I’m Todd L. Burns, and welcome to Music Journalism Insider, a newsletter about music journalism. If you’re not familiar with the newsletter already, click here to find out more.
I’m constantly trying to think about unexpected places where music journalism happens. For those who grew up in a completely digital world, you wouldn’t expect liner notes to be a place for it. But I’ve often found great writing and information you can’t get anywhere else printed on the back of an LP or stuffed into a jewel case. Each year, the Grammys highlights a fraction of this writing in their Best Liner Notes category. I reached out to all of the nominees this year to chat about their work. David Sager wrote the notes to Nat Brusiloff, Out of a Clear Blue Sky.
Can you please briefly describe the release for those that may not be familiar with it?
Out of a Clear Blue Sky is a 2-disc collection of extremely rare recordings, made between 1930 and 1934 by violinist and radio conductor Nat Brusiloff, who was quite popular in the early 1930s. He was a classically-trained child prodigy, who was at home with jazz, as well. These recordings were not made for commercial release, but rather for use on-the-air.
Have you done much writing like this before? How did you get into it?
A long-time goal of mine is to not only make accessible these historic performances, but to also share the intimacies of music with folks who may not be accustomed to hearing early recordings.
I have written many sets of album notes; they are an extension of my lifelong interest in early jazz. A few decades ago, I began writing reviews, encyclopedic essays, and began delivering papers at academic musical conferences; the album notes were a logical extension. However, the album notes really took off with the Grammy nomination for the 2005 compilation, King Oliver: Off the Record, the Complete 1923 Jazz Band Recordings. Additionally, I received my Master's degree in Jazz history and research around 15 years ago and this helped me establish a reputation.
What sort of primary material did you have to work with to write the liner notes?
For this collection, I had many decades worth of research on Nat Brusiloff, who happened to have been my great uncle. I interviewed many of his closest relatives, as well as musicians with whom he worked. Additionally, I had collected his recordings for many years, and as a result, had the musical primary sources at hand.
What's the most interesting thing that you learned while researching this music?
I discovered, much to my amazement, that there were far more extant recordings of Brusiloff that I imagined; lots of recorded material that seemed to be waiting for me to discover it!
What's next for you?
I am currently working on album notes to accompany a collection of recordings by the pioneering trombonist, composer, and conductor Arthur Pryor. I also have quite a number of freelance writing assignments.
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