Paglia, Pantheon, 315 pages, $26.95. If American literature and American feminism alike never quite succeeded in becoming the equivalent of restoration comedy, you can’t blame Camille Paglia. She certainly seemed to try. There was a…

JAZZ Buffalo Jazz Octet, "Pausa Live" (Cadence Jazz) This music was recorded live last May in Pausa Art House (19 Wadsworth St.) and it is often close to sensational. The cream of ambitious local jazz musicians appear here: alto and tenor saxophonist Kelly Bucheger (whose group is called "What Would Mingus Do?"), tenor and soprano player Nelson Rivera, baritone sa…

"The Lost City of Z" is a pretty good movie about what would have been an irresistible subject 40 years ago: a stubborn and real British "explorer" named Percy Fawcett repeatedly traveling up the Amazon River because he thinks that somewhere in the darkest and most impenetrable jungle he's going to find "The Lost City of Z." That's what he calls the remains of an ancient a…

"Free Fire" is, at long last, the perfect illustration of the phrase "guilty pleasure." It is, to me and so many others, immensely pleasurable--ridiculous, hilarious, loud absurd, exciting. But because there have always been people in my life since childhood advocating propriety, decency and law and order, I found it hard to have all that enjoyment without feeling a guilt …

JAZZ Kevin Eubanks, "East West Time Line" (Mack Avenue) This much must always be said for Jay Leno: no one ever found band leaders more deep in the jazz pocket than Leno, whose first two bands were led by saxophonist Branford Marsalis and guitarist Kevin Eubanks. As great a musician as Doc Severinsen was, he was a consummate studio trumpet player and not quite the…

It happened on May 25, 2011. America still hasn't completely recovered. The highest-rated talk show in TV history ended its 25-year run. But it was so much bigger than raw numbers. That was the date Oprah Winfrey vacated her throne as the presiding CEO of the American Zeitgeist -- the woman whose influence was, more than anyone's, responsible for the first American b…

NEW AFRICAN JAZZ Somi, "Petite Afrique" (Okeh) I don't know that jazz singing gets more personal than this. "New African Jazz" is what Somi calls her music which combines jazz, folk music, African music, R&B and pop music. She is a beautiful young American woman whose mother is from Uganda and whose father is from Rwanda. She lives now in a neighborhood famili…

FILM MUSIC John Williams and Steven Spielberg, "The Ultimate Collection" (Sony, Three discs plus DVD) No, I don't think that the collaboration of filmmaker Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams is the finest in the history of movies. What Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone did together and what Hitchcock did with Bernard Herrmann supercedes by good measure the vi…

“The Grace Paley Reader: Stories, Essays and Poetry,” edited by Kevin Bowen and Nora Paley, Introduction by George Saunders, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 371 pages, $27 When “The Collected Stories of Grace Paley” was published in 1994, many who had admired them extravagantly for decades as they emerged slowly thought that it would be the one utterly essential Grac…

CLASSICAL Lou Harrison, Violin Concerto, Grand Duo and Double Music (composed with John Cage) performed by violinist Tim Fain, pianist Michael Borisken, and the PostClassical Ensemble led by Angel Gil-Ordonez (Naxos) One of the greatest contemporary music festivals this city ever had was at Buffalo State College in the amazing period when the great critic and histori…

CABARET Betty Buckley, "Story Songs" (Palmetto, two discs) What a strange and challenging but admirable figure Betty Buckley is. Toward the lamentable end of the late Studio Arena Theatre, she was grimly miscast in the starring role of A.R. Gurney's play "Buffalo Gal" in which we were asked to believe that Buckley's Texas earthiness and musical theater extroversio…