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Vol.25, No. 22 May. 5, 2000

Barnard English Professor Barry Ulanov, Noted Jazz Author and Critic, Is Dead at 82

Barry Ulanov, the McIntosh Professor of English at Barnard College for more than three decades, the author, editor or translator of close to 50 books and more than 1,000 magazine articles on an extraordinarily wide range of topics ranging from jazz, to theater, Christian humanism to French, and a spokesman for the New York City's arts and cultural scene, died Sunday from complications associated with colo-rectal cancer at the age of 82.

He died at 2:00 a.m., on the date of the Orthodox celebration of Russian Easter, with his four children around him, reading and praying from his favorite Psalms.

Ulanov, at various times an editor, a college professor, and a jazz music producer, was a man of wide interests who was known for telling anecdotes while shifting in and out of the accents and dialects of different characters. He spoke half a dozen languages fluently (including French, Italian, German, Spanish and Russian), and could make his way in another 10. He lived in New York City and Woodbury, Conn.

Born April 10, 1918, in Manhattan Ulanov chose to attend Columbia, rather than Harvard, in order to be in Harlem and close to the heart of jazz music and culture, and received his A.B. in 1939. His teachers included Franz Boas, Helen Gardiner, and Lionel Trilling. One of his roommates was Ad Rheinhardt, the modern abstract expressionist artist.

His first marriage in 1939, to Barnard student Joan Bel Geddes, produced three children, and ended in divorce in 1968. His second marriage to Ann, produced a son. Ulanov is survived by both his wives, his five children and two grandchildren.

At Columbia, he was editor of the Columbia Literary Magazine where he published the first articles of Thomas Merton. He started writing reviews of jazz music in college and upon graduation was offered the editorship of Metronome, then a flagging magazine of classical music, which became the bible of Be-bop culture under his leadership. He also edited Swing (1939-1941), The Review of Recorded Music (1941-1943) Listen (1940-1942), and the Metronome Yearbook (1950-1955), and was a columnist for Down Beat (1955-1958).

Something of an evangelist for jazz, Ulanov was the first to promote and support Charlie Parker through Metronome, which he edited from 1943-1955 and worked closely with many Jazz musicians, producers, and critics including Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Charlie Mingus, Lester Young, David Brubeck, Teo Macero, and Leonard Feather.

Ulanov was the author of four books on jazz music and culture including: Duke Ellington (1946), the first biography of the bandleader and composer, The Incredible Crosby (1948), A History of Jazz in America (1952) and A Handbook of Jazz (1957) all translated into multiple languages and reissued for decades.

In his autobiography Miles Davis referred to Ulanov as the only white critic who ever understood him or Charlie Parker.

In 1955, having become increasingly interested in the connection between modern art and contemporary American culture, he completed a Ph.D. at Columbia in English Literature with a sub-specialization in Early Christian Art and a dissertation on Alberti and perspective. He worked as a sound consultant to architect I.M. Pei on projects such as the mile-high shopping center in Denver. He also published several volumes on modern art and contemporary American culture.

From the mid-1950s on, he was involved along with first wife, Joan, with the Catholic Church worldwide through his presidency of the Catholic Renascence [sic] Society, whose members included Flannery O'Connor. With Joan, he translated The Last Essays of George Bernanos, and created the St. Thomas More Society, an intellectual Catholic discussion and meeting group. He was an active member of Vatican II Council, where he was involved in the translation of the liturgy into vernacular from Latin, and he spoke at the International Eucharistic Congress with Pope John XXIII in Bombay in 1964. He published several books on religion and culture.

Ulanov taught English Literature at Princeton from 1951 to 1953 and then, from 1953 to 1988 at Barnard. At Barnard, he served in his later years as McIntosh Professor of English, and created the Joint Program in the Arts. He was an adjunct professor of religion at Columbia. After retiring from Barnard in 1988, he taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York City in the Department of Psychiatry and Religion.

He was named a Guggenheim Fellow 1962-1963 and received an Honorary Litt.D. from Villanova University in 1965.

In the last twenty years, he concentrated on explorations of religion and psychology, publishing over 10 books with his second wife Ann Belford Ulanov, Professor of Psychiatry and Religion at Union Theological Seminary and psychoanalyst in private practice.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, May 17, at James Chapel, Union Theological Seminary, 3041 Broadway at 121st Street . The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Ulanov Scholarship Fund, c/o Union Theological Seminary, 3041 Broadway, Knox Hall 7E, New York , N.Y. 10027.