Nearly 30 years ago, critic Martin Williams called Gary Giddins “probably the most impressive journalist ever to have written about music.” Born in Brooklyn, New York, Giddins graduated from Grinnell College in Iowa. In 1973, he joined the Village Voice, and a year later introduced his column “Weather Bird,” which he ended in 2003, closing a 30-year run during which he received many prizes, including an unparalleled six ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards for Excellence in Music Criticism.
In recent years, Giddins had contributed articles about jazz to The New Yorker and Jazz Times and a column about film directors as represented on DVD for the DGA Quarterly, the publication of the Director’s Guild of America. He has also written for The New York Times, The New York Sun, The Atlantic, The Nation, Esquire, Vanity Fair, and many other publications. His first book, Riding on a Blue Note, appeared in 1981, and was followed by Rhythm-a-Ning, Faces in the Crowd, and short critical biographies of Charlie Parker (Celebrating Bird) and Louis Armstrong (Satchmo) that he adapted into documen-tary films for PBS. He won a Peabody award for writing the PBS film John Hammond: from Bessie Smith to Bruce Springsteen, a Grammy Award for liner notes to Sinatra: The Voice, and a 1987 Guggenheim Fellowship.
In 1986, Giddins and the pianist-composer John Lewis introduced the American Jazz Orchestra, which presented jazz repertory concerts through 1992—more than 35 concerts involving Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Bennett, Bobby Short, Muhal Richard Abrams, Gerry Mulligan, Henry Threadgill, Bob Brookmeyer, Jimmy Heath, David Murray, and others.
In 1998, Giddins’s landmark work Visions of Jazz received the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism—the only time a work on jazz has won a major American literary prize. In 2001, he was featured in Ken Burns’s Jazz on PBS. That year he also published the first volume of his biography, Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, which won the Ralph Gleason Music Book Award, the Theater Library Association Award for books on film and broadcasting, and an ARSC award for historical research into sound recordings. In 2003, he received the lifetime achievement award from the Jazz Journalist’s Association. His most recent books are Weather Bird: Jazz at the Dawn of Its Second Century (2004), Natural Selection: Gary Giddins on Comedy, Film, Music, and Books (2006), Jazz, written with Scott DeVeaux in textbook and trade book versions (2009, rev. 2010), and Warning Shadows: Home Alone with Classic Cinema (2010).
Giddins has held teaching posts at Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, and Rutgers University, and is presently on the faculty at the CUNY Graduate Center, where in addition to teaching courses on jazz history, postwar American culture, and representations of jazz in literature and film, he has conducted a series of public conversations with important jazz figures, including Sonny Rollins, Cassandra Wilson, Jason Mo-ran, Manfred Eicher, Joshua Redman, Fred Hersch, George Wein, Bruce Lundvall, Joe Lovano, and Ron Carter. He was also the Executive Director of The Leon Levy Center for Biography at the Graduate Center for five years.
Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich had called Giddins’s work “as good as humanist, personal criticism can possibly get,” and critic Richard Schickel wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “We see our culture more clearly because of his force, intelligence and alertness to overlooked detail.” Giddins, who just completed the second (of three) volumes of his Bing Crosby biography, lives in New York.