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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.

There is a moment in Terence Davies' "A Quiet Passion" that absolutely stunned me and will stay with me. I don't think it was meant to--not that way, anyway. But then, this is a movie that ends four or five times before it does and is, by no means, artfully precise about the life story it's telling. But that's the reason that scene  hit me so hard that it's likely to rema…

Everyone has a John Coltrane story. Everyone who ever encountered him, that is. His life was so horribly short (he died of liver cancer at 40 in 1967) and so musically puzzling and disturbing at the end that those tales never get old. All of us who experienced him at all in the flesh (I spent an evening watching him perform at the late and long lamented Royal Arms) have…

"Welcome to the series finale of the White House Correspondent's Dinner," wisecracked Hasan Minhaj on Saturday night. Hasan Who? Minhaj, or, if you want to know, the very reason I made it a point to watch. While I would never waste a second praising the orgy of showbiz and political coziness that Washington's annual event devolved into, I've long been a dedicated wat…

CLASSICAL Liszt, "Opera and Song for Solo Piano" performed by pianist Gabor Farkas (Steinway) At one time, the music on this would have epitomized the "claptrap and vulgarity" that Liszt, the matinee idol, brought into the concert hall and turned him into something of a forerunner of rock stardom. This is Liszt playing familiar favorites that a rocker would descri…

JAZZ Cameron Graves, "Planetary Prince" (Mack Avenue) A new and exciting kind of jazz neo-primitivism fully takes hold with this exceptional record by composer and pianist Cameron Graves. He is prominent in the overrated music of saxophonist Kamasi Washington, who returns the favor and appears here with Graves. What these guys are doing with pounding ostinatos and…

My Life With Bob by Pamela Paul, Henry Holt, 142 pages, $27. It is a confession of no small deficiency to admit that one of the last places on this earth I expected to find conspicuous public whimsy is in the current editor of the New York Times Book Review and, indeed, the Maharini of all New York Times book coverage. But there it is, big as life and just as brazen …

JAZZ Ella Fitzgerald, Ella 100: 100 Songs for a Centennial" (Verve, four discs) Ella Fitzgerald figures crucially in two of the greatest stories I know about the eternal mystery of fame in America. One is glorious and beautiful, the other is horrifying. Both are about the woman whose 100th birthday we celebrated on Tuesday and which will continue to be observed all y…

Her boyfriend is fed up. It's nothing new for her to stay out all night. Or to drink so much that she's still drunk when she does finally amble home to his apartment. Or to remember so little from her alcohol blackouts that she can't really remember whom she'd been with. It has happened so often, unfortunately, that he's not going to put up with it anymore. So he pac…

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…