Born in Manhattan and raised in Glen Cove, Long Island, Balliett attended Phillips Exeter Academy, where he learned to play drums in a band he summed up as “baggy Dixieland”; he played summer gigs at a Center Island yacht club.
He was drafted into the Army in 1946, interrupting his freshman year at Cornell University, to which returned to finish his degree in 1951 and where he was a member of The Delta Phi Fraternity. He then went on to a job at The New Yorker, where he was hired by Katherine White, one of the magazine’s fiction editors.
Acclaimed for his literary writing style Balliett died on 1 February 2007, aged 80, from cancer, survived by his second wife Nancy Balliett and five children:James Fargo Balliett, Blue Balliett, Will Balliett, Julie Lyon Rose, and Whitney Balliett, Jr.
The Sound of Surprise
Dinosaurs in the Morning
Such Sweet Thunder: 49 Pieces on Jazz, 1966, Bobbs-Merrill Company
Super-drummer: A Profile of Buddy Rich
Ecstasy at the Onion
John Gordon's Folk Art: A Great Flowering of Free Spirits
Alec Wilder and His Friends, 1974, Houghton Mifflin Company
Improvising: Sixteen Jazz Musicians and Their Art, 1977, Oxford University Press
Night Creature: A Journal of Jazz 1975-1980, 1981, Oxford University Press
American Musicians: Fifty-Six Portraits in Jazz, 1986, Oxford University Press
American Singers: Twenty-seven Portraits in Song, 1988, Oxford University Press
Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz 1954-2000, 2000, St. Martin's Press