Taking a short cut home from Fritz’s Grill, Joe noticed that the path through the woods had been cleared and sanded. The air was cold but bright sun burst through the bare, skeletal trees and here and there were moist patches on the flagstone steps that led down to the next level of the path. It put him in mind of New England in March or early April, when the gray had left the sky and fallen snow didn’t stand a chance against the early afternoon sun.
W. Royal Stokes has published his trilogy of novels Backwards Over. Two decades in the writing, the work chronicles the restless journey through America of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s of its protagonist Joseph Edwards Lewis. (To order the books go to https://www.backwardsover.com/ They are available in both paperback and Kindle.)
Caught midway between the “greatest generation” and its boomer offspring, Joe Lewis straddles two disparate cultures and embodies a variety of contradictory roles: a professor who finds he has more in common with war-protesting students than his buttoned-down colleagues; an over-thirty countercultural convert who hips his young friends to jazz and blues; a Ph.D. working as a dishwasher; and a hedonist who becomes a devoted family man.
Scenes range from a cotton-field juke joint in rural Texas to a fiery Harvard Square riot, with stops along the way in Ontario, Austin, Boulder, rural Maine, Washington, D.C., and Naples, Italy.
By the third book, Joe’s odyssey seems to have reached a satisfying conclusion: he’s parlayed his lifelong love of jazz and blues into a rewarding career; his wife Jane, who grew up on a farm in Central Canada, runs her own successful bookstore; and their twin daughters are bright and well-adjusted teens. But when a figure from his past suddenly, and threateningly, surfaces, Joe is cast into a sea of colorful and painful circumstances and memories, all while struggling to maintain stability in his current life and relationships.
America’s great musical forms, particularly jazz and blues, are a constant theme, as is Joe’s commitment to the life of the mind, whether in a formal setting or in the free-form life he builds for himself.
Crossing paths with Joe in the course of the trilogy are Jim Harsh, rebuilder of VWs, and master mechanic Boz; Joe’s ex-wives, MacKenzie and Jyll; and musicians Messalina, Papa John Brophy, Lulu White, Flossie, Boo Shook, Bear, Buffie Pee, G.W. (The Carver) Simpson, and The Feather Merchant.
Throughout it all, Joe is an inveterate observer, taking in and recalling many details of the variety of human experience.
W. Royal Stokes was the recipient of the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award of the Jazz Journalists Association. He is the author of Swing Era New York, The Jazz Scene, Growing Up With Jazz, and Living the Jazz Life. Backwards Over is his first work of fiction.
Nota bene: All of my choices are in alphabetical order by artist and are to be equally rated.
10 BEST NEW RELEASES
Jane Ira Bloom, Early Americans Single (Outline)
Diva Jazz Orchestra, Special Kay (DivaJazz.com)
Anat Fort Trio, Birdwatching (ECM)
Benny Golson, Horizon Ahead (HighNote)
Jungle: Mat Walerian/Matthew Shipp/Hamid Drake, Live At Okuden (Esp Disk Ltd.)
Ken Peplowski, Enrapture (Capri)
Doug Richards’ Great American Music Ensemble, It’s All In The Game (Jazzed Media)
Sonny Rollins, Holding the Stage (Road Shows, Vol. 4) (Sony Masterworks)
Wadada Leo Smith, America’s National Parks (Cuneiform)
Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double Up, Old Locks and Irregular Verbs (PI Recordings)
3 BEST REISSUE OR HISTORICAL
Count Basie & Lester Young, Classic 1936-1947 Studio Sessions (Mosaic)
Joe Bushkin Quartet, Live at the Embers, 1952 (Dot Time Legends)
New Black Eagle Jazz Band, Celebrating the Big 40 (BlackEagles.com)
BEST VOCAL RELEASE
Shirley Horn, Live At The Four Queens Live (Resonance Records)
BEST DEBUT RELEASE
Christopher Zuar, Musings (Sunnyside Communications)
BEST LATIN JAZZ RELEASE
Ray Obiedo, Latin Jazz Project vol. 1 (Rhythmus Records)
For my “NOTABLE 2016 RELEASES” and “ROUNDUP OF 150 OR SO JAZZ, BLUES, BEYOND, AND OTHER BOOKS PUBLISHED IN THE PAST YEAR OR SO,” go to my blog (wroyalstokes.com/weblog).
W. Royal Stokes
Harry Allen’s All Star New York Saxophone Band, The Candy Men (Arbors Records)
Albert Ayler, Bells/Prophecy: Expanded Edition (Esp Disk Ltd.)
Harry Appelman, Freehand (HarryAppelman.com)
Allison Au Quartet, Forest Grove (Allison Au Quartet)
The Bad Plus, It’s Hard (Sony Masterworks)
Nicolas Bearde, Invitation (Right Groove Records)
Maya Beiser, Trance Classical (Innova)
Michael Blum Quartet Chasin’ Oscar: A Tribute to Oscar Peterson (Michael Blum Music)
Cristina Braga, Whisper & Brandenburger Symphoniker (ENJA)
Joshua Breakstone, 88 (Capri)
Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, Oddara (Linus Entertainment)
George Burton, The Truth of What I Am: The Narcissist (Inner Circle Music)
Uri Caine, Calibrated Thickness (816 Music)
Club d’Elf & John Medeski, Live at Club Helsinki (Face Pelt Records)
Richie Cole, Plays Ballads & Love Songs (Richie Cole)
Joanna Connor, Six String Stories (M.C. Records)
Roxy Coss, Restless Idealism (Artist)
Natalie Cressman and Mike Bono, Etchings In Amber (Cressman Music)
Jim Cullum Jazz Band, Porgy And Bess Live (Riverwalk)
Barbara Dane, with Tammy Hall, Throw It Away (Dreadnaught Music)
Laurie Dapice, Parting the Veil (LaurieDapice.com)
Caroline Davis, Doors, Chicago Storylines (Ears & Eyes)
Jack DeJohnette, Return (Newvelle Records) LP
Dwiki Dharmawan, Pasar Klewer (Moonjune Records)
Echoes of Swing, Dancing (ACT Music)
Ellery Eskelin, Christian Weber, Michael Griener, Sensations of Tone (Intakt)
Kali Z Fasteau, Intuit (Kalimuse.com)
The Fat Babies, Solid Gassuh (Delmark)
Jonathan Finlayson and Sicilian Defense, Moving Still (PI Recordings)
Letizia Gambi, Blue Monday (ArtistShare)
Mary Halvorson Octet, Away With You (Firehouse 12 Records)
Fred Hersch, Sunday Night at the Vanguard (Palmetto Records)
Marika Hughes, New York Nostalgia (Marika Hughes)
Mimi Jones, Feet in the Mud (Hot Tone Music)
Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, All My Yesterdays: The Debut 1966 Village Vanguard Recordings (Resonance Records)
Kaia Kater, Nine Pin (Kingswood Records)
Frank Kimbrough, Jay Anderson, and Jeff Hirshfield, Solstice, (Pirouet Records)
Dave Liebman Group, Expansions Live (Whaling City Sound)
Daphna Levy and Lew Tabackin, Late Night Journey (Daphna Levy)
Yo-Yo Ma & the Silk Road Ensemble, Sing Me Home (Sony Masterworks)
Roberto Magris, Need to Bring out Love (JMood)
Hendrik Meurkens, Harmonicus Rex (Height Advantage)
Blue Mitchell & Sonny Red, Baltimore 1966 (Uptown Jazz)
Jane Monheit, Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald (Emerald City Records)
Joyce Moreno-Kenny Werner, Poesia (Pirouet Records)
Roberto Negro Trio, Luna di Wuxi (Tricollectif)
Roberta Piket, One for Marian: Celebrating Marian McPartland (Thirteenth Note Records)
Ana Popovic, Trilogy (Artistexclusive Records)
Rova Orkestrova, No Favorites! For Lawrence “Butch” Morris (New World Records)
Noah Preminger, Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (Noah Preminger)
Professor Longhair, Live in Chicago (Orleans)
Roswell Rudd with Jamie Saft, Strength & Power (Rarenoise Records)
Wolfgang Schalk, From Here to There (Frame Up Music)
Yotam Silberstein, The Village (Jazz & People)
Jeri Southern, Blue Note, Chicago March 1956 (Uptown Jazz)
Norbert Stein & Pata Messengers, Friends & Dragons (Pata Music)
Karolina Strassmayer, Of Mystery and Beauty (Lilypad Music)
Various Artists, Tribute to Jack Hardy (Smithsonian Folkways)
Yago Vazquez, Beekman Vol. 02 (ropeadope)
The Westerlies, The Westerlies (Songlines)
Randy Weston, African Nubian Suite (African Rhythms)
W. ROYAL STOKES, A ROUNDUP OF 150 OR SO JAZZ, BLUES, BEYOND, AND OTHER BOOKS PUBLISHED IN THE PAST YEAR OR SO
2) PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTIONS, HISTORY, REFERENCE, CRITICISM, ETC.
Danny Barker’s A Life in Jazz (The Historic New Orleans Collection), Alyn Shipton, editor, with a new introduction by Gwen Thompkins, “captures the breadth of Barker’s knowledge and the scope of his vision as a storyteller. His carefully crafted set pieces range from hilarious to harrowing, and he shares memories of jazz greats such as Jelly Roll Morton, Cab Calloway, and Dizzy Gillespie. Barker’s prose reflects the freedom and creativity of jazz while capturing the many injustices, both casual and grand, of life as a black man in midcentury America. This illustrated edition of A Life in Jazz brings Barker’s autobiography back into print, accompanied by more than 100 images that bring his story to life. Gwen Thompkins, host of public radio’s Music Inside Out, reflects on Barker’s legacy in her introduction, and the complete discography and song catalog showcase the breadth of Barker’s work. Through his struggles, triumphs, escapades, and musings, A Life in Jazz reflects the freedom, complexity, and beauty of this thoroughly American, black music tradition.” Photographs and illustrations, song catalogue, discography, index.
Chris Becker’s Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz (Beckeresque Press) has my vote for one of the most important jazz books of the past year or so. “At long last, an in-depth recognition of the female contributions to jazz. As Dr. Billy Taylor said about the lack of awareness of female musicians: ‘If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen.’ Now everyone will know that it did happen and continues to happen. What a great gift to the history of women and music,” says Judy Chaikin, director of The Girls in the Band. The interviewees: Mindi Abair – Saxophones Cheryl Bentyne – Voice Jane Ira Bloom – Soprano Saxophone Samantha Boshnack – Trumpet Dee Dee Bridgewater – Voice Terri Lyne Carrington – Drums Sharel Cassity – Saxophones Anat Cohen – Clarinet, Saxophones Jean Cook – Violin Connie Crothers – Piano Eliane Elias – Piano, Voice Ayelet Rose Gottlieb – Voice Lenae Harris- Cello Val Jeanty – Electronics, Percussion Jan Leder – Flute Jennifer Leitham – Double Bass Carmen Lundy – Voice Sherrie Maricle – Drums Jane Monheit – Voice Jacqui Naylor – Voice Aurora Nealand – Saxophones, Clarinet Iris Ornig – Double Bass Alisha Pattillo – Tenor Saxophone Roberta Piket – Piano Cheryl Pyle – Flute Nicole Rampersaud – Trumpet Sofia Rei – Voice Patrizia Scascitelli – Piano Diane Schuur – Voice Ellen Seeling – Trumpet Helen Sung – Piano Jacqui Sutton – Voice Mazz Swift – Violin, Voice Nioka Workman – Cello Pamela York – Piano Brandee Younger – Harp Malika Zarra – Voice,” says the publisher’s description of Chris Becker’s Freedom of Expression. I especially point to Dr. Taylor’s words, similar to some he provided me on the issue of discrimination against women instrumentalists in an interview I did with him for my Growing Up With Jazz: Twenty-Four Musicians Talk About Their Lives and Careers (Oxford University Press, 2005). I was especially gratified upon reading the conversation author Becker had with trumpet player and bandleader Ellen Seeling, who minces no words in recounting her own experience in the patriarchal world of jazz the past four decades, concluding the interview with the appropriately scathing observation that for a woman instrumentalist to be “in fear of being put down or of losing [her] gig or being embarrassed in front of [her] band mates is not a good atmosphere in which to develop musically.” I’ve been writing about discrimination against women instrumentalists for almost four decades, interviewing more than a hundred of them (including some of those in Becker’s book) and profiling them in my books. Most of them have confirmed me in my conviction that the discrimination is pervasive, entrenched, and ongoing. Check out the review of my most recent book Growing Up With Jazz on my website to verify my deeply felt concern. The opening sentence of the review (http://wroyalstokes.com/growing_up_review.html) says it all. Also on my website is an essay I penned fifteen or so years ago, “Women in Jazz: Some Observations Regarding the Ongoing Discrimination in Performance and Journalism” (www.wroyalstokes.com/archive/women_in_jazz.htm). I also recommend Lara Pellegrinelli’s 2000 “Dig Boy Dig” (http://www.villagevoice.com/news/dig-boy-dig-6417174).
There is a substantive interview with Ellen Seeling in the San Francisco Bay Times, “Montclair Women’s Big Band to Launch New Women’s Music Series at Feinstein’s (http://sfbaytimes.com/jazz-is-a-male-chauvinist-pig-sty-ellen-seeling/). Update: A PrNewswire article, “Jazz at Lincoln Center Adopts Blind Auditions and New Selection Procedures for Jazz Orchestra,” states, “Equal Rights Advocates, The Liu Law Firm P.C., Outten & Golden LLP, and our clients, Ellen Seeling and JazzWomen & Girls Advocates, are proud to announce that Jazz at Lincoln Center has formally adopted new selection procedures for regular and substitute members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. . . . . The new, more formalized selection procedures include blind auditions, formal job postings, and wider outreach about openings, all of which will help the Orchestra attract a broad and diverse pool of applicants. In particular, blind auditions have been widely credited with increasing the representation of women in symphony orchestras from less than 5% of all players in the 1970s, to close to 50% today.”
Josef Woodard and Charlie Haden, Conversations with Charlie Haden (Silman-James Press) “discusses [Haden’s] life and politics and music and aesthetics in a series of candid interviews conducted over two decades. . . . [Haden] worked with and influenced many of the most interesting musicians of the second half of the twentieth century, including Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Paul Bley, Carla Bley, Keith Jarrett, Billy Higgins, Paul Motion, Dewey Redman, Pat Metheny, Egberto Gismonti, Gavin Bryars, Geri Allen, Brad Mehldau, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and literally hundreds of others.”
“From country music in the heartland to bebop in California and free jazz in New York and back again numerous times over Charlie Haden’s story is a classic American saga, and Josef Woodard allows him to tell it eloquently and in moving detail,” says Francis Davis, author of Jazz and Its Discontents: A Francis Davis Reader. Photographs.
In earlier roundups, I have enthused about Hal Howland’s several volumes of fiction and memoir and confessed to being an admirer of his writings. They include The Jazz Buyer: Short Fiction, Cities & Women>/em>, After Jerusalem: A Story and Two Novellas, and Landini Cadence and Other Stories. His memoir, The Human Drummer: Thoughts on the Life Percussive (Howland Press) is now in its seventh edition and “contains in-depth interviews with the Doors’ John Densmore and the Moody Blues’ Graeme Edge (in the first of which a notorious Ringo Starr rumor is laid to rest); personal recollections of Badfinger, the Beatles, the Bee Gees, Fred Begun, Art Blakey, Dave Brubeck, Gary Burton, Peter Erskine, William Faulkner, Vic Firth, Robert Frost, Saul Goodman, Elvin Jones, John F. Kennedy, Gary Lewis (of the Playboys), Bill Ludwig Jr., Bob Mathias, Joe Morello, Max Roach, Collin Walcott, Tony Williams, Frank Zappa, and other public figures; a firsthand account of the famous 1968 Jim-less Doors concert in Amsterdam; musical and social commentary; advice for students, parents, and professionals; musical memories of America, Europe, the Middle East, and a colorful career in pop, jazz, and classical music; esoteric information for percussionists; groundbreaking timpani research; a professional directory; a satirical glossary; a comprehensive bibliography; an index; and two actual adventures on the high seas.” Drummer Hal Blaine says it “belongs in every musician’s library” and it has “has earned praise from major recording artists, symphonic musicians, and music-industry leaders.”
The recipient of the 2012 Eric Hoffer Award for excellence in independent publishing, Howland has also released several jazz recordings. Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Virginia, Europe, and the Middle East, he now lives in Key West. His Web site is at www.halhowland.com. Of Howland’s fiction, author Elizabeth Warner opines, “Howland seems to spin out plots as easily as an accomplished jazz musician riffs around a melody. (The metaphor is especially appropriate as Howland is a musician.)”
Gary Chen’s They Call Me Stein on Vine (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform), another memoir, recounts how “a born and raised Chinese boy from Taiwan through a love of jazz came to The United States of America to study at Berklee School of Music in Boston. . . and . . . landed at Stein-on-Vine (the jazz music landmark in Hollywood, California), the professional musical instrument shop that has been an essential and beloved part of the touring and local musician’s world for over 60 years. . . where the great jazz musicians gather to laugh, drink, gossip and play. This is the unvarnished behind-the-scenes story of great musicians living their lives.”
“This is a wonderful journey through a friendship born out of a love for music and a love for jazz that takes in many of the great players of the second half of the twentieth century. It felt like you were sitting around a table hearing some of those great stories that only musicians can tell,” says Ordon Roberts on Amazon. Photographs, index.
As I have noted before in my annual roundups, one of my favorite genres is collections of correspondence. Mike Metheny’s Old Friends Are the Best Friends (mikemetheny.com) fits the bill. The subjects covered range across the spectrum, from music to politics, and the writing is by two very literate and informed individuals. My interest never lagged as I worked my way through Old Friends Are the Best Friends. “Even though these letters were written more than 25 years ago, they still prove that two people can disagree sharply about serious social issues yet remain the best of friends. We could use more of that kind of thinking today,” says author and trumpeter Metheny—and older brother of guitarist Pat, who says in his Foreword for the volume, “John McKee was a force. And he is one of the major reasons I became the musician that I am now. To this day, he remains one of the most important and unique personalities I have ever known.” On Mike’s website there is a nice summary of the relationship between the author and his friend John McKee: “John McKee and Mike Metheny grew up in a Kansas City suburb called Lee’s Summit. As children of the l950s and ’60s, they, along with other members of a tightly knit group of friends, shared rites of passage and savored life in small-town Missouri. John and Mike eventually went their separate ways—Mike to Boston to pursue a career as a professional musician and teacher, John never leaving Lee’s Summit or the family lumber business—but they remained in touch with a written correspondence that lasted over ten years. It was a dialogue that evolved into an open-ended forum for a wide range of thoughts and opinions, a conversation-by-mail about everything from impressions of different books, movies and pieces of music, to their opposing views about religion and politics. In the late 1980s, these letters increased in frequency and intensity and just about any subject was considered fair game. Childhood reflections, former girlfriends, current events, philosophical considerations and observations, the poignant, soul-searching and occasionally humorous accounts that come from everyday living . . . few topics were off limits. It was a cross-country ‘tennis match’ that served a decades-old friendship to the end. This correspondence finally came to a close with John McKee’s last installment written the day before his unexpected death. It was a letter—handed to Mike by the minister at John’s funeral—that served as a powerful if not prophetic summing up of this prolific postal discourse. And it was a bookend to a life that had touched so many others.” Photographs, “Notes & References.”
Stan Levey: Jazz Heavyweight (Santa Monica Press), by Frank R. Hayde with Foreword by Charlie Watts, “follows Levey’s prolific and colorful life, from his childhood days in rough-and-tumble North Philadelphia, to his first gig as a drummer for Dizzy Gillespie at the tender age of sixteen, to his meteoric rise as one of the most sought after sidemen in the world of bebop, to his membership in the Lighthouse All-Stars.
Jazz aficionados will relish Jazz Heavyweight for its new, never-before-published information about such hugely influential musicians as Parker, Gillespie, and Davis, while jazz neophytes will find a fast-paced, colorful encapsulation of the entire history of modern jazz. This book is essential reading for anyone seeking an up-close-and-personal look at jazz in the latter half of the twentieth century.” “Stan Levey was the drummer every be-bopper wanted in his rhythm section. And with good reason. Jazz Heavyweight illuminates his role as an ultimate insider and important player—musically and otherwise—during one of jazz history’s most vital eras,” says veteran jazz critic Don Heckman in International Review of Music and according to Grammy Award-winning jazz trumpeter Wallace Roney opines, “Stan Levey is without a doubt one of the greatest drummers ever and one of the founding fathers of modern music. Along with Klook, Max and Art, there was Stan Levey, who learned directly from Dizzy when they were both living in Philadelphia. As a result, Stan contributed to this beautiful art form and played on some pivotal recordings. Jazz Heavyweight is fascinating!” Photographs, bibliography, an appendix of brief biographies of the main individuals cited, index.
I found Letters to Yeyito: Lessons from a Life in Music (Restless Books), by Paquito D’Rivera and Rosario Moreno, fascinating. It contains “entertaining anecdotes, expert advice, and [Paquito’s] characteristic exuberance. [His] story is one of life on the move and finding a home in music.” I was one of the first jazz writers to publish articles about Paquito upon his 1980 defection to the U.S., in both the Washington Post and in JazzTimes. In a later piece on him (https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1984/03/21/leaving-cuba-for-the-music/6928c5fa-5deb-472f-9d75-30916e007f63/), I previewed his upcoming gig at Charlie’s Georgetown in D.C. I recall the occasion of the 1977 concert in Havana that Paquito refers to in his book and in my Post profile of him. In addition to Dizzy Gillespie and Earl Hines, fifteen or so other American jazz musicians, including Stan Getz, David Amram, Joanne Brackeen, and Billy Hart, as well as JazzTimes founder and publisher Ira Sabin, made the voyage on the cruise ship Princess Daphne, and, shortly after his return to the U.S., I interviewed Ira on my WGTB-FM radio show Since Minton’s. He provided my listeners and me a fascinating account of the historic week, which took place during the Jimmy Carter administration.
Paul Youngquist’s A Pure Solar World: Sun Ra and the Birth of Afrofuturism “I am bowled over. Youngquist explains—better than anyone before and, in many particular regards, for the first time—how Sun Ra’s poetically logical illogic and musically purposeful nothingness offered, and offers, a pathway for escaping the often-degrading experience of being African American in America. Youngquist dances seamlessly between hip insider talk and scholarly observation, between fiction and history, between celebration and criticism. This book is terrific, sensational. What a delight.” Barry Kernfeld, editor of The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz and author of What to Listen for in Jazz. Photographs, notes, discography, bibliography, index.
In the spring of 1977 I was at a Tuesday opening-night performance of the Sun Ra Arkestra at the Showboat in Silver Spring, Maryland, sitting with d. c. space founder/owner Bill Warrell a couple of tables away from Washington Star jazz writer Bill Bennett, who was reviewing for his paper. I was there to later—about 1 a.m., after the band’s four-hour set—tape an interview with Sun Ra for a special feature on him on my WGTB-FM Wednesday evening radio show Since Minton’s. I sent Bill Warrell over to Bill Bennett’s table to inform him that his club was to open imminently. Bill B. interviewed Bill W. and wrote an article on d. c. space for the Star.
I used my interview with Ra as the basis for a profile of him in my The Jazz Scene: An Informal History from New Orleans to 1990 (Oxford University Press, 1991). The Alabama-born pianist, bandleader, composer, and self-styled mystic not only told me about his musical career but regaled me with tales of fantastical adventures with aliens who had beamed him up to their celestial habitats for seminars on the future of Planet Earth.
I put Virgil Thomson’s Virgil Thompson: The State of Music & Other Writings (The Library of America), Tim Page, editor, here because it contains the author’s autobiography, along with his criticism, book reviews, and other writings. Thompson occasionally wrote on jazz and in this volume one finds some of that. It is “an unprecedented collection of polemical and autobiographical writings by America’s greatest composer-critic [and] a body of writing that constitutes America’s musical declaration of independence from the European past.” Photographs, notes, index.
James McBride’s Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul (Spiegel & Grau) “goes in search of the ‘real’ James Brown after receiving a tip that promises to uncover the man behind the myth. His surprising journey illuminates not only our understanding of this immensely troubled, misunderstood, and complicated soul genius but the ways in which our cultural heritage has been shaped by Brown’s legacy. Kill ’Em and Leave is more than a book about James Brown. Brown’s rough-and-tumble life, through McBride’s lens, is an unsettling metaphor for American life: the tension between North and South, black and white, rich and poor. McBride’s travels take him to forgotten corners of Brown’s never-before-revealed history: the country town where Brown’s family and thousands of others were displaced by America’s largest nuclear power bomb-making facility; a South Carolina field where a long-forgotten cousin recounts, in the dead of night, a fuller history of Brown’s sharecropping childhood, which until now has been a mystery. McBride seeks out the American expatriate in England who co-created the James Brown sound, visits the trusted right-hand manager who worked with Brown for forty-one years, and interviews Brown’s most influential nonmusical creation, his ‘adopted son,’ the Reverend Al Sharpton. He describes the stirring visit of Michael Jackson to the Augusta, Georgia, funeral home where the King of Pop sat up all night with the body of his musical godfather, spends hours talking with Brown’s first wife, and lays bare the Dickensian legal contest over James Brown’s estate, a fight that has consumed careers; prevented any money from reaching the poor schoolchildren in Georgia and South Carolina, as instructed in his will; cost Brown’s estate millions in legal fees; and left James Brown’s body to lie for more than eight years in a gilded coffin in his daughter’s yard in South Carolina.” ““Thoughtful and probing . . . with great warmth, insight and frequent wit. The results are partisan and enthusiastic, and they helped this listener think about the work in a new way. . . . James McBride’s welcome elucidation . . . is clear, deeply felt and unmistakable,” says Rick Moody, in the New York Times Book Review.
Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero (Chicago Review Press), by Ed Ward, Billy F. Gibbons, Foreword, “is the definitive biography of the legendary guitarist whom eminent figures like Muddy Waters and B. B. King held in high esteem, and who created the prototype for Clapton, Hendrix, Page, and everyone who followed. Bloomfield was one of the first popular music superstars of the 1960s to earn his reputation almost entirely on his instrumental prowess. He was a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which inspired a generation of white blues players; he played with Bob Dylan in the mid-1960s, when his guitar was a central component of Dylan’s new rock sound on “Like a Rolling Stone” and at his earthshaking 1965 Newport Folk Festival performance. He then founded the Electric Flag, recorded Super Session with Al Kooper, backed Janis Joplin, and released at least twenty other albums, despite debilitating substance abuse. He died of a mysterious drug overdose in 1981. A very limited edition of a book of this title was first published in 1983, but it has here been so thoroughly revised and expanded that it is essentially a brand-new publication. Based on extensive interviews with Bloomfield himself and with those who knew him best, and including an extensive discography and Bloomfield’s memorable 1968 Rolling Stone interview, Michael Bloomfield is an intimate portrait of one of the pioneers of rock guitar.” Photographs, discography, bibliography, index.
They’re Playing Our Song: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster) by Carole Bayer Sager, “gives us a front row seat on the piano bench as she knocks out hit after hit with Marvin Hamlisch and Burt Bacharach, sits down with Bob Dylan in his barn, Michael Jackson in his studio, and Elizabeth Taylor on her bed (no, they didn’t churn out a hit, just a deep friendship). This is a funny, fast paced, heartfelt book by an accomplished and glamorous woman who openly shares her journey with us” enthuses Candice Bergen, and Steve Martin says it is a “delightful and funny tell all crammed with famous names and famous songs. Every few pages you’ll say to yourself, ‘I didn’t realize she wrote that.’” Photographs, appendix of songs composed by her.
Bobby Rydell: Teen Idol On The Rocks: A Tale of Second Chances (Doctor Licks Publishing), by Bobby Rydell and Allan Slutsky, is “Inspiring, gut-busting, and, at times, heartbreaking [and] gives you a front row seat to the turbulent, six decade journey of one of rock and roll’s earliest, and most celebrated teen idols [, whose] early success took a toll on his life.” The Huffington Post says, “Pure rock ‘n roll nostalgia with a big dose of personal memories that will tear your heart out. . . . . another reason to embrace him even more!” and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette warns that it is “an autobiography laden with darkness and tragedy that would give even Keith Richards pause.” Photographs, discography, “On TV,” filmography.
Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene (Duke University Press), by Tim Lawrence, published several years ago, “is the first biography of the musician and composer Arthur Russell, one of the most important but least known contributors to New York’s downtown music scene during the 1970s and 1980s. . . . Based on interviews with more than seventy of his collaborators, family members, and friends, Hold On to Your Dreams provides vital new information about this singular, eccentric musician and his role in the boundary-breaking downtown music scene, . . . [tracing] Russell’s odyssey from his hometown of Oskaloosa, Iowa, to countercultural San Francisco, and eventually to New York, where he lived from 1973 until his death from AIDS-related complications in 1992. Resisting definition while dreaming of commercial success, Russell wrote and performed new wave and disco as well as quirky rock, twisted folk, voice-cello dub, and hip-hop-inflected pop. ‘He was way ahead of other people in understanding that the walls between concert music and popular music and avant-garde music were illusory,’ comments the composer Philip Glass. ‘He lived in a world in which those walls weren’t there.’ Lawrence follows Russell across musical genres and through such vital downtown music spaces as the Kitchen, the Loft, the Gallery, the Paradise Garage, and the Experimental Intermedia Foundation. Along the way, he captures Russell’s openness to sound, his commitment to collaboration, and his uncompromising idealism.” Photographs, notes, discography, bibliography, index.
John Lydo’s Anger Is an Energy: My Life Uncensored (Dey Street Books/Harper Collins) is “the complete, unvarnished story of . . . the legendary frontman of the Sex Pistols life in his own words.” “A hilarious and at times touching account,” says Rolling Stone, and the Los Angeles Times opines, “Lydon is at his best when writing about his family – his parents were working-class Irish immigrants – and . . . quite moving in his account of Vicious.” Photographs, index.
In her Living Like a Runaway: A Memoir (Dey Street Books/William Morrow Publishers), Lita Ford “provides never-before-told details of [her] dramatic personal story. For Lita, life as a woman in the male-dominated rock scene was never easy, a constant battle with the music establishment. But then, at a low point in her career, came a tumultuous marriage that left her feeling trapped, isolated from the rock-and-roll scene for more than a decade, and—most tragically—alienated from her two sons. And yet, after a dramatic and emotional personal odyssey, Lita picked up her guitar and stormed back to the stage. As Guitar Player hailed in 2014 when they inducted her into their hall of fame of guitar greats: “She is as badass as ever. Fearless, revealing, and compulsively readable, Lita Ford’s Living Like a Runaway is the long-awaited memoir from one of rock’s greatest pioneers—and fiercest survivors.”
“A vivid account of life as ‘the one-and-only guitar-playing rocker chick who could shred like I did.’ . . . . A fast-paced read . . . and an inspiring one.” Rolling Stone)
The Lady with the Borzoi: Blanche Knopf, Literary Tastemaker Extraordinaire (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), by Laura Claridge is “The untold story of Blanche Knopf, the singular woman who helped define American literature. . . . Blanche Knopf began her career when she founded Alfred A. Knopf with her husband in 1915. With her finger on the pulse of a rapidly changing culture, Blanche quickly became a driving force behind the firm.
A conduit to the literature of Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance, Blanche also legitimized the hard-boiled detective fiction of writers such as Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Raymond Chandler; signed and nurtured literary authors like Willa Cather, Elizabeth Bowen, and Muriel Spark; acquired momentous works of journalism by John Hersey and William Shirer; and introduced American readers to Albert Camus, André Gide, and Simone de Beauvoir, giving these French writers the benefit of her consummate editorial taste. As Knopf celebrates its centennial, Laura Claridge looks back at the firm’s beginnings and the dynamic woman who helped to define American letters for the twentieth century. Drawing on a vast cache of papers, Claridge also captures Blanche’s ‘witty, loyal, and amusing’ personality, and her charged yet oddly loving relationship with her husband. An intimate and often surprising biography, The Lady with the Borzoi is the story of an ambitious, seductive, and impossibly hardworking woman who was determined not to be overlooked or easily categorized.” Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
2) PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTIONS, HISTORY, REFERENCE, CRITICISM, ETC.
Jazz: The Iconic Images of Ted Williams (ACC Editions). Photographer Ted Williams, who died in 2009, was active on the jazz scene from the late 1940s until the late ’70s, capturing Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and many others. Along with his prolific jazz photography, he also covered wars, sports and international cultures, his photos appearing in Time, Newsweek, Playboy, Ebony, JazzTimes, DownBeat, and other publications. This is a lavish, hefty (5 lbs.), and glorious coffee table production that will afford jazz lovers many hours of enjoyment and require many return trips for repeating the adventure of perusing Williams’ splendid images. Photographs of Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ray Charles, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, Thelonious Monk, Dinah Washington, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, Mahalia Jackson, Buddy Rich, Julian Cannonball, Adderley, Art Blakey, Benny Goodman, Charles Mingus, Quincy Jones, Sonny Rollins, Muddy Waters, Max Roach, Woody Herman and Wynton Marsalis, and many others, on stage and bandstand, backstage, at jams, hanging out on festival grounds, etc. Index.
Jim Marshall’s Jazz Festival (Reel Art Press), (Amelia Davis and Tony Nourmand, Editors, Nat Hentoff, Introduction, Bill Clinton, Foreword, Graham Marsh, , Designer), Features photos the shot at six Monterey (1960-66) and one Newport (1963) jazz festivals. The collection—published here for the first time and apparently the first of others the publisher will draw from the late Marshall’s (1936-2010) archive—is extraordinary for several reasons: it captures an era’s cultural styles, in music and dress; it documents the jazz world’s long-established stance vis-à-vis integration at a time when the greater society was still struggling to achieve this; and, in its uncanny capture of both the musicians in performance and the audiences in engagement with the music and the event, it puts the viewer at the scene in a way that no other volume of jazz photography, to my knowledge, succeeds in doing. Amazon reviewer Christine Savini puts it nicely: “If a major museum were looking for an exhibition of the great artists of Jazz’s mid-century Golden Age, they would find it in Jim Marshall’s Jazz Festival. Not only are the images of the celebrated artists and their fans incredibly vivid and compelling, but the way this book also documents how Blacks and Whites easily integrated around their shared love of our truly American art form gives us hope at a time when we need it once again.” Index.
Bill Dahl’s and Chris James’s (Art Consultant) The Art of the Blues: A Visual Treasury of Black Music’s Golden Age (University Of Chicago Press) “charts the rich history of the blues, through the dazzling array of posters, album covers, and advertisements that have shaped its identity over the past hundred years. The blues have been one of the most ubiquitous but diverse elements of American popular music at large, and the visual art associated with this unique sound has been just as varied and dynamic. There is no better guide to this fascinating graphical world than Bill Dahl—a longtime music journalist and historian who has written liner notes for countless reissues of classic blues, soul, R&B, and rock albums. With his deep knowledge and incisive commentary—complementing more than three hundred and fifty lavishly reproduced images—the history of the blues comes musically and visually to life.”
“Art of the Blues provides a fascinating visual documentation of the music industry as well as insight into American culture. It’s difficult to quickly flip through this beautiful book because there are so many compelling images that deserve a closer look, whether it’s a publicity portrait of a young Etta James (taken by Hollywood photographer John E. Reed) or the 78 label of ‘Adam Bit the Apple,’ recorded by Big Joe Turner for Houston’s Freedom Recording Co., which used the Statue of Liberty as part of its graphics.” Bobby Reed Down Beat. Sorces, index.
Invitation To Openness: The Jazz & Soul Photography Of Les McCann 1960-1980 (Fantagraphics), by Les McCann, curated by Pat Thomas and Alan Abrahams, with Foreword by A. Scott Galloway reveals a side of Les McCann that I—and likely many jazz and soul fans—was unaware of, namely, art photographer. This is a beautifully designed and masterfully produced book. It has, well, soul; that’s the appropriate word, for the artist whose work it contains is soulful from the word go, in his music and, as here displayed, in his approach to and execution of photography. “[The coffee table-size volume] collects the photographs of legendary musician Les McCann; he documented the jazz scene and its players―Nina Simone, John Coltrane, Count Basie, and many others―from the inside, across several decades. Throughout Les McCann’s incredible jazz career, he took hundreds of photos―at clubs, studios, and festivals around the world―and documented the vibrant cultural life of jazz and soul between 1960 and 1980. These photos include a very young Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sammy Davis Jr., John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson, Richard Pryor, Quincy Jones, Tina Turner, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, B.B. King, Errol Garner, Stanley Clarke, Bill Evans, Lionel Hampton, and other black celebrities, such as Bill Cosby, Muhammed Ali, and Stokely Carmichael to name but a few. These photos are characterized by their intimacy, and the cross-section of names listed is merely the tip of the iceberg. The book features candid commentary by McCann himself and is curated by Pat Thomas (Listen, Whitey!: The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975) and maverick music producer Alan Abrahams (Pure Prairie League, Joan Baez, Stanley Turrentine, Kris Kristofferson, Taj Mahal).” “If McCann never touched a piano in his life, he’d likely still have become famous as a photographer. The proof is in his new book, Invitation to Openness: The Jazz & Soul Photography of Les McCann, which collects many of his best pictures. Looking at McCann’s photographs, one gets the distinct sense of being in the room with the subjects. . . . In each case, McCann’s lens strips these icons of pretense, brushes away the dust of history, and leaves them not naked, not vulnerable, but open.” Travis Atria, Red Bull Music Academy.
“One of the most thoroughly enjoyable parts of the book Invitation to Openness, alongside his insightful pictures, is McCann’s personal remembrances of his photographic subjects.” Chris M. Slawecki, All About Jazz.
Christopher Hillman’s Crescent City Reeds (http://www.chbooks.info)—companion volume to his 2015 Crescent City Cornet)—is a study of New Orleans clarinet and saxophone players active in the city and beyond with particular reference to the development of the movement from its beginnings in the Creole musical institutions, through its impact upon classic jazz and the white “Dixieland” style and rhythm-and-blues to its resurgence in the post-war revival of interest in New Orleans jazz. Foreword by Tony Standish. As I have observed in reviews of Hillman’s earlier books, he is a musical archaeologist, adept at unearthing all available information about the subjects of his investigations. Photographs, illustrations of record labels, bibliography, index, and a CD of 26 examples of the two label’s releases. A highly recommended text and a CD that will provide rewarding repeated listenings.
In my earlier reviews of Thomas Jacobsen’s books on New Orleans jazz, I pointed out that he lived in the city for a quarter of a century and prior to his residency was a frequent visitor. (He relocated to St. Louis in 2014.) His time in New Orleans was characterized by constant presence on the jazz scene and involvement in its community. He collected his impressions and recorded his data whenever he came into contact with that community. Nor did he limit his account to what is, clearly, his first musical love, traditional jazz. His outlook and taste are definitely catholic and his coverage comprehensive. Clearly, he is one of the leading authorities on New Orleans jazz in its myriad forms. His new book, The New Orleans Jazz Scene Today: A Guide to the Musicians, Live Jazz Venues, and More (Blue Bird Publishing), serves, as its sub-title indicates, as a handy guide to this city’s vibrant musical scene. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
Michael Jarrett ‘s Pressed for All Time: Producing the Great Jazz Albums from Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday to Miles Davis and Diana Krall (University of North Carolina Press) tells “the stories behind some of jazz’s best-selling and most influential albums in this collection of oral histories gathered by music scholar and writer Michael Jarrett. Drawing together interviews with over fifty producers, musicians, engineers, and label executives, Jarrett shines a light on the world of making jazz records by letting his subjects tell their own stories and share their experiences in creating the American jazz canon.
Packed with fascinating stories and fresh perspectives on over 200 albums and artists, including legends such as Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis, as well as contemporary artists such as Diana Krall and Norah Jones, Pressed for All Time tells the unknown stories of the men and women who helped to shape the quintessential American sound.” “In his enlightening book, Michael Jarrett has produced a concise history of the innovative practices of jazz record production. While interviewing over fifty legendary producers who orchestrated albums with jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, and Billie Holiday, Jarrett, in turn, produces a rich and engaging oral history that will appeal to jazz aficionados, fans, and scholars alike,” says Susan Schmidt Horning, St. John’s University. Illustrations, index.
Many of us in the jazz world have read Ben Ratliff’sNew York Times. Now, in his new book Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), we can get an overall sense of his set of aesthetic standards and taste and it is a very rewarding experience, for he is one of the most comprehensive observes of and commentators on the jazz scene as well as on that of popular music. In it, he examines what “it mean[s] to listen in the digital era . . . [and] reimagines the very idea of music appreciation for our times . . ., isolat[ing] signal musical traits―such as repetition, speed, and virtuosity―and trac[ing] them across wildly diverse recordings to reveal unexpected connections. . . . [and] considers what it means to hear emotion by sampling the complex sadness that powers . . . music . . . and examines the meaning of certain common behaviors, such as the impulse to document and possess the entire performance history of [a musician or a band]. Encompassing the sounds of five continents and several centuries, Ratliff’s book is an artful work of criticism and a lesson in open-mindedness. It is a definitive field guide to our radically altered musical habitat.” Sources, discography, index.
Murray Talks Music: Albert Murray on Jazz and Blues (University Of Minnesota Press) by Albert Murray, Paul Devlin, Editor, Greg Thomas, (Afterword), Gary Giddins (Foreword)
brings together, for the first time, many of Murray’s finest interviews and essays on music—most never before published—as well as rare liner notes and prefaces. For those new to Murray, this book will be a perfect introduction, and those familiar with his work—even scholars—will be surprised, dazzled, and delighted. Highlights include Dizzy Gillespie’s richly substantive 1985 conversation; an in-depth 1994 dialogue on jazz and culture between Murray and Wynton Marsalis; and a long 1989 discussion on Duke Ellington between Murray, Stanley Crouch, and Loren Schoenberg. Also interviewed by Murray are producer and impresario John Hammond and singer and bandleader Billy Eckstine. All of thse conversations were previously lost to history. A celebrated educator and raconteur, Murray engages with a variety of scholars and journalists while making insightful connections among music, literature, and other art forms—all with ample humor and from unforeseen angles. Leading Murray scholar Paul Devlin contextualizes the essays and interviews in an extensive introduction, which doubles as a major commentary on Murray’s life and work. The volume also presents sixteen never-before-seen photographs of jazz greats taken by Murray.” “Albert Murray is . . . an authority on soul from the days of old . . . and commands respect. He doesn’t have to look it up. If you want to know, look him up. He is the unsquarest person I know,” opined Duke Ellington. Photographs, discography, index.
Music in the Air: The Selected Writings of Ralph J. Gleason (Yale University Press), edited by Gleason’s son Toby Gleason, “spans Ralph J. Gleason’s four decades as popular music’s preeminent commentator. Drawing from a rich variety of sources, including Gleason’s books, essays, interviews, and LP record album liner notes, it is essential reading for writers, historians, scholars, and music lovers of every stripe.” Included are Gleason’s interviews with Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Evans, Milt Jackson, John Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones, Horace Silver, Quincy Jones, and a half-dozen more luminaries of jazz. Foreword by Ted Gioia.
Jazz on My Mind: Liner Notes, Anecdotes and Conversations from the 1940s to the 2000s (McFarland & Company), co-authored by Herb Wong and Paul Simeon Fingerote, “is a delightful and substantial addition to jazz commentary, full of the vivid anecdotes and insightful, accessible analysis of the late Dr. Herb Wong, a lifelong enthusiast and acclaimed educator who came to work with and know the musical heroes he depicts here. With exemplary assistance from Paul Fingerote, longtime marketing and public relations director of the Monterey Jazz Festival, Dr. Wong selected and shaped his memories and his earlier writings into a volume that stands tall among those concerning composers and performers of the second half of the 20th century whose sounds will ring forever,” says Howard Mandel, author and president of the Jazz Journalists Association. Photograph, index.
The Sounds of Louisiana, The: Twenty Essential Music Makers (Pelican Publishing Company), with informative text by Roger Hahn and beautiful painted portraits by Chris Osborne, “provides an overview of Louisiana’s impressive role in the musical heritage of the last two centuries . . . document[ing] twenty musicians and musical groups who have—and still are—shaping the face of music in America. Among those profiled are Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Lead Belly, Mahalia Jackson, Clifton Chenier, the Boswell Sisters, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Irma Thomas, Buddy Guy, Li’l Wayne, Allen Toussaint, Harry Connick Jr., Trombone Shorty, and Ben Jaffe, the last named in an account of Preservation Hall. Bibliography.
Rhythm in the Rain: Jazz in the Pacific Northwest (Ooligan Press) by Lynn Darroch, Foreword by George Colligan, “examines the people, places, and events that have made cities like Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, so popular among musicians. From the genesis of [Seattle’s] Jackson Street and [Portland’s] Williams Avenue in the 1940s & ’50s with such legends as Ray Charles and Quincy Jones, to the modern voices of George Colligan, Rebecca Kilgore, and Esperanza Spalding, this book aims to encompass and illuminate the rich musical history of a region that, while not widely recognized as a jazz mecca, has seen its relevance within the local community.” And it does so very well, bringing recognition to a great many deserving and world-class musicians who otherwise would remain in obscurity. I am all for such regional histories. In an essay in his Jazz: The American Theme Song, jazz historian James Lincoln Collier makes the significant point that the so-called “local” jazz scene is peopled not only by dedicated amateurs but also by “musician[s] of the first quality.” He adds, “It often turns out that such players were once ‘on the road with Woody [Herman].” Or played on their own turf alongside visiting musicians of global fame, as many in Darroch’s book have done.
I would have liked to see more coverage of the 1950s and ’60s traditional jazz scene, such as Seattle’s Rainy City Jazz Band, which was, as the West Coast’s longest active New Orleans-style unit, had a half-century run. I caught it many times during the 1950s and got to know its members, when I was earning a B.A. in history and an M.A. in Greek and Latin at the University of Washington. Photographs, notes, index.
Although its author writes primarily on cinema, you’ll find several index entries for “jazz” and its musicians (e.g., Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Max Roach) as well as “rock ’n’ roll” and a few for such icons of popular music as Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, and the Sex Pistols in New York Times critic A. O. Scott’s Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth (Penguin Press). In his book, along with film, Scott cruises through literature (Hesiod, Horace, Shelly, Charles Dickens, Henry James, George Gissing, Allen Ginsberg) and criticism (Edmund Wilson, Elizabeth Hardwick, Harold Bloom). “Impassioned and deeply thoughtful . . . Scott lays out a taxonomy of meaningful thought (and the meaning of thought itself) . . . . His disciplined reasoning, impressive erudition, and deep commitment to his art (as he defines it) are never less than provocative and elegantly articulated. A zealous and well-considered work of advocacy for an art too often unappreciated and misunderstood,” says Kirkus. “This stunning treatise on criticism from . . . is a complete success, comprehensively demonstrating the value of his art . . . a necessary work that may enter the canon of great criticism.” Publisher’s Weekly. Index.
Listening to Jazz (Oxford University Press) by Benjamin Bierman, is described as “offer[ing] an engaging introduction to the rich history and culture of jazz. Featuring coverage of all standard periods and genres, this text helps students understand how jazz evolved and how its various styles intersect and blend. A wealth of innovative features, including a series of sidebars, in-depth listening guides, the incorporation of Spanish-Caribbean and women musicians, and historic introductions enhance students’ appreciation for this powerful and important genre of music.” To say that it covers “all standard periods and genres” is inaccurate in that it ignores the 1940s New Orleans Revival and the musicians who participated in it. British critic Max Harrison, in a footnote to an essay on Bunk Johnson in his A Jazz Retrospecive (David & Charles, 1976/Interlink Publishing+group Inc., 2nd edition, 1991), sheds light on why this phenomenon is too often omitted from studies purporting to cover “all genres and periods of jazz”: “American writers have persistently ignored this phase of jazz, and such works as Martin Williams’ Jazz Masters of New Orleans (New York, 1967) and Gunther Schuller’s Early Jazz (New York, 1968) are typical in making no attempt to discuss the musical value and historical meaning of the American Music [label] and allied recordings.” The cited label was founded by jazz historian William Russell in 1944 and was devoted to recordings of musicians like trumpeter Bunk Johnson, clarinetist George Lewis, trombonist Jim Robinson, and many others, some of whom had remained in New Orleans and, beginning in the 1960s, played at Preservation Hall, a few of them touring here and abroad. One will not find any of these major musicians of the New Orleans style listed in the index of Listening to Jazz. Having said that, I found the book quite fascinating. It is a reference tool, a guide, and a browsing joy. Bruce Raeburn, Tulane University, author of New Orleans Style and the Writing of American Jazz History, clearly concurs, enthusing, “Bierman writes clearly and with an engaging style. His step-by-step breakdown and analysis of recorded examples are the best part.” Photographs, listening guides and bibliographies for each section, glossary, index.
Ted Gioia’s How to Listen to Jazz (Basic Books) not only goes a long way toward living up to its title’s claim but is an excellent guide to the outlines of jazz history. I would without hesitation put it into the hands of someone asking, “What is jazz?” And this longtime observer of, reader about, and listener to jazz found in it many nuggets of information that he had let slip out of his memory. Gioia touches the essential bases and includes appreciation and analysis of the important players (with one significant omission, which I’ll get to shortly). It truly “presents a lively, accessible introduction to the art of listening to jazz. Covering everything from the music’s structure and history to the basic building blocks of improvisation, Gioia shows exactly what to listen for in a jazz performance. He shares listening strategies that will help readers understand and appreciate jazz for the rest of their lives, and provides a history of the major movements in jazz right up to the present day. . . . How does a casual listener learn to understand and appreciate the nuances between the unapologetic and innovative sounds of Louis Armstrong, the complexity of Coleman Hawkin’s saxophone, and the exotic and alluring compositions of Duke Ellington? How does Thelonius Monk fit in alongside Benny Goodman and John Coltrane? [Gioia] concludes with a guide to 150 elite musicians who are setting the tone for 21st century jazz.” This is an excellent guide that covers all styles from early New Orleans jazz to the present. The index helps the reader, and listener, find his or her favorite as well as musicians he or she is unfamiliar with and wishes to know better. Gioia is a jazz pianist and author of several other highly regarded books on jazz and blues.
I find one omission startling, to wit, that Gioia makes no mention of Earl Hines in the book, not even when he discusses Louis Armstrong’s Hot 5 and Hot 7 recording of the 1920s. Of “Weather Bird,” a duet between Hines and Armstrong recorded in December 1928, author and critic Martin Williams said, “One is astounded to realize how far these two men had brought jazz improvisation in a mere five years.” Musician, scholar and composer Gunther Schuller insists that the sextet version of the King Oliver composition “West End Blues,” recorded six months earlier and on which Hines was at the piano, “served notice that jazz had the potential capacity to compete with the highest order of previously known musical expression.” Duke Ellington said of Hines, “The seeds of bop were in Earl Hines’ piano style.”
“We were just recording,” Earl told me (W. Royal Stokes) in an interview in the mid-1970s, “and ideas came from us while we were at the studio. I’d say, ‘Louis, make this,’ and he’d say, ‘No, I don’t think I’ve got strength enough to make that.’ That’s the kind of conversation we had, and when we made ‘Weather Bird,’ for instance, Louis said, ‘I’ll start playing sixteen bars and you think about another eight bars and I’ll just follow you.’ And we laughed about it when it was over. Like we were saying before Louis passed, he said, ‘We didn’t know we were making history, did we?’ And I said, ‘We certainly didn’t!’”
I also fine it odd that Gioia makes no mention of Lionel
Hampton or Bunk Johnson. In his 1997 History of
Jazz, Hampton, whose presence in jazz was ubiquitous
and his influence widespread, is accorded mentions
verifying this truth. As to Bunk Johnson, Gioia’s History of Jazz
devotes three pages to the New Orleans Revival of the
1940s and its players, among whom Bunk was prominent
and revered, and he concedes that the movement was “a
powerful force.” Yet he omits mention of it on page 122
of How to Listen to Jazz, where he makes a
transition from the big bands of the Swing Era to the
combos of bebop. How to Listen to Jazz contains an appendix of “The Elite 150 of Early- and Mid-Career Jazz Masters” (i.e., artists born in the 1960s, “many of them . . . still in the early stages of their musical evolution”), notes, and an index.
Depression Folk: Grassroots Music and Left-Wing Politics in 1930s America (University of North Carolina Press), by Ronald D. Cohen, “sheds new light on the complex cultural history of folk music in America, detailing the musicians, government agencies, and record companies that had a lasting impact during the 1930s and beyond. Covering myriad musical styles and performers, Cohen narrates a singular history that begins in nineteenth-century labor politics and popular music culture, following the rise of unions and Communism to the subsequent Red Scare and increasing power of the Conservative movement in American politics–with American folk and vernacular music centered throughout. Detailing the influence and achievements of such notable musicians as Pete Seeger, Big Bill Broonzy, and Woody Guthrie, Cohen explores the intersections of politics, economics, and race, using the roots of American folk music to explore one of the United States’ most troubled times. Becoming entangled with the ascending American left wing, folk music became synonymous with protest and sharing the troubles of real people through song.”
“[A] compelling, engaging, and highly readable account of the indelible, influential, and important style of music we associate with the Great Depression. A much-needed work that fills a void in the scholarship of the labor movement and folk music in the 1930s.” Timothy Lynch, author of Strike Songs of the Depression. Illustrations, notes, index.
Simon Reynolds’ Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-first Century (Dey Street Books) is “the definitive cultural history of glam and glitter rock, celebrating its outlandish fashion and outrageous stars, including David Bowie and Alice Cooper, and tracking its vibrant legacy in contemporary pop. Spearheaded by David Bowie, Alice Cooper, T. Rex, and Roxy Music, glam rock reveled in artifice and spectacle. Reacting against the hairy, denim-clad rock bands of the late Sixties, glam was the first true teenage rampage of the new decade. In Shock and Awe, Simon Reynolds takes you on a wild cultural tour through the early Seventies, a period packed with glitzy costumes and alien make-up, thrilling music and larger-than-life personas.” Photographs, bibliography, index.
I included Ian Chapman’s Experiencing David Bowie: A Listener’s Companion (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers) in my roundup of 2015 books. Now we have David Bowie The Last Interview and Other Conversations (Melville House), with Introduction by Dennis Johnson. “In this remarkable collection [1965-2006], Bowie reveals the fierce intellectualism, artistry, and humor behind it all. From his very first interview—as a teenager on the BBC, before he was even a musician—to his last, Bowie takes on the most probing questions, candidly discussing his sexuality, his drug usage, his sense of fashion, how he composed, and more. For fans still mourning his passing, as well as for those who know little about him, it’s a revealing, interesting, and inspiring look at one of the most influential artists of the last fifty years. ”
“David’s friendship was the light of my life. I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is.” Iggy Pop
“I wish he could have stayed on earth longer.” J.K. Rowling
“David Bowie was one of my most important inspirations, so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime.” Kanye West
Tim Lawrence’s Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983 “Tim Lawrence connects the dots of a scene so explosively creative, so kaleidoscopically diverse, so thrillingly packed with the love of music and the love of life that even those of us who were there could not have possibly seen or heard it all! Now we can. Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980–1983 is not only a remarkable account of a remarkable time, it is a moving memorial to all those who left the party much too soon.” Ann Magnuson, writer, actress, and former Club 57 manager and NYC Downtown performance artist. Photographs, notes, filmography, discography, bibliography.
In Robert A. Cutietta’s Who Knew?: Answers to Questions about Classical Music you Never Thought to Ask (Oxford University Press), “master music educator Cutietta provides lucid answers to 150 questions submitted by listeners to his popular weekly radio program. Through its pages, this highly readable guide touches on some of the most curiosity-inducing aspects of the tradition, from why audiences refrain from applauding between movements to how opera singers warm up on the night of a big debut. The responses are drawn from conversations with professional musicians and music educators, with additional contributions by Gail Eichenthal of KUSC, giving a rare glimpse into how musicians think and talk about their work. Lovers of classical music who would like to flesh out their understanding are sure to find a powerful resource in Cutietta’s down-to-earth guide, and even seasoned listeners are sure to learn a thing or two. This book will provide hours of enjoyment as readers invariably shake their heads and ask in wonderment, ‘Who knew!’”
“For the past decade, Cutietta has been demystifying classical music for KUSC listeners in Los Angeles. Who Knew? captures the very best of his ‘Ask the Dean’ segment, illuminating the aspects of orchestral music that even its most avid listeners can find perplexing. Who Knew? is a lively, engaging, and affectionate dive into the music we love so much,” says Deborah Borda, President and C.E.O., Los Angeles Philharmonic. Index
Banjoist Cynthis Sayer’s You’re In the Band (cynthiasayer.com) includes classic tunes popularly played in traditional jazz/hot jazz bands; two CDs (or downloads); each tune in 2 speeds: “Gig Tempo” & Practice Tempo”; playing tips & traditions you should know; Lingo & Definitions; lead sheets with lyrics in concert key, B♭, E♭, and bass clef; chord charts; and tune layouts. Also available (as downloads only, $9.99 per set): all tracks minus trumpet & all tracks minus banjo. Here are the play-along tunes: Avalon; Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me; China Boy; Darktown Strutters’ Ball; Down By The Riverside; Just A Closer Walk With Thee; My Gal Sal; Some Of These Days; Take Me Out To The Ball Game; The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise; Way Down Yonder In New Orleans; When The Saints Go Marching In; Whispering. The musicians are Cynthia Sayer, banjo, arrangements; Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Mike Weatherly, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.
“A wonderful and helpful work that will instruct young players who are learning about playing traditional jazz. Also a great refresher for musicians already established and playing this style of music.” says bandleader and multi- instrumentalist Vince Giordano.
“You’re In The Band offers the opportunity to develop, hone and master one’s skills for playing jazz by using the best teaching technique known to date, actually playing in the band. I highly recommend this method,” says trombonist Wycliffe Gordon.
Of Ken Hatfield’s 12 Preludes For Solo Guitar (http://kenhatfield.com/presss/12-preludes-for-solo-guitar/), Travis Rogers, Jr. (The Jazz Owl, at JazzTimes Community), says, “The book contains, of course, the music for the 12 preludes but also a fine introduction by Hatfield wherein he describes his notation of pitch durations in arpeggios (the same used by Johannes Brahms in his late piano solos. Don’t be impressed. I learned it from Hatfield), the modal indicators of key signatures and more. All that to say, Hatfield will teach you something. He writes of the beginnings of the prelude and its place within music history. He speaks of Chopin, Debussy, Villa-Lobos and so many others. He is a fine educator, even if you are reading for fun. The book contains a small biography and, perhaps most importantly, his discography and bibliography of his written works. Yes, you will want to reference those pages early and often.”
Arthur Beane, Ed.D’s Waitin’ for Her at the Station: A Collection of Original Blues, Country Blues, Jazz Blues, Gospel, Funk, and Blues Rock Selections (Rafes Chasm Literary Digest/Outskirts Press) is a “unique songbook, a must-have for any blues-lover’s musical library. Waitin for Her at the Station provides musicians—trained and untrained—with the latitude to choose their own key, tempo, song type, introduction, solo instrumental placement, and outro. The song lyrics remain true, but the formatting can be modified based on the spirit of the musician and their interpretation of each song, and audiences will enjoy the personalized presentations as much as the performer!”
Jack Viertel’s The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux) “takes [musicals] apart, puts them back together, sings their praises, marvels at their unflagging inventiveness, and occasionally despairs over their more embarrassing shortcomings. In the process, he invites us to fall in love all over again by showing us how musicals happen, what makes them work, how they captivate audiences, and how one landmark show leads to the next―by design or by accident, by emulation or by rebellion―from Oklahoma! to Hamilton and onward.” “Both revelatory and entertaining. Viertel combines a scholarly approach with a light touch that enables us to see anew familiar songs and musical theater moments we’d long taken for granted,” says the New York Times Book Review. “Listening to Broadway” (which is an annotated list of recordings), index.
In his The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places (Duke University Press), Bernie Krause “shares fascinating insight into how deeply animals rely on their aural habitat to survive and the damaging effects of extraneous noise on the delicate balance between predator and prey. But natural soundscapes aren’t vital only to the animal kingdom; Krause explores how the myriad voices and rhythms of the natural world formed a basis from which our own musical expression emerged. From snapping shrimp, popping viruses, and the songs of humpback whales-whose voices, if unimpeded, could circle the earth in hours-to cracking glaciers, bubbling streams, and the roar of intense storms; from melody-singing birds to the organlike drone of wind blowing over reeds, the sounds Krause has experienced and describes are like no others. And from recording jaguars at night in the Amazon rain forest to encountering mountain gorillas in Africa’s Virunga Mountains, Krause offers an intense and intensely personal narrative of the planet’s deep and connected natural sounds and rhythm. The Great Animal Orchestra is the story of one man’s pursuit of natural music in its purest form, and an impassioned case for the conservation of one of our most overlooked natural resources—the music of the wild.” Notes, bibliography, index.
Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker’s Journey (Thomas Dunne Books), by Harlan Lebo, “is the story of a film masterpiece―how it was created and how it was almost destroyed. It is the celebration of brilliant achievement and a sinister tale of conspiracy, extortion, and Communist witch hunts. It is the chronicle of a plot orchestrated in boardrooms and a mountaintop palace, as a media company that claimed to stand for ‘genuine democracy’ defied the First Amendment and schemed to burn Hollywood’s greatest creation. Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker’s Journey is the extraordinary story of the production of Orson Welles’ classic film, using previously unpublished material from studio files and the Hearst organization, exclusive interviews with the last surviving members of the cast and crew, and what may be the only surviving copies of the ‘lost’ final script. Harlan Lebo charts the meteoric rise to stardom of the twenty-three-year-old Orson Welles, his defiance of the Hollywood system, and the unprecedented contract that gave him near-total creative control of his first film. Lebo recounts the clashes between Welles and studio executives eager to see him fail, the high-pressure production schedule, and the groundbreaking results. Lebo reveals the plot by the organization of publisher William Randolph Hearst to attack Hollywood, discredit Welles, and incinerate the film. And, at last, he follows the rise of Citizen Kane to its status as the greatest film ever made.” “The most thorough account yet of the genesis, production and release of Welles’s most famous film.” New York Times Book Review Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
Hollywood South: Glamour, Gumbo, and Greed (Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.), by Linda Thurman, “follows the rise and subsequent corruption of Hollywood South. Intimately acquainted with the conspiracy to manipulate and control the Louisiana film industry (which resulted in several arrests), Thurman sheds light on the convoluted relationship between politics and entertainment in both Hollywood and Louisiana. Part memoir and part exposé, Thurman’s stories are both riveting and revealing—everything expected from a good Hollywood tale!”
“A must-read for anyone crazy enough to actually want work in film or TV.” Koji Steven Sakai, screenwriter/producer
Michael Schulman’s Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep (Harper) is a “portrait of a woman, an era, and a profession: the first thoroughly researched biography of Meryl Streep—the ‘Iron Lady’ of acting, nominated for nineteen Oscars and winner of three—that explores her beginnings as a young woman of the 1970s grappling with love, feminism, and her astonishing talent [and] an intimate look at the artistic coming-of-age of the greatest actress of her generation, from the homecoming float at her suburban New Jersey high school, through her early days on the stage at Vassar College and the Yale School of Drama during its golden years, to her star-making roles in The Deer Hunter, Manhattan, and Kramer vs. Kramer. New Yorker contributor Michael Schulman brings into focus Meryl’s heady rise to stardom on the New York stage; her passionate, tragically short-lived love affair with fellow actor John Cazale; her marriage to sculptor Don Gummer; and her evolution as a young woman of the 1970s wrestling with changing ideas of feminism, marriage, love, and sacrifice. Featuring eight pages of black-and-white photos, this captivating story of the making of one of the most revered artistic careers of our time reveals a gifted young woman coming into her extraordinary talents at a time of immense transformation, offering a rare glimpse into the life of the actress long before she became an icon. Photographs, notes.
The Brazen Age: New York City and the American Empire: Politics, Art, and Bohemia (Pantheon), by David Reid, is “a brilliant, sweeping, and unparalleled look at the extraordinarily rich culture and turbulent politics of New York City between the years 1945 and 1950. . . . Reid draws a portrait of the frenzied, creative energy of a bohemian Greenwich Village, from the taverns to the salons. Revolutionaries, socialists, and intelligentsia in the 1910s were drawn to the highly provocative monthly magazine The Masses, which attracted the era’s greatest talent, from John Reed to Sherwood Anderson, Djuna Barnes, John Sloan, and Stuart Davis. And summoned up is a chorus of witnesses to the ever-changing landscape of bohemia, from Malcolm Cowley to Anaïs Nin. Also present are the pioneering photographers who captured the city in black-and-white: Berenice Abbott’s dizzying aerial views, Samuel Gottscho’s photographs of the waterfront and the city’s architectural splendor, and Weegee’s masterful noir lowlife.” That said—in the publisher’s PR description—the volume gives short shrift to jazz (and popular music), notwithstanding that the city was at the time (and remains) the Jazz Mecca. I found index entries for Billie Holiday and Benny Goodman, who are mentioned in passing, but none for Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, or any other jazz musicians. Reminds me of critic Dwight McDonald complaining of that “no composers of any note were present” at the 1965 White House Festival of the Arts—yet the Duke Ellington band performed “Black, Brown and Beige” at it! I have to say, though, that The Brazen Age is a fascinating account of the period when I was in the second half of my teens, 1945-50. I was several months short of my fifteenth birthday when I arrived home from school and found my mother in tears—Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died earlier that day. Reid’s chapter on FDR was very moving for me. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
I’m a sucker for collections of essays on literature and so found much of interest in Benjamin Percy’s Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction (Graywolf Press), “challenges the notion that literary and genre fiction are somehow mutually exclusive. The title essay is an ode to the kinds of books that make many readers fall in love with fiction: science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, horror, from J.R.R. Tolkien to Anne Rice, Ursula K. Le Guin to Stephen King. Percy’s own academic experience banished many of these writers in the name of what is ‘literary’ and what is ‘genre.’ Then he discovered Michael Chabon, Aimee Bender, Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, and others who employ techniques of genre fiction while remaining literary writers. In fifteen essays on the craft of fiction, Percy looks to disparate sources such as Jaws, Blood Meridian, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to discover how contemporary writers engage issues of plot, suspense, momentum, and the speculative, as well as character, setting, and dialogue. An urgent and entertaining missive on craft, Thrill Me brims with Percy’s distinctive blend of anecdotes, advice, and close reading, all in the service of one dictum: Thrill the reader.”
Joel Selvin’s Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day (Dey Street Books) “tells the definitive story of the Rolling Stones’ infamous Altamont concert in San Francisco, the disastrous historic event that marked the end of the idealistic 1960s. In the annals of rock history, the Altamont Speedway Free Festival on December 6, 1969, has long been seen as the distorted twin of Woodstock—the day that shattered the Sixties’ promise of peace and love when a concertgoer was killed by a member of the Hells Angels, the notorious biker club acting as security. While most people know of the events from the film Gimme Shelter, the whole story has remained buried in varied accounts, rumor, and myth—until now. Altamont explores rock’s darkest day, a fiasco that began well before the climactic death of Meredith Hunter and continued beyond that infamous December night. Joel Selvin probes every aspect of the show—from the Stones’ hastily planned tour preceding the concert to the bad acid that swept through the audience to other deaths that also occurred that evening—to capture the full scope of the tragedy and its aftermath. He also provides an in-depth look at the Grateful Dead’s role in the events leading to Altamont, examining the band’s behind-the-scenes presence in both arranging the show and hiring the Hells Angels as security. The product of twenty years of exhaustive research and dozens of interviews with many key players, including medical staff, Hells Angels members, the stage crew, and the musicians who were there, and featuring sixteen pages of color photos, Altamont is the ultimate account of the final event in rock’s formative and most turbulent decade.” >. Photographs, bibliography, index.
Cajuns and Other Characters: True Stories from South Louisiana (Pelican Publishing Company), by Jim Bradshaw “delivers bite-sized stories from the heart of Cajun Country. Whether they’re about characters from the page or players on the political stage, paupers or authors, musicians or physicians, teachers or preachers, these spirited vignettes celebrate the quirky history and rich culture of Acadiana. Famous names like Huey P. Long and Evangeline rub shoulders with lesser-known personalities, such as the “First and Only Eternal King Crawfish” and Father Forge’s pet monkeys. This collection of essays, from the wildly popular newspaper column C’est Vrai, celebrates the politics, sports, music, and, most of all, people of the Pelican State.” “Journalist Jim Bradshaw has won numerous awards for his spot news reporting, feature writing, editorial commentary, and investigative reporting in his more than fifty years of reporting. He earned his degree in English and journalism from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette with a minor in history and has since pursued his twin passions of journalism and history. Bradshaw has been recognized as one of South Louisiana’s Living Legends by the Acadian Museum, awarded the Prix de Louisiane for his writing on Cajun culture by the Council for Development of French in Louisiana, and honored by the Phi Alpha Theta national history honor society for “conspicuous attainment and scholarship in the field of history.” Photographs, bibliography.
I’ve read all of Zadie Smith’s five novels and a number of her essays and am convinced that she is a major literary voice of our time, both in her fiction and as critic. Her Swing Time (Penguin Press) is noteworthy in that it gives expression to vital contemporary societal concerns and couches them in musical metaphors, for its protagonist “has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free.”
“This is a story at once intimate and global, as much about childhood friendship as international aid, as fascinated by the fate of an unemployed single mother as it is by the omnipotence of a world-class singer. . . . Smith’s attention to the grace notes of friendship is as precise as ever. . . . Swing Time uses its extraordinary breadth and its syncopated structure to turn the issues of race and class in every direction. . . . We finally have a big social novel nimble enough to keep all its diverse parts moving gracefully toward a vision of what really matters in this life when the music stops,” enthuses Ron Charles in the Washington Post.
West of Eden: An American Place (Random House), by Jean Stein, “is a stunning exploration of five families who made Los Angeles what it is. Gossipy, dark, rich, mesmerizing,” says author Joan Didion. “If there is anyone still laboring under the delusion that great wealth and a couple of palm trees bring happiness, Jean Stein’s long-awaited oral history of Los Angeles, West of Eden, should put that notion to rest. . . . It is probably not an exaggeration to say that West of Eden is the most intelligent, painstakingly researched work of schadenfreude yet produced,” opines Katie Roiphe in Town & Country. Photographs, “Biographical Notes.”
Arthur Lubow’s Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer (Ecco) is “The definitive biography of the beguiling Diane Arbus, one of the most influential and important photographers of the twentieth century, a brilliant and absorbing exposition that links the extraordinary arc of her life to her iconic photographs. [It] brings into focus with vividness and immediacy one of the great American artists of the twentieth century. Arbus comes startlingly to life on these pages, a strong-minded child of disconcerting originality who grew into a formidable photographer of unflinching courage. Arbus forged an intimacy with her subjects that has inspired generations of artists. Arresting, unsettling, and poignant, her photographs stick in our minds. Why did these people fascinate her? And what was it about her that captivated them? It is impossible to understand the transfixing power of Arbus’s photographs without exploring her life. Lubow draws on exclusive interviews with Arbus’s friends, lovers, and colleagues; on previously unknown letters; and on his own profound critical insights into photography to explore Arbus’s unique perspective and to reveal important aspects of her life that were previously unknown or unsubstantiated. He deftly traces Arbus’s development from a wealthy, sexually precocious free spirit into first, a successful New York fashion photographer and then, a singular artist who coaxed secrets from her subjects. Lubow reveals that Arbus’s profound need not only to see her subjects but to be seen by them drove her to forge unusually close bonds with these people, helping her discover the fantasies, pain, and heroism within each of them, and leading her to create a new kind of photographic portraiture charged with an unnerving complicity between the subject and the viewer. Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer brushes aside the clichés that have long surrounded Arbus and her work. It is a magnificently absorbing biography of this unique, hugely influential artist.” Photographs, notes, index.
I’ve read several reviews of Stephen Witt’s How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy (Viking) and also Lorin Stein’s essay “Words Unwired” in the January 10, 2016 New York Times Book Review, which dealt with the effect of the Internet on the book publishing scene. Frankly, for someone like yours truly, who came up in a different world with, initially, 78RPMs, then LPs and CDs, and has always cherished holding a book (not a Kindle) in his hands, the recording industry and publishing worlds world seem not just “Unwired” but unhinged. Witt, who was born in New Hampshire in 1979, raised in the Midwest, and now lives in Brooklyn, graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in mathematics in 2001 and from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2011. He has played the stock market and worked hedge funds and spent two years in East Africa working in economic development. His book, which has won some Best Book of the Year awards, “is a riveting story of obsession, music, crime, and money, featuring visionaries and criminals, moguls and tech-savvy teenagers. It’s about the greatest pirate in history, the most powerful executive in the music business, a revolutionary invention and an illegal website four times the size of the iTunes Music Store.” Notes, index.
A virtual raft of books arrived here in March from Pelican Publishing Company, which is located in, you guessed it, the Pelican State. All deal in aspects of Louisiana culture. The delightful Parade (Pelican Publishing Company) by Alexis Braud, is geared toward ages three to eight and concerns a mouse who “didn’t want cheese, or cool lemonade/That mouse, well he wanted to lead a parade.” And that is just what he did, joined by a “tabby cat,” “two fluffy dogs,” squirrels, raccoons, a goat, a pig, “a small troupe of rats,” “high-stepping egrets,” “a big mama possum,” “a couple of friendly alligators in fine evening outfits,” pigeons, and a pelican (of course!) on “a seat on a cart whose mule was clip-clopping his feet . . . [and that cart was] soon filled up with a load of fine critters.” The color-splashed illustrations are very appealing, depicting the paraders in their parade attire. It is altogether a splendid volume that youngsters will much enjoy many listenings to or readings of.
Also in the heavy package were:
New Orleans Mardi Gras Moments (Pelican Publishing Company), with text by Peggy Laborde and photographs by Judi Bottoni, which tells “not only the story of Mardi Gras but . . . capture[s] the spirit of Carnival that is so important to our culture in this city. The pictures tell more than a thousand words; they bring you into the heart of the Mardi Gras experience.” Eric Paulsen, anchor, WWL-TV Eyewitness News and photographer for Sally-Ann Roberts’ Your Power Is On!: A Little Book of Hope (Pelican Publishing).
Voices of Angels: Disaster Lessons from Katrina Nurses (Pelican Publishing Company),
by Gail Tumulty and John Batty “offer[s] analysis and recommendations for healthcare institutions nationwide” and is “an invaluable resource for healthcare professionals and consumers who need their care and a testament to the character of the men and women who worked under these incredible circumstances. . . . Coauthors John R. Batty and Gail Tumulty interviewed dozens of nurses and healthcare workers after Hurricane Katrina and presented their findings at the American Nurses’ Association conference. In those interviews, collected in this volume, the nurses spoke about their experiences caring for patients at New Orleans hospitals and medical centers, including the Veterans Affairs Hospital, Charity Hospital, University Hospital, and Ochsner Medical Center. Batty and Tumulty’s additional lessons and disaster preparedness plans make this book an invaluable resource for healthcare professionals and consumers who need their care and a testament to the character of the men and women who worked under these incredible circumstances.” Photographs, bibliography, notes, index.
Rhythm and Blues In New Orleans (Pelican Publishing Company), by John Broven, a contributing writer for the British magazine Blues Unlimited and author of South to Louisiana: the Music of the Cajun Bayous (Pelican Publishing Company), is “newly revised for this edition, much of the material com[ing] firsthand from those who helped create the [R&B] genre, including Fats Domino, Ray Charles, and Wardell Quezergue.” Photographs, bibliography, notes, index.
Louisiana, the Jewel of the Deep South (Pelican Publishing Company), with text by Johnette Downing, illustrated by Julia Marshall, and geared toward ages five to eight, “takes you through a tour of the state’s famous symbols. Did you know that the crawfish is the state crustacean? Or that the Catahoula is the state dog? And what is more emblematic of Louisiana than gumbo and sweet beignets? All this and more is revealed in this charming picture book, brimming with rich illustrations. A timeline, which lists when these icons were named, and original song compliment the text and enhance the book’s classroom applications.”
At the bottom of the stack in the box from Pelican Publishing Company was the pièce de résistance, Kerri McCaffety’s gorgeous New Orleans at Night: The Magic of the Crescent City After Dark (Pelican Publishing Company). The epigraph preceding the author/photographer’s Introduction is, fittingly, by another pictorial artist, Vincent van Gogh: “I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” I have wandered the Crescent City at night (as well as by day) and McCaffety’s sublime art and technically precise images evoke many memories. She has an eye—and has the skills to apply it to the scenes she captures in superb color. This is a keeper and will long retain a place on my coffee table. “Kerri’s work is lush with natural light that makes the images sensual and rich, and transforms the places she photographs into poems,” says Francis Ford Coppola.
Kwame Alexander’s Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band (Sleeping Bear Press), illustrated by Tim Bowers and aimed at ages six to nine, is a delight and jazz-inclined parents will enjoy introducing it to their offspring. “When a jazz-loving rooster sets his sights on winning a barnyard talent show, he realizes he can’t do it as a solo act. He’s up against the talents of Mules Davis’s cool duo and Ella Finchgerald’s singing group. Acoustic Rooster calls on friends like pianist Duck Ellington, singer Bee Holiday, and percussionist piggy Pepe Ernesto Cruz. Together, the foursome makes beautiful music as they rock the barnyard. And while they may not win first prize, Acoustic Rooster realizes he has the world’s best jazz band and that’s all that matters. Colorful artwork from artist Tim Bowers (Memoirs of a Goldfish) ensures this story doesn’t miss a beat. A glossary of musical terms and instruments rounds out this perfect introduction to jazz for young readers. Kwame Alexander is a poet, publisher, and an award-winning producer of literary programs. He has written for television, the stage, and authored 13 books. He conducts writing/publishing workshops at schools and conferences throughout the country. Kwame lives in the Washington, D.C. area. Tim Bowers has illustrated more than 25 children’s books, garnering such awards as the Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best list. His work for Sleeping Bear includes First Dog and First Dog’s White House Christmas. Tim lives in Granville, Ohio.”
David J. Helfand’s A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age: Scientific Habits of Mind (Columbia University Press) “provides an inoculation against the misinformation epidemic by cultivating scientific habits of mind. . . [and] supplies an essential set of apps for the prefrontal cortex while making science both accessible and entertaining. It will dissolve your fear of numbers, demystify graphs, and elucidate the key concepts of probability, all while celebrating the precise use of language and logic.” “A Survival Guide for the Misinformation Age is an impassioned plea for science literacy. Given the state of the world today, in which scientifically underinformed voters elect scientifically illiterate politicians, David Helfand has written the right book at the right time with the right message. Read it now. The future of our civilization may depend on it,” advises Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History.
Virginia Heffernan’s Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art) (Simon & Schuster) “reveals the logic and aesthetics behind the Internet.
Since its inception, the Internet has morphed from merely an extension of traditional media into its own full-fledged civilization. It is among mankind’s great masterpieces—a massive work of art. As an idea, it rivals monotheism. We all inhabit this fascinating place. But its deep logic, its cultural potential, and its societal impact often elude us. In this deep and thoughtful book, Virginia Heffernan (called one of the ‘best living writers of English prose’) presents an original and far-reaching analysis of what the Internet is and does. Life online, in the highly visual, social, portable, and global incarnation rewards certain virtues. The new medium favors speed, accuracy, wit, prolificacy, and versatility, and its form and functions are changing how we perceive, experience, and understand the world.”
“In melding the personal with the increasingly universal, Heffernan delivers a highly informative analysis of what the Internet is—and can be. A thoroughly engrossing examination of the Internet’s past, present, and future.” Kirkus
“Heffernan is a gleeful trickster, a semiotics fan with an unabashed sweet tooth for pop culture. The New York Times. Index.
The publisher’s description of John D’Agata’s The Making of the American Essay (A New History of the Essay) (Graywolf Press) reads, “For two decades, essayist John D’Agata has been exploring the contours of the essay through a series of innovative, informative, and expansive anthologies that have become foundational texts in the study of the genre. The breakthrough first volume, The Next American Essay, highlighted major work from 1974 to 2003, while the second, The Lost Origins of the Essay, showcased the essay’s ancient and international forebears. Now, with The Making of the American Essay, D’Agata concludes his monumental tour of this inexhaustible form, with selections ranging from Anne Bradstreet’s secular prayers to Washington Irving’s satires, Emily Dickinson’s love letters to Kenneth Goldsmith’s catalogues, Gertrude Stein’s portraits to James Baldwin’s and Norman Mailer’s meditations on boxing. Across the anthologies, D’Agata’s introductions to each selection-intimate and brilliantly provocative throughout-serve as an extended treatise, collectively forming the backbone of the trilogy. He uncovers new stories in the American essay’s past, and shows us that some of the most fiercely daring writers in the American literary canon have turned to the essay in order to produce our culture’s most exhilarating art. The Making of the American Essay offers the essay at its most varied, unique, and imaginative best, proving that the impulse to make essays in America is as old and as original as the nation itself.”
“D’Agata is America’s most intellectually eloquent reader of the essay. . . . With this third and final volume of his long labor of love he gives us a defining work of reference that will serve generations to come,” opines critic, journalist, essayist, and memoirist Vivian Gornick.
“It’s clear that the past fifteen-or-so years saw a rethinking and a rebirth of the essay, and equally clear that John D’Agata’s work was essential in both. He pushed the form forward with one hand and extended our grasp of its roots with the other. He remains as exciting to read as to argue with, and his hunting in the worlds of lost non-fiction has shown me many new writers and texts. The Making of the American Essay completes a series on the subject and brings the achievement of all three books into focus. It is major,” enthuses John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead: Essays.
I much enjoyed Louisa Thomas’s Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams (Penguin Press), Mrs. Adams did indeed lead an extraordinary life, as well as one of much physical and emotional suffering. While certainly neither an abolitionist nor a feminist, she was intellectually fraught over slavery and she questioned the ways in which the worth of women was denied, ignored, and diminished by the patriarchal society of her time. The publisher accurately describes the biography as “An intimate portrait of Louisa Catherine Adams, the wife of John Quincy Adams, who witnessed firsthand the greatest transformations of her time. They lived in Prussia, Massachusetts, Washington, Russia, and England, at royal courts, on farms, in cities, and in the White House. Louisa saw more of Europe and America than nearly any other woman of her time. But wherever she lived, she was always pressing her nose against the glass, not quite sure whether she was looking in or out. The other members of the Adams family could take their identity for granted—they were Adamses; they were Americans—but she had to invent her own. The story of Louisa Catherine Adams is one of a woman who forged a sense of self. As the country her husband led found its place in the world, she found a voice. That voice resonates still.”
Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Witches, Cleopatra, and A Great Improvisation, enthuses, “The thrilling, improbable life of our only foreign-born First Lady, to whom Quincy, Massachusetts seemed more exotic than Tsar Alexander’s St. Petersburg. If, as Louisa Thomas makes splendidly clear, being born an Adams was difficult, marrying one was yet more so. Louisa Catherine Adams knew how to please her husband (study Cicero), as well as how to displease him (wear rouge); we come to admire her on both counts in this nuanced, beautifully crafted portrait.” Frontispiece photograph of Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams, notes, index.
Grand Illusions: American Art and the First World War (Oxford University Press), by David M. Lubin, is a “vivid, engaging account of the famous and forgotten artists and artworks that sought to make sense of America’s first total war. Despite the prevailing view of World War I’s general lack of impact on American Art, David Lubin takes readers on a journey through the major historical events during and immediately after the war to discover the often missed vast and pervasive influence of the Great War on American visual culture[,] assess[ing] the war’s impact on two dozen painters, designers, photographers, and film makers from 1914 to 1933[,] creatively upend[ing] traditional understandings of the Great War’s effects on the visual arts in America.” “What Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory did for literature, David Lubin’s Grand Illusions does for the painting, photography, sculpture, and architecture inspired by the First World War. Astutely guiding his readers through the treacherous landscape where stubborn romantic myths befog the ghastly realities of modern warfare, Lubin powerfully demonstrates the Great War’s lasting legacy in all the visual arts.” says David M. Kennedy, author of Over Here: The First World War and American Society, and David Reynolds, author of The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century, praises the book as “A fascinating, richly illustrated examination of how this supposedly ‘forgotten’ war figured in the American imagination.” Photographs, illustrations, notes, index.
Simon Schama’s The Face of Britain: A History of the Nation Through Its Portraits (Oxford University Press) is a fun book. Cheek by jowl (well, in different chapters) are “portraits” (paintings, drawings, photographs) of Henry VIII, Winston Churchill, and “Annie Leibovitz’s photograph of a nude John Lennon kissing Yoko Ono, taken five hours before his murder.”
“Here are expressions from across the centuries of normalcy and heroism, beauty and disfigurement, aristocracy and deprivation, the familiar and the obscure-the faces of courtesans, warriors, workers, activists, playwrights, the high and mighty as well as pub-crawlers. Linking them is Schama’s vibrant exploration of how their connective power emerges from the dynamic between subject and artist, work and viewer, time and place. Schama’s compelling analysis and impassioned evocation of these works create an unforgettable verbal mosaic that at once reveals and transforms the images he places before us. Lavishly illustrated and written with the storytelling brio that is Schama’s trademark, The Face of Britain invites us to look at a nation’s visual legacies and find its reflection.” List of Illustrations, bibliography, index.
Craig Pittman Oh, Florida!: How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country (St. Martin’s Press). “To outsiders, Florida seems baffling. It’s a state where the voters went for Barack Obama twice, yet elected a Tea Party candidate as governor. Florida is touted as a carefree paradise, yet it’s also known for its perils-alligators, sinkholes, pythons, hurricanes, and sharks, to name a few. It attracts 90 million visitors a year, some drawn by its impressive natural beauty, others bewitched by its manmade fantasies. Oh, Florida! explores those contradictions and shows how they fit together to make this the most interesting state. It is the first book to explore the reasons why Florida is so wild and weird-and why that’s okay. Florida couldn’t be Florida without that sense of the unpredictable, unexpected, and unusual lurking behind every palm tree. But there is far more to Florida than its sideshow freakiness. Oh, Florida! explains how Florida secretly, subtly influences all the other states in the Union, both for good and for ill. Photographs, bibliography, index.
I received Garry Trudeau’s Yuge!: 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump (Andrews McMeel Publishing) ten days before the 2016 election and, quoting from a then recent Darryl Pinckney essay, I plead, “Nate Silver, hold my hand.” (Well, notwithstanding Nate’s assurances, the worst happened.) Trudeau, characteristically, proves to have been uncannily prescient in foreseeing the candidacy of the demagogue and sociopath Trump, “tirelessly track[ing] and highlight[ing] the unsavory career of the most unqualified candidate to ever aspire to the White House. It’s all there—the hilarious narcissism, the schoolyard bullying, the loathsome misogyny, the breathtaking ignorance; and a good portion of the Doonesbury cast has been tangled up in it. Join Duke, Honey, Earl, J.J., Mike, Mark, Roland, Boopsie, B.D., Sal, Alice, Elmont, Sid, Zonker, Sam, Bernie, Rev. Sloan, and even the Red Rascal as they cross storylines with the big, orange airhorn who’s giving the GOP such fits. Garry Trudeau is [as Trump is quoted in an included newspaper clip] the ‘sleazeball’ and ‘third-rate talent’ who draws the ‘overrated’ comic strip Doonesbury, which ‘very few people read.’ He lives in New York City with his wife Jane Pauley, who ‘has far more talent than he has.’” As of this writing, I look forward to—after Hillary Clinton is elected, —many rereadings of Yuge!. (Additional update as of the posting of this roundup on January 2, 2017: I remain uncomprehending and devastated that this clown, ignoramus, and terrifyingly dangerous man could have been elected and will occupy the Oval Office come January 20, 2017.)
The Pinch: A Novel: A History (Graywolf Press), by Steve Stern, winner of the National Jewish Book Award and the author of several previous novels and story collections, is more than a novel, it is a history within a novel and a novel within a history. In the late NPR book critic Alan Cheuse’s words, its account of a “mythologized Memphis [is]weird, wacky.” “The Pinch—for many years in the early 20th century a predominantly Jewish section of Memphis—has found its Whitman and its Faulkner in Stern, who’s written a stylistically effusive, verbally extravagant novel. . . . Audacious, hilarious, unabashed fiction.” Kirkus Reviews.
Ian Frazier’s Hogs Wild: Selected Reporting Pieces (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) “is [by] one of the most gifted chroniclers of contemporary America. Hogs Wild assembles a decade’s worth of [Frazier’s] finest essays and reportage, and demonstrates the irrepressible passions and artful digressions that distinguish his enduring body of work. Part muckraker, part adventurer, and part raconteur, Frazier beholds, captures, and occasionally reimagines the spirit of the American experience. He travels down South to examine feral hogs, and learns that their presence in any county is a strong indicator that it votes Republican. He introduces us to a man who, when his house is hit by a supposed meteorite, hopes to ‘leverage’ the space object into opportunity for his family, and a New York City police detective who is fascinated with rap-music-related crimes. Alongside Frazier’s delight in the absurdities of contemporary life is his sense of social responsibility: there’s an echo of the great reform-minded writers in his pieces on a soup kitchen, opioid overdose deaths on Staten Island, and the rise in homelessness in New York City under Mayor Bloomberg. In each dizzying discovery, Hogs Wild unearths the joys of inquiry without agenda, curiosity without calculation. To read Frazier is to become a kind of social and political anthropologist–astute and deeply engaged.” This is truly a marvelous collection.
The Time Traveler’s Handbook: 18 Experiences from the Eruption of Vesuvius to Woodstock (Harper Design), by James Wyllie, Johnny Acton, and David Goldblatt, “Travel[s] through time to witness some of the most extraordinary and colorful events in world history with this unusual and entertaining guide that includes fascinating cultural details from each period, including what and where to eat, what to wear, how to act like a local, and most importantly, how to stay alive. . . . Filled with engaging and colorful details, The Time Traveler’s Handbook helps you make the most of your ‘travels,’ giving you background information, insight into local customs, and advice on all aspects of period life to make your adventures authentic and help you actually live them [and] gives you unprecedented access to a wide range of milestones, including Celebrations & Exhibitions; Moments That Made History; Cultural & Sporting Spectaculars; Epic Journeys and Voyages; and Extreme Events. Observe Mount Vesuvius erupt (and survive), see the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, boogie with the Beatles in Hamburg, accompany Marco Polo to Xanadu, attend the opening night of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, smell the cordite at the battle of Bull Run, and sit ringside at Foreman and Ali’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in Kinshasa. Illustrated with color and black-and-white paintings and photographs of famous figures and locations, as well as detailed maps and illustrations to aid in your journey through time, The Time Traveler’s Handbook is the ultimate guide to exploring history that unlocks the wonders of the past as never before.” Photographs, illustrations, “Past, Present, and Future Reading” (a bibliography).
The going definition of a novella is in terms of both length and form, to wit, a novella is shorter and contains a less complex plot than a novel. By these standards, I would place Eugen Ruge’s 107-page Cabo de Gata: A Novel (Graywolf Press) in the novella category. I much enjoyed it and agree that it “proposes the biggest questions and illustrates how achieving happiness sometimes means giving oneself up to the foreign and the unknown. . . . A witty, philosophical novel by the author of the internationally bestselling In Times of Fading Light. Sometimes a cat comes into your life when you least expect it. An unnamed writer finds himself in Cabo de Gata, a sleepy, worn-down Andalusian fishing village. He’s left behind his life in Berlin, which it turns out wasn’t much–an ex-girlfriend, a neighborhood that had become too trendy for his taste. Surrounded by a desolate landscape that is scoured by surprisingly cold winds (not at all what he expected of southern Spain), he faces his daily failures: to connect with the innkeeper or any of the townsfolk, who all seem to be hiding something; to learn Spanish; to keep warm; to write. At last he succeeds in making an unlikely connection with one of the village’s many feral cats. Does the cat have a message for him? And will their tenuous relationship be enough to turn his life around?”
Just as Nabokov’s Lolita provided us a veritable landscape of America (in the 1950s) and Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy does the same (as it cruises over four decades, commencing in the 1960s), Rosa Liksom, the author of Compartment No. 6: A Novel (Graywolf Press), gives the reader, in stark terms, a city-by-city, hamlet-by-hamlet overview of the corruption and desolation of the USSR. “[Liksom] was born in a village of eight houses in Lapland, Finland, where her parents were reindeer breeders and farmers. She spent her youth traveling Europe, living as a squatter and in communes. She paints, makes films, and writes in Helsinki.” The story, which is translated by Lola Rogers) and in the original Finnish won the 2011 Finlandia Prize, takes place in the final years of the Soviet Union and appears to be drawn from the writer’s experiences, for it recount’s the protagonist’s (“the girl,”) journey, by train, from Moscow to Mongolia. “There is a hint of menace in the air,” the publisher says, and I shall not be a spoiler by revealing any more about this intriguing novel except to say that it is a gripping tale told in a manner that bespeaks high art.
In Freebird: A Novel (Graywolf Press), Jon Raymond, “screenwriter of the acclaimed films Meek’s Cutoff and Night Moves, combines . . . narrative threads into a hard-driving story of one family’s moral crisis [,delivering] a brilliant, searching novel about death and politics in America today, revealing how the fates of our families are irrevocably tied to the currents of history.” Jon Raymond is the author of two novels, Rain Dragon and The Half-Life, and the short-story collection Livability. His work has appeared in Tin House, The Village Voice, Bookforum, and other places. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
I much enjoyed Norwegian Carl Frode Tiller’s Encircling: A Novel (Graywolf Press), translated by Barbara J. Haveland, the opening novel to a trilogy of the same title, won the European Prize for Literature, the English PEN Award, and the Hunger Prize. Frode displays mastery at getting inside his characters’ heads in very disturbing ways.
“[It] can hold his own alongside Norway’s other literary big hitters. I’m very much looking forward to the next installment,” says Ann Morgan, freelance writer and editor from London and author of World Between Two Covers.
Percival Everett’s So Much Blue: A NovelPercival Everett by Virgil Russell, Erasure, and I Am Not Sidney Poitier. He has received the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the PEN Center USA Award for Fiction.
In J. Robert Lennon’s unfolds, a spectral presence seems to be watching with cold and mysterious interest. Soon the house lies abandoned, and years later a new family moves in. . . . . Broken River is a cinematic, darkly comic, and sui generis psychological thriller.”
David Rivard’s Standoff: Poems (Graywolf Press) is “written from deep within the skin of our times. [The title poem] ‘Standoff’ asks an essential question: In a world of noise, of global anxiety and media distraction, how can we speak to each other with honesty? These poems scan the shifting horizons of our world, all the while swerving elastically through the multitude of selves that live inside our memories and longings–“all those me’s that wish to be set free at dawn.” The work of these poems is a counterweight to the work of the world. It wants to deepen the mystery we are to ourselves, stretching toward acceptance and tenderness in ways that are hard-won and true, even if fleeting.”
Tina Packer’s Women of Will: The Remarkable Evolution of Shakespeare’s Female Characters (Vintage) “is a fierce and funny exploration of Shakespeare’s understanding of the feminine. Tina Packer, one of our foremost Shakespeare experts, shows that Shakespeare began, in his early comedies, by writing women as shrews to be tamed or as sweet little things with no independence of thought. The women of the history plays are much more interesting, beginning with Joan of Arc. Then, with the extraordinary Juliet, there is a dramatic shift: suddenly Shakespeare’s women have depth, motivation, and understanding of life more than equal to that of the men. As Shakespeare ceases to write women as predictable caricatures and starts writing them from the inside, his women become as dimensional, spirited, spiritual, active, and sexual as any of his male characters. Wondering if Shakespeare had fallen in love (Packer considers with whom, and what she may have been like), the author observes that from Juliet on, Shakespeare’s characters demonstrate that when women and men are equal in status and passion, they can—and do—change the world.” Sources, bibliography, index.
Albert Goldbarth’s The Adventures of Form and Content: Essays is “about the mysteries of dualities, the selves we all carry inside, the multiverses that we are. This collection takes its shape from the ACE Doubles format of the 1950s: turn this book one way, and read about the checkered history of those sci-fi and pulp fictions, or about the erotic poetry of Catullus and the gravelly songs of Springsteen, or about the high gods and the low-down blues, a city of the holy and of the sinful; turn this book the other way, and read about prehistoric cave artists and NASA astronauts, or about illness and health, or about the discovery of planets and the discovery of oneself inside an essay, or about soul ships and space ships, the dead and the living; or turn the book any way you want, and this book becomes an adventure of author and reader, form and content.
Goldbarth’s essays have pioneered and inspired new forms of nonfiction writing for thirty years. Robert Atwan, the series editor for The Best American Essays, praises his work by stating, ‘These essays are a whole new breed . . . . Goldbarth has spliced strands of the old genre with a powerful new genre―and the results are miraculous.’ The Adventures of Form and Content is a new, ingenious work of hilarity and humanity that reminds us of the capabilities and impossibilities of art.” (Graywolf Press)
Albert Goldbarth [is] “a dazzling virtuoso who can break your heart,” says Joyce Carol Oates.
Donning my classics hat (http://camws.org/News/newsletter/files/WRSAutobio.pdf), I requested review copies of the following books.
Christopher Logue War Music: An Account of Homer’s Iliad (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), edited by Christopher Reid
“For more than forty years, the English poet, wit, and troublemaker Christopher Logue (1926-2011) was at work on what came to be regarded as his masterpiece: an idiosyncratic contemporary version of Homer’s Iliad. Beginning with the publication of his first volume in 1981 and celebrated as ‘the best translation of Homer since Pope’s” (The New York Review of Books), Logue’s project was distinct from conventional translation, for it set out to be a radical reimagining of Homer’s take on warfare, human folly, and the power of the gods, in a language and style of verse that were emphatically of Logue’s era. While illness prevented him from bringing his version of the Iliad to completion, enough survives in notebooks and letters to allow his friend the poet Christopher Reid to compile a version of the unpublished final installment, “Big Men Falling a Long Way.” This has been added to the previous parts of the poem . . . to make one magisterial volume [and] comes as near as possible to representing the poet’s complete vision, an always surprising, witty, moving, and uncanny performance on the page that is “possessed of a very terrible beauty” Slate. Here Logue confirms what his admirers have long known: War Music “is likely to endure as one of the great long poems of the twentieth century,” The Times Literary Supplement.
Just as I observed above that Ted Gioia’s introductory book about jazz is an excellent guide for the beginner and a refresher course for those knowledgeable of the art form, so do I say the same about Richard Jenkyns Classical Literature: An Epic Journey from Homer to Virgil and Beyond (Basic Books). It serves both purposes, for it offers the essential information for the novice and many insights that will be welcome to those familiar with the ancient western world and its literature. Having given up serving as a professor of classics more than four decades ago, I can now claim to be no more than a dilettante in that field of study, although I have kept up my Greek and Latin and more often than not have a volume of ancient history, a biography of one of its participants, or a critical study of a Greek or Latin author on my active reading stack. I have enjoyed and profited from Jenkyns’ book. “In this short book, written in artfully uncomplicated prose, Jenkyns not only informs his readers about all the major authors of Greek and Roman antiquity but invariably delivers fresh, arresting, and by no means uncontroversial opinions on most of them. His book will certainly instruct those in search of information about classical literature, but it will also give profit and pleasure to those who already know something about it. There is scarcely anything on which he does not offer an original aperçu, sometimes illuminating, sometimes simply provocative, but always worth reading. . . . Jenkyns’s view of ancient literature is Olympian. He sees it from a great height, with a sharp eye and broad vision, and what he sees is never clouded or obscure. His success comes from an unusual conjunction of distance with a deep knowledge and love of the literature about which he writes,” opines classicist G.W. Bowersock, in the New York Review of Books. Notes, index.
Augustan Poetry and the Irrational (Oxford University Press),Philip Hardie, editor, is a collection of essays by British, French, Italian, and German classical scholars. I especially welcome it because two of the poets concerned, Tibullus and Propertius, were areas of concentration for me during my professorial years (late 1950s –late ’60s) as professor of classics. The publisher’s description of the era and its poetry states well the fascination that Augustan poetry holds for this renegade classicist: “The establishment of the Augustan regime presents itself as the assertion of order and rationality in the political, ideological, and artistic spheres, after the disorder and madness of the civil wars of the late Republic. But the classical, Apollonian poetry of the Augustan period is fascinated by the irrational in both the public and private spheres. There is a vivid memory of the political and military furor that destroyed the Republic, and also an anxiety that furor may resurface, that the repressed may return. Epic and elegy are both obsessed with erotic madness: Dido experiences in her very public role the disabling effects of love that are both lamented and celebrated by the love elegists. Didactic (especially the Georgics) and the related Horatian exercises in satire and epistle, offer programmes for constructing rational order in the natural, political, and psychological worlds, but at best contain uneasily an ever-present threat of confusion and backsliding, and for the most part fall short of the austere standards of rational exposition set by Lucretius. Dionysus and the Dionysiac enjoy a prominence in Augustan poetry and art that goes well beyond the merely ornamental. The person of the emperor Augustus himself tests the limits of rational categorization. Augustan Poetry and the Irrational contains contributions by some of the leading experts of the Augustan period as well as a number of younger scholars. An introduction which surveys the field as a whole is followed by chapters that examine the manifestations of the irrational in a range of Augustan poets, including Virgil, Horace, Ovid, and the love elegists, and also explore elements of post-classical reception.” Bibliography, Index Locorum, index.
It was also gratifying to receive a review copy of Seth L. Schein’s Homeric Epic and its Reception: Interpretive Essays (Oxford University Press), for it contains essays on passages in the Iliad and Odyssey that I have read both in the Greek original and in several English translations and that I have puzzled over or merely enjoyed. In addition, there are several chapters of a more general nature, e.g., “Milman Parry the the Literary Interpretation of Homeric Poetry” and “An American Homer for the Twentieth Centuty.” Bibliography, Index of Passages, index.
Ian Worthington’s By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire (Ancient Warfare and Civilization series) (Oxford University Press) “offers an exhilarating military narrative of the reigns of these two larger-than-life figures in one volume. Ian Worthington gives full breadth to the careers of father and son, showing how Philip was the architect of the Macedonian empire, which reached its zenith under Alexander, only to disintegrate upon his death. By the Spear also explores the impact of Greek culture in the East, as Macedonian armies became avatars of social and cultural change in lands far removed from the traditional sphere of Greek influence. In addition, the book discusses the problems Alexander faced in dealing with a diverse subject population and the strategies he took to what might be called nation building, all of which shed light on contemporary events in culturally dissimilar regions of the world. The result is a gripping and unparalleled account of the role these kings played in creating a vast empire and the enduring legacy they left behind.” Photographs, illustrations, maps, bibliography, index.
Taken at the Flood: The Roman Conquest of Greece (Ancient Warfare and Civilization series) (Oxford University Press), by Robin Waterfield, “chronicles this momentous move by Rome into the Greek east. Until now, this period of history has been overshadowed by the threat of Carthage in the west, but events in the east were no less important in themselves, and Robin Waterfield’s account reveals the peculiar nature of Rome’s eastern policy. For over seventy years, the Romans avoided annexation so that they could commit their military and financial resources to the fight against Carthage and elsewhere. Though ultimately a failure, this policy of indirect rule, punctuated by periodic brutal military interventions and intense diplomacy, worked well for several decades, until the Senate finally settled on more direct forms of control. Waterfield’s fast-paced narrative focuses mainly on military and diplomatic maneuvers, but throughout he interweaves other topics and themes, such as the influence of Greek culture on Rome, the Roman aristocratic ethos, and the clash between the two best fighting machines the ancient world ever produced: the Macedonian phalanx and Roman legion. The result is an absorbing account of a critical chapter in Rome’s mastery of the Mediterranean.” Photographs, illustrations, maps, bibliography, index.
The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice (Knopf) moved me deeply. As the publisher’s description says, it is “A groundbreaking book—two decades in the works—that tells the story of how a brilliant writer-turned-activist [and the] granddaughter of a mulatto slave . . . and [Eleanor Roosevelt,] the first lady of the United States, whose ancestry gave her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, forged an enduring friendship that changed each of their lives and helped to alter the course of race and racism in America.” “It’s safe to say that The Firebrand and the First Lady will deservedly capture several literary awards this year. . . . A definitive biography of Murray, a trailblazing legal scholar and a tremendous influence on Mrs. Roosevelt, who deepened her commitment to civil rights until her death in 1962.” Patrik Henry Bass, Essence. As an alumnus of Yale University (Ph.D., Classics, 1965), I am proud to note that Yale announced in the spring of 2016 that it was naming one of its two new residential colleges after Pauli Murray (http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2016/04/28/yale_names_new_residential_college_after_pauli_murray.html). The Nov/Dec 2016 Yale Alumni Magazine published my Letter to the Editor expressing my praise for the naming. Murray was the first African American to earn a Doctor of Juridical Science from Yale University Law School, in 1965. She also received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Yale in 1979. A summary of this extraordinary individual’s life and career is at
http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Pauli_Murray.aspx. Photographs, notes, index.
White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (Bloomsbury), by Carol Anderson, “is an extraordinarily timely and urgent call to confront the legacy of structural racism bequeathed by white anger and resentment, and to show its continuing threat to the promise of American democracy” and an Editor’s Choice in the New York Times Book Review. “As Ferguson, Missouri, erupted in August 2014, and media commentators across the ideological spectrum referred to the angry response of African Americans as ‘black rage,’ historian Carol Anderson wrote a remarkable op-ed in the Washington Post showing that this was, instead, ‘white rage at work. With so much attention on the flames,’ she writes, ‘everyone had ignored the kindling.’” Author Carol Anderson is professor of African American studies at Emory University. She is the author of many books and articles, including Bourgeois Radicals: The NAACP and the Struggle for Colonial Liberation, 1941-1960 and Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights: 1944-1955. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
New York’s Yiddish Theater: From the Bowery to Broadway (Columbia University Press),
by Edna Nahshon, is “Vividly illustrated and with essays from leading historians and critics, this book recounts the heyday of “Yiddish Broadway” and its vital contribution to American Jewish life and crossover to the broader American culture. These performances grappled with Jewish nationalism, labor relations, women’s rights, religious observance, acculturation, and assimilation. They reflected a range of genres, from tear-jerkers to experimental theater. The artists who came of age in this world include Stella Adler, Eddie Cantor, Jerry Lewis, Sophie Tucker, Mel Brooks, and Joan Rivers. The story of New York’s Yiddish theater is a tale of creativity and legacy and of immigrants who, in the process of becoming Americans, had an enormous impact on the country’s cultural and artistic development.” “The many photos of famous actors and comics, old posters, packed theaters, and stage scenes balance out the richly sourced text, making this a visually lively, comprehensive, and accessible addition to any collection on theater or Jewish American history and heritage.
Booklist. Photographs, illustrations, bibliography, notes, index.
“For decades, Cynthia Ozick has been one of our great critics, as Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and Other Literary Essays (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) so clearly display. She offers models of critical analysis of writers from the mid-twentieth century to today, from Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, and Kafka, to William Gass and Martin Amis, all assembled in provocatively named groups: Fanatics, Monsters, Figures, and others. Uncompromising and brimming with insight, these essays are essential reading for anyone facing the future of literature in the digital age.” I highly recommend this collection of her essays, which span the past decade. I also enjoyed and learned much from her earlier What Henry James Knew & Other Essays on Writers. The lady is now eighty-eight and, as her latest book makes clear, is still going strong. She has won a dozen or so major awards for her critical writing and fiction.
A. S. Byatt’s Peacock & Vine: On William Morris and Mariano Fortuny (Knopf) “opens a window into the lives, designs, and passions of Mariano Fortuny and William Morris, two remarkable artists who themselves are passions of the writer A. S. Byatt. Born a generation apart in the mid-1800s, Fortuny and Morris were seeming opposites: Fortuny a Spanish aristocrat thrilled by the sun-baked cultures of Crete and Knossos; Morris a member of the British bourgeoisie, enthralled by Nordic myths. Through their revolutionary inventions and textiles, both men inspired a new variety of art that is as striking today as when it was first conceived. In this elegant meditation, Byatt traces their genius right to the source. . . . Generously illustrated with the artists’ beautiful designs—pomegranates and acanthus, peacock and vine—among other aspects of their worlds, this marvel-filled book brings the visions and ideas of Fortuny and Morris to vivid life.”
““A charming, generously illustrated, slim volume about two geniuses the likes of whom we have not seen in a while,” says Dominique Browning in he New York Times Book Review.
Illustrations, “Further Reading.”
W. Royal Stokes, Ph.D (wroyalstokes.com) was the 2014 recipient of the Jazz Journalists Association’s Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism Award. Dr. Stokes has been an ardent reader since the mid-1930s and a close observer of the jazz, blues, and popular music worlds since the early 1940s. A few years later, he began immersing himself in fiction, biography, history, etc., in 1965 earning a Yale Ph.D. in Greek and Latin languages and literature and Ancient History and then serving as a professor of these subjects at, serially, four universities, one of which, Tufts, sent him to Naples, Italy, to teach in its study-abroad program for two years. He is author of The Jazz Scene: An Informal History from New Orleans to 1990, Swing Era New York: The Jazz Photographs of Charles Peterson, Living the Jazz Life: Conversations with Forty Musicians about Their Careers in Jazz, and Growing Up With Jazz: Twenty-Four Musicians Talk About Their Lives and Careers. Volume 1 of his trilogy of novels Backwards Over, Rufus Has Been on the Lam, saw publication in June 2015. (Volumes 2 and 3 will see print early in 2017.) He is currently at work on a memoir and The Essential W. Royal Stokes Jazz, Blues & Beyond Reader. A founding member of the Jazz Journalists Association, Dr. Stokes pays tribute to the JJA in “The Jazz Journalists Association: A 25-Year Retrospective” (http://news.jazzjournalists.org/2013/06/the-jazz-journalists-association-a-25-year-retrospective/). His Amazon Author Page is at Amazon.com/W.-Royal-Stokes/e/B001HD17MY
W. ROYAL STOKES’ ROUNDUP OF 130 OR SO JAZZ, BLUES, BEYOND, AND OTHER BOOKS PUBLISHED IN THE PAST YEAR OR SO
1) BIOGRAPHIES, DISCOGRAPHIES, ETC.
2) HISTORY, REFERENCE, CRITICISM, ETC.
1) BIOGRAPHIES, DISCOGRAPHIES, ETC.
Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life (Bolden/Agate Publishing), edited by A. Alyce Claerbaut and David Schlesinger, Foreword by Ramsey Lewis, Afterword by Gregolry A. Morris (Strayhorn’s nephew), is a lavish and beautiful tribute to the composer and pianist whose contributions as collaborator to Duke Ellington were immense, actually immeasurable. Covering his life and career in text, liner notes, many splendidly reproduced photographs and illustrations with informative captions, and contributions from Strayhorn biographer David Hajdu, film director Rob Levi, music scholar Walter van de Leur, as well as commentary from Lena Horne, Clark Terry, Dianne Reeves, Nancy Wilson, Terell Stafford, Herb Jeffries, and others, the volume also places its subject in the context of his times as an openly gay civil rights activist. Many photographs, notes, index.
Alfred Green’s Rhythm Is My Beat: Jazz Guitar Great Freddie Green and the Count Basie Sound (Rowman & Littlefield Studies in Jazz Series) “tells the story of his father, rhythm guitarist Freddie Green, whose guitar work served as the pulse of the Count Basie Band. A quiet but key figure in big band jazz, Freddie Green took a distinct pride in his role as Basie’s rhythm guitarist, redefining the outer limits of acoustic rhythm guitar and morphing it into an art form. So distinct was Green’s style that it would eventually give birth to notations on guitar charts that read: “Play in the style of Freddie Green.” This work will interest jazz fans, students, and scholars; guitar enthusiasts and professionals; music historians and anyone interested not only in the history of jazz but of the African American experience in jazz.” Photographs, bibliography, notes, index.
Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth (Viking/Penguin Publishing Company), by John Szwed has received glowing reviews, for example: “Mr. Szwed, the author of acclaimed studies of Miles Davis, Sun Ra and folklorist Alan Lomax, is at his best when excavating hidden stories behind some of the more durable pillars of the Holiday legend.” (Wall Street Journal), “Revelatory. . . . Szwed’s book is one of the most briskly revealing pieces of jazz biography that I’ve read.” Richard Brody, (The New Yorker), and “[Szwed] offers a portrait of Lady Day as artist and mythmaker rather than tragic victim . . . . As with the best of Holiday’s music, this elegant and perceptive study is restrained, nuanced, and masterfully carried out. (Kirkus). It deserves these, and the many more that could be cited. Notes, index.
I included James Kaplan’s Frank: The Voice (Doubleday) in my annual roundup when it was published five years ago. It is now in paperback reissue. I said that it read like a novel, taking the singer from his difficult 1915 Hoboken birth to his 1954 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in From Here to Eternity; that Kaplan had done his homework, conducting hundreds of interviews with Sinatra’s family members, former wives, friends, musical and business associates, and fellow actors, as well as combing through mountains of journalism and the other books on his subject and consulting with Sinatra scholars Will Friedwald and Michael Kraus; and that the book fully presented Sinatra as both supreme artist and the human being with many faults that we know him to have been, adding that I found it utterly gripping, all 718 pages of it, and much looked forward to the second, concluding volume. Well, the 979-page Sinatra: The Chairman (Doubleday) is now in print and it is everything that the critics, and I, said of the initial volume of this epic biography, taking its subject from post-1956 Oscar to his death at 82 in 1998. Sinatra’s preeminence as an artist cannot be questioned. Kaplan believes him to be “the greatest interpretive musician of all time,” “the greatest popular singer of all time,” and “for nearly sixty years, the real greatest show on earth.” Arranger Johnny Mandel said that he was “the best musician I ever worked with.” Most musicians, jazz and otherwise, were awed by his musicianship. He was also, Kaplan avers, “a spoiled and domineering genius. . . [whose] restlessness—in his art, in his personal relations, in everything—was his genius and his illness, and a permanent condition.” One of the especially compelling aspects of this two-volume biography is that, when relevant, it puts Sinatra into the historical context of the times. I have to say that when it recounts Sinatra’s relations with the Mafia underworld and, for example, the Mob machinations, scheming, intimidation, and threats of violence that came to bear upon the election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy to the presidency, I wondered if I was reading Kaplan on Sinatra or Tacitus on Nero. “An appropriately big book for an oversized artistic presence,” says Kirkus Reviews—and that indeed it is! Both volumes have notes, bibliography, and many photographs.
David Lehman’s Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World (Harper/ Harper Collins) is a fun book, especially after one has read the two volumes of James Kaplan’s magisterial biography of Sinatra, for, while Kaplan seemingly provides all the facts, Lehman, though “Many of the same anecdotes used by Kaplan can be found here, too . . . Lehman, an established poet . . . widens the frame of reference, thereby expanding the emotional resonance of the songs . . . . Lehman tells us what those facts mean,” observes Sibbie O’Sullivan in the Washington Post. “In celebration of his one-hundredth birthday, a charming, irresistibly readable, and handsomely packaged look back at the life and times of the greatest entertainer in American history, Frank Sinatra. Sinatra’s Century is an irresistible collection of one-hundred short reflections on the man, his music, and his larger-than-life story, by a lifetime fan who also happens to be one of the poetry world’s most prominent voices. David Lehman uses each of these short pieces to look back on a single facet of the entertainer’s story—from his childhood in Hoboken, to his emergence as ‘The Voice’ in the 1940s, to the wild professional (and romantic) fluctuations that followed. Lehman offers new insights and revisits familiar stories—Sinatra’s dramatic love affairs with some of the most beautiful stars in Hollywood, including Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, and Ava Gardner; his fall from grace in the late 1940s and resurrection during the ‘Capitol Years’ of the 1950s; his bonds with the rest of the Rat Pack; and his long tenure as the Chairman of the Board, viewed as the eminence grise of popular music inspiring generations of artists, from Bobby Darin to Bono to Bob Dylan. Brimming with Lehman’s own lifelong affection for Sinatra, the book includes lists of unforgettable performances; engaging insight on what made Sinatra the model of American machismo—and the epitome of romance; and clear-eyed assessments of the foibles that impacted his life and work. Warm and enlightening, Sinatra’s Century is full-throated appreciation of Sinatra for every fan.” Photographs.
Better Git It in Your Soul: An Interpretive Biography of Charles Mingus (University of California Press), by Krin Gabbard, will likely long stand as the definitive account of the genius, and enigma, that was this great bassist, bandleader, and composer. Certainly no one has heretofore delved as deeply and thoroughly into what made him tick. As John Szwed, (author of Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth
Stanley Crouch’s Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker (Harper Collins/Perennial) has been reprinted in paperback. Almost three-and-a-half decades in the making (its author says he began doing Parker-related interviews in 1981), Crouch’s em>Kansas City Lightning
stands a good chance of becoming — that is, once its follow-up second volume is published (one hopes it will surface within a couple of years from now) — the definitive account of Charlie Parker’s life, career, and music, told within the context of American society and its movement. It is stylishly written — if often extravagant, but usually entertaining, in its choice of metaphorical phrase — fast moving, and abounding with love for Parker and appreciation of his art. Photographs, Sources, index.
Jeru’s Journey: The Life & Music of Gerry Mulligan (Hal Leonard Jazz Biography Series) by Sanford Josephson recounts “a career that spanned more than 50 years, [during which] Gerry Mulligan was revered and recognized as a groundbreaking composer, arranger, bandleader, and baritone saxophonist. His legacy comes to life in this biography, which chronicles his immense contributions to American music, far beyond the world of jazz. Mulligan’s own observations are drawn from his oral autobiography, recorded in 1995. These are intermingled with comments and recollections from those who knew him, played with him, or were influenced by him, as well as from the author, who interviewed him in 1981. Jeru’s Journey The Life & Music of Gerry Mulligan vividly recounts all the major milestones and complications in Mulligan’s extraordinary life and career, ranging from his early days of arranging for big bands in the 1940s to his chance 1974 meeting with Countess Franca Rota, who would have a major impact on the last two decades of his life. In between were his battles with drugs; his significant contributions to the historic 1949 Birth of the Cool recording; the introduction of an enormously popular piano-less quartet in the early 1950s; the creation of his innovative concert jazz band in the early ’60s; his collaboration personal and professional with actress Judy Holliday; his breakthrough into classical music; and his love of and respect for the American Songbook.” Photographs, sources, discography, index.
Josef Woodard’s, in his Charles Lloyd: A Wild, Blatant Truth (Silman-James Press), “has untangled Charles’s reminiscences and life lessons and put them into a linear path that tells the story of a remarkable life. Charles’s voice from his colorful Memphis use of English to his vulnerability to his ego to his love of life comes through intact. Everyone who knows Charles is richer for the experience; this book expands that constituency,” says Michael Cuscuna. Photographs.
Possibilities (Viking) by Herbie Hancock with Lisa Dickey. “Herbie Hancock is one of the greats. His book is a fascinating account of his time in the music business. From Miles Davis to Paul Simon and beyond, Herbie’s stories are an insightful delight for all of us,” says Paul McCartney, and Peter Keepnews’ judgment, in The New York Times Book Review, is, “Herbie Hancock has led a fascinating life. And the story of that life makes a fascinating book.” The opening two pages relate an anecdote about how, during a mid-1960s concert in Stockholm, Miles Davis, without blinking an eye, immediately appropriated in his solo a wrong chord executed by author/pianist Hancock. This sets the tone for what follows in this very personal, and personable, autobiography. Photographs, index.
I was charmed by John F Goodman’s Jive-Colored Glasses: A Jazz Memoir (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform). About five years younger than I am, Goodman’s early musical tastes were formed much as mine were, beginning with Jelly Roll Morton and other early jazz figures whose works were beginning to surface in 78rpm reissue programs as he reached his teens. Jus as I did, Goodman added to his 78rpm collection the New Orleans sounds of Bunk Johnson, George Lewis, and other oldsters who re-emerged during the New Orleans Revival of the late-1940s and ’50s, an d went on to acquire records of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong’s All Stars, and the early bebop of Bird, Monk, and Dizzy. Eventually he moved on to Mingus, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett, and other stalwarts of the modern era of jazz. Apart from his love of jazz, which is ever present in Jive-Colored Glasses, the volume also recounts Goodman’s personal memories and family story and contains much cultural history as the years roll by. Goodman, by the way, is also the compiler of the 2013 Mingus Speaks, “in-depth interviews, conducted [by Goodman] several years before Mingus died [that] capture the composer’s spirit and voice, revealing how he saw himself as composer and performer, how he viewed his peers and predecessors, how he created his extraordinary music, and how he looked at race. Augmented with interviews and commentary by ten close associates—including Mingus’s wife Sue, Teo Macero, George Wein, and Sy Johnson.” Jive-Colored Glasses has Endnotes, photos, and an appendix that provides the URLs to the “Music referenced in the text.” For the ebook version these are hyperlinked to YouTube and other sources “so the reader can hear it immediately.”
Philip Glass’s Words Without Music: A Memoir (Liveright) is the autobiography of “A world-renowned composer of symphonies, operas, and film scores, Philip Glass[, who] has, almost single-handedly, crafted the dominant sound of late-twentieth-century classical music. Yet here in Words Without Music, he creates an entirely new and unexpected voice, that of a born storyteller and an acutely insightful chronicler, whose behind-the-scenes recollections allow readers to experience those moments of creative fusion when life so magically merged with art.” Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, in the New York Times, describes the book as “a portrait of a composer who rose to prominence almost entirely outside of the usual institutions. He collaborated with innovators in theater, dance and film and founded his own ensemble, record labels and music publishing companies. A succession of jobs—steel work, furniture moving, plumbing, construction—kept him afloat. He drove cabs from his mid-30s right up to the moment, in 1978, when he received a commission from the Netherlands Opera to write what would become the mesmerizing Gandhi tribute Satyagraha.” Photographs, index.
According to USA Today’s Gene Seymour, David Ritz’s Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin (Little, Brown and Company) is “a comprehensive, illuminating and unfailingly solicitous account of a life that, whatever its tribulations, conflicts and complications, has always somehow been redeemed by Franklin’s musical calling . . . . [Ritz has] an exceptional capacity to listen with care and sympathy to what people tell him, and then render their words vividly and compassionately.” At 520 pages, this is indeed the definitive biography (there have been several others) of the great gospel and soul singer. It is also, in the words of one Amazon.com reviewer, “a warts and all account of the very difficult and often sad life of America’s premier music diva.” Photographs, notes, bibliography, discography, videography and filmography, index.
Selected Letters of Langston Hughes (Knopf), edited by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel, “s the first comprehensive selection from the correspondence of the iconic and beloved Langston Hughes. It offers a life in letters that showcases his many struggles as well as his memorable achievements. Arranged by decade and linked by expert commentary, the volume guides us through Hughes’s journey in all its aspects: personal, political, practical, and—above all—literary. His letters range from those written to family members, notably his father (who opposed Langston’s literary ambitions), and to friends, fellow artists, critics, and readers who sought him out by mail. These figures include personalities such as Carl Van Vechten, Blanche Knopf, Zora Neale Hurston, Arna Bontemps, Vachel Lindsay, Ezra Pound, Richard Wright, Kurt Weill, Carl Sandburg, Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Alice Walker, Amiri Baraka, and Muhammad Ali. The letters tell the story of a determined poet precociously finding his mature voice; struggling to realize his literary goals in an environment generally hostile to blacks; reaching out bravely to the young and challenging them to aspire beyond the bonds of segregation; using his artistic prestige to serve the disenfranchised and the cause of social justice; irrepressibly laughing at the world despite its quirks and humiliations. Venturing bravely on what he called the “big sea” of life, Hughes made his way forward always aware that his only hope of self-fulfillment and a sense of personal integrity lay in diligently pursuing his literary vocation. Hughes’s voice in these pages, enhanced by photographs and quotations from his poetry, allows us to know him intimately and gives us an unusually rich picture of this generous, visionary, gratifyingly good man who was also a genius of modern American letters.” I love collections of correspondence and this is one of the most absorbing I have ever had the pleasure of spending hours with — and then returning the next evening for more of the same. One has only to peruse the 18-page index to conclude how many and varied were the personal and professional associations that this giant of American literature gathered and how much cultural territory he covered here and abroad. This is a keeper! Photographs and illustrations, index.
Cousin Joe: Blues from New Orleans (Pelican Publishing), by Pleasant Joseph and Harriet Ottenheimer, is a reprint of the 1987 autobiography of the late New Orleans bluesman Pleasant ‘Cousin Joe’ Joseph (1907-89). “Harriet J. Ottenheimer spent fifteen years listening to and recording the stories told by [him]. His colorful portrayals of the characters who parade through his life document more than seventy years of changing relationships between blacks and whites. In his own words, Cousin Joe describes growing up in Louisiana, working a rice plantation, and how gospel music put him on a career path. His candid remarks underscore the economic struggles prevalent in a musician’s life, and the resulting narrative is an authentic and moving portrait of a true American original. Within the tales of gigs, card games, and romantic exploits are intimate glimpses of legendary figures, including Billie Holiday and Muddy Waters. His descriptions of performing in New Orleans, New York, and Europe are especially revealing, providing valuable insights into the relationships between the New Orleans blues scene and the development of jazz, the pop entertainment world in general, and Afro-American culture in the last century.” Photographs, bibliography, a 28-page discography.
Jas Obrecht’s Early Blues: The First Stars of Blues (University of Minnesota Press) “interweaves musical history, quotes from celebrated musicians (B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Ry Cooder, and Johnny Winter, to name a few), and a spellbinding array of life stories to illustrate the early days of blues guitar in rich and resounding detail. In these chapters, you’ll meet Sylvester Weaver, who recorded the world’s first guitar solos, and Paramount Records artists Papa Charlie Jackson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Blind Blake, the ‘King of Ragtime Blues Guitar.’ Blind Willie McTell, the Southeast’s superlative twelve-string guitar player, and Blind Willie Johnson, street-corner evangelist of sublime gospel blues, also get their due, as do Lonnie Johnson, the era’s most influential blues guitarist; Mississippi John Hurt, with his gentle, guileless voice and syncopated fingerpicking style; and slide guitarist Tampa Red, ‘the Guitar Wizard.’” Photographs, illustrations, notes, index.
For Legends of the Blues (Abrams ComicArts), author and artist William Stout, “beautifully captures the signature style of each [of the 100] blues legend[s] and then adds authoritative biographical text with personal and humorous writing that brings it on home. Includes recommended playlists and an exclusive bonus music CD.” Introduction by Ed Leimbacher. This is a gem of a book, serving as both a reference tool and an entertaining collection of brief biographies. Portraits by the author.
Barry Mazor’s Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music (Chicago Review Press) is “the first biography of Ralph Peer, the adventurous—even revolutionary—A&R man and music publisher who saw the universal power locked in regional roots music and tapped it, changing the breadth and flavor of popular music around the world. It is the story of the life and fifty-year career, from the age of cylinder recordings to the stereo era, of the man who pioneered the recording, marketing, and publishing of blues, jazz, country, gospel, and Latin music. The book tracks Peer’s role in such breakthrough events as the recording of Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” (the record that sparked the blues craze), the first country recording sessions with Fiddlin’ John Carson, his discovery of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family at the famed Bristol sessions, the popularizing of Latin American music during World War II, and the postwar transformation of music on the airwaves that set the stage for the dominance of R&B, country, and rock ’n’ roll. But this is also the story of a man from humble midwestern beginnings who went on to build the world’s largest independent music publishing firm, fostering the global reach of music that had previously been specialized, localized, and marginalized. Ralph Peer redefined the ways promising songs and performers were identified, encouraged, and promoted, rethought how far regional music might travel, and changed our very notions of what pop music can be.” Photographs, discography, notes, index.
Ronnie Gilbert: A Radical Life in Song (University of California Press), by Ronnie Gilbert and Holly Near, “brings the political, artistic, and social issues of the era alive through song lyrics and personal stories, traversing sixty years of collaborations in life and art that span the folk revival, the Cold War blacklist, primal therapy, the back-to-the-land movement, and a rich, multigenerational family story. Much more than a memoir, Ronnie Gilbert is a unique and engaging historical document for readers interested in music, theater, American politics, the women’s movement, and left-wing activism.” Photographs, index.
Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll (Little, Brown and Company) is by Peter Guralnick, “The author of the critically acclaimed Elvis Presley biography Last Train to Memphis[. He now] brings us the life of Sam Phillips, the visionary genius who singlehandedly steered the revolutionary path of Sun Records. The music that [Phillips] shaped in his tiny Memphis studio with artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Ike Turner, Howlin’ Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash, introduced a sound that had never been heard before. He brought forth a singular mix of black and white voices passionately proclaiming the vitality of the American vernacular tradition while at the same time declaring, once and for all, a new, integrated musical day. With extensive interviews and firsthand personal observations extending over a 25-year period with Phillips, along with wide-ranging interviews with nearly all the legendary Sun Records artists, Guralnick gives us an ardent, unrestrained portrait of an American original as compelling in his own right as Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, or Thomas Edison.” Photographs, notes, bibliography, discography, index.
Willie Nelson, the author (with David Ritz) of It’s a Long Story: My Life (Little, Brown and Company), says, “‘Unvarnished. Funny. Leaving no stone unturned.’ . . . So say the publishers about this book I’ve written. What I say is that this is the story of my life, told as clear as a Texas sky and in the same rhythm that I lived it. It’s a story of restlessness and the purity of the moment and living right. Of my childhood in Abbott, Texas, to the Pacific Northwest, from Nashville to Hawaii, and all the way back again. Of selling vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias while hosting radio shows and writing song after song, hoping to strike gold.
It’s a story of true love, wild times, best friends, and barrooms, with a musical sound track ripping right through it. My life gets lived on the road, at home, and on the road again, tried and true, and I’ve written it all down from my heart to yours.
Signed, Willie Nelson.” Photographs, index.
“The government’s not going to create jobs,” Bob Dylan said in the February/March 2015 issue of AARP: The Magazine, in his first interview in nearly three years. “It doesn’t have to. People have to create jobs, and these big billionaires are the ones who can do it.” He sees inner cities festering with crime and people “turning to alcohol and drugs. They could all have work created for them by all these hotshot billionaires. For sure, that would create lot of happiness. Now, I’m not saying they have to—I’m not talking about communism—but what do they do with their money?” Excellent suggestion! Read how the septuagenarian singer and poet who espouses the cause of the employed and destitute arrived at such a splendid conviction in Ian Bell’s Time Out of Mind: The Lives of Bob Dylan (Pegasus), the second volume follow-up to Bell’s Once Upon a Time: The Lives of Bob Dylan, which the same publisher has just reprinted in paperback. I haven’t enjoyed a biography of a pop musician this much since reading, decades ago, Daniel Cooper’s Lefty Frizzell: The Honky-Tonk Life of Country Music’s Greatest Singer, Peter Guralnick’s Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? The Carter Family & Their Legacy in American Music by Mark Zwonitzer and Charles Hirshberg, and Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock ’N’ Roll by Marc Dolan. Of Ian Bell’s magisterial 2-volume Bob Dylan biography, author Geoff Dyer, in The New York Times Book Review, enthuses, “I had been gripped by Bell’s first volume . . . covering the years up to and including ‘Blood on the Tracks,’ [and] the second volume . . . has the special ‘this is where I came in’ attraction of history one has actually experienced.” Neither volume has photographs, both have source notes, bibliographies and indices.
Dylan Goes Electric!: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties (Dey Street Books/Harper Collins), by Elijah Wald, deals with “the evening of July 25, 1965, [when] Bob Dylan took the stage at Newport Folk Festival, backed by an electric band, and roared into his new rock hit, ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’ The audience of committed folk purists and political activists who had hailed him as their acoustic prophet reacted with a mix of shock, booing, and scattered cheers. It was the shot heard round the world—Dylan’s declaration of musical independence, the end of the folk revival, and the birth of rock as the voice of a generation—and one of the defining moments in twentieth-century music.” Elijah Wald, who has done his homework, has provided us with a definitive account of a seminal event that embodies the transformative decade that was the sixties. (I do find it odd that the two volumes by Ian Bell—see entry directly above—are not listed in the bibliography, for Bell explores, in depth, the same territory and all of its musical, cultural, political, and historical implications.) Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
In James Joyce’s Ulysses there is a meandering conversation about Shakespeare’s art, turning at one point to speculations about the man himself. An interlocutor “impatiently” interrupts: “But this prying into the family life of a great man. . . . I mean, we have the plays. I mean, when we read the poetry of King Lear what is it to us how the poet lived?” Well, interest in how the poet—or the novelist, playwright, composer, scholar, critic, photographer, painter, sculptor, architect, actor, singer, musician—lived drives a part of the publishing industry and the media and satisfies the curiosity of many readers, listeners, and viewers. It’s not going to go away, that’s for sure. Nor should it, pace Joyce’s objector. Knowledge about the artist helps us understand his and her art. Bob Dylan’s recording career has spanned a half-century, drawing from folk music (American, English, Scottish, and Irish), blues, country, gospel, rock and roll and rockabilly. It has also included elements of jazz and the Great American Songbook. He performs on guitar, keyboards, and harmonica and is supported by changing band personnel. He has toured constantly for decades on what has come to be known as the Never Ending Tour. His accomplishments as a recording artist and performer have constituted a great part of his career but his songwriting is considered his greatest artistic contribution. His lyrics, initially inspired by Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, and Hank Williams and defying the conventions of pop music, have incorporated political, social, philosophical, and literary themes, in the process personalizing musical genres and acquiring an immense listenership, not just in the counterculture, as in the beginning of his career, but in the wider public. He is indeed a superstar and an American artistic icon. Wikipedia says that Dylan has sold more than 100 million records and received a Grammy, Golden Globe, and Academy Award and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Songwriters Hall of Fame. His Pulitzer Prize in 2008 was for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” In 2012 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama. Dylan has published Tarantula, a work of prose poetry; Chronicles: Volume One, the first part of his memoirs; several books of his song lyrics, and six books of his art. A Wikipedia discography for Dylan lists 36 studio albums, 58 singles, 11 live albums, 11 albums comprising The Bootleg Series, and many compilation albums. After searching on the Internet, I estimate that at least 50 books have been published about Bob Dylan.
In his Preface to his volume of photographs, Bob Dylan: NYC 1961-1964 (Rizzoli Publications), Ted Russell says that he has “often thought of [his] life as a series of Walter Mitty-like fantasies [that] sometimes became real because of lucky accidents,” citing “the chain of events that led me to Bob Dylan [as] a prime example.” He recounts how his photojournalistic career wound its circuitous way through freelancing for record label publicity departments to an assignment from Columbia Records to shoot “a new and upcoming young folk singer” who “presented the persona of an itinerant hobo-like character in the tradition of Woody Guthrie, riding freight trains in old blue jeans, wearing a funny cap, and singing and writing folk songs as he strummed his guitar.” A stranger to the folk music scene, Russell was “something of a jazz aficionado, collecting old Charlie Parker records” and hanging out at the Five Spot Café and the Half Note to hear Gerry Mulligan, Thelonious Monk, and Tony Scott. As an enticement to check out Dylan, he was provided a copy of New York Times music critic Robert Shelton’s recent rave review of Dylan performing. So Russell made his way over to Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village in November 1961, following up a couple of days later for an additional shoot of Dylan in his walk-up apartment at 161 West 4th Street. A later assignment again providing him access to Dylan, Russell caught him with James Baldwin, and prints from this shoot are included in the volume. There are also several images from Russell’s wide-ranging photojournalistic career, for example, two delightful images of Marilyn Monroe as she arrived (her plane is in the background) in Korea in 1954. Broadly smiling and resplendent in her beauty, infectious sex appeal, and that “certain indefinable magic” (director Billy Wilder’s assessment), she is surrounded by some of the troops whom she came to entertain. A number of frames are of Dylan at mic in the club, guitar and/or voice and harmonica in action. The 20-year-old newcomer to the New York scene is quite evidently enjoying himself. Introducing the shoot in the apartment, Russell told Dylan and his then girlfriend Suze Rotolo (who in 2008 would publish her A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties and who died in 2011, age 67) to carry on as though he weren’t there and, judging by the book’s intimate and relaxed photos, they did just that. Here is the couple on a mattress, she sitting with back against the wall dragging on a cigarette, he lying supine with head on her lap, guitar athwart his upper body, staring at the ceiling. This and other shots of the young pair clearly show them as being in delighted love. Here is Dylan strumming his guitar, blowing on harmonica, doing both together; at table typing; carrying a box into the apartment (it seems to have been moving day, Russell observes); looking reflectively away from the camera or smiling at it. The black-and-white images are sharp, the figures in them all but springing off the pages at you. Russell is adept at catching “the moment of truth.” It is a rare and moving experience and a rewarding revelation to again and again view the volume’s photographs, gaining with each viewing a deeper feeling for and understanding of the fledgling artist Dylan was back in that day. In his Introduction to the volume, Chris Murray provides a detailed account of Ted Russell’s extraordinary career and, as he fittingly says at its conclusion, the collection “is a unique contribution [that] documents Dylan’s very first years as a musical genius in Greenwich Village. Bob Dylan, a bohemian poet, would become, according to many, the most original and influential songwriter of our time, and we are enriched by this portrait of the artist as a young man.” Donovan offers, as the volume’s Foreword, a two page “unreleased ballad,” giving expressing to his conviction that he and Dylan “share the same beginnings and the same studio smarts as teens listening to ’50s Rock & Roll” and that he “know[s] what is happening in Ted’s photographs for [he] lived it too.” Donovan’s poem, as well as Bob Dylan: NYC 1961-1964, are welcome and moving tributes to Dylan, a great American artist.
In M Train (Knopf), her second volume of memoir, Patti Smith travels far and wide (and to Café Ino down the street, where she swills coffee, of which, she asserts, she can consume up to fourteen cups a day without it disturbing her sleep), sometimes in real time, sometimes in her dreams. Characteristically, both are couched in her special and sublime poetic language. Several of her trips are to deposit mementos at gravesites of her favorite authors and cultural heroes, for example, Jean Genet (in Tangiers), Akira Kurosawa (in Japan), and Frida Kahlo (in Mexico). Receiving invitations to conferences abroad, she attends and participates in them; on a whim she purchases a cottage on Rockaway Beach (and hires workers to restore it after it is all but ruined by Sandy); she meditates on loss—of her late husband Fred, on a favorite overcoat, a notebook (which is mailed back to her by an anonymous Samaritan). “The effect of reading it is something like sitting across a coffee shop table from Patti Smith as she stares dreamily out at the street, pausing occasionally to tell you something she’s just remembered about . . . Fred, to muse over the Haruki Murakami novel she’s reading, and to push one of her Polaroids across to you. M Train is a book of tributes to [her] masters; a meditation; a series of associative leaps that interrupt the ordinariness of Smith’s days . . . There are moments of breathless emotional force.” Kelsey Ronan, St. Louis Dispatch. Photographs.
For Wings Over New Orleans: Unseen Photos of Paul and Linda McCartney, 1975 (Pelican Publishing), John Taylor has complied his and others’ mementos of a brief period in 1975 when “Paul and Linda McCartney came to New Orleans with Wings to record Venus and Mars at Allen Toussaint’s famous Sea-Saint Studio [and] immersed themselves in the city for several months, going to Mardi Gras with their children and enjoying local music as they worked on their album. Chance meetings led to blossoming acquaintances, and Crescent City fans of Wings and the Beatles had the rare chance to spend countless hours with the gracious stars, showing off their city and rubbing shoulders with rock royalty. This volume contains reminiscences of meeting Paul and Linda and scores of previously unpublished candid photographs, showcasing the couple’s kind, down-to-earth nature. Lovers of this era of classic rock will enjoy this glimpse into the everyday life of the McCartneys.” A charming little (76 pages) volume.
In the fall of 1968 I saw John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers at the University of Colorado (where I was a Visiting Professor of Classics and History) and again three decades later at Wolf Trap, Virginia. He blew me away. At the latter venue, I caught up with him backstage and presented him with an inscribed copy of my The Jazz Scene: An Informal History from New Orleans to 1990 (Oxford University Press, 1991), in which I had included several paragraphs from an interview we had done a few years before. I also got him to inscribe my own special copy of the book. John Mayall: The Blues Crusader (Edition Olms), by Dinu Logoz, surely destined to be the definitive account of this widely influential artist, is “The first detailed biography of a true icon in the world of blues music. . . . [It] illuminates his life and career, and also provides insights into the development of his many fellow musicians. This comprehensive biography by a true blues aficionado follows the young Mayall from the early days of jamming in his tree house as a teenager to the vast tours he undertakes today. Even die-hard blues fans will find plenty of undiscovered anecdotes and stories here, as the book covers all phases of the Mayall’s career and not just the 1960s. John Mayall is the Godfather of British blues. A pioneering musician, blues promoter, and talent scout for more than 50 years, his uncanny knack of picking young, talented musicians and then nurturing them in his bands is the stuff of legend. Under his guidance as leader and sometimes father figure, his groups developed into a blues school of learning par excellence. Many young members became huge stars later on, among them brilliant musicians such as Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Mick Taylor, and drummer Jon Hiseman. In Mayall’s bands, an incredible 130 musicians have done their apprenticeship and earned their spurs. Bands like Cream, Fleetwood Mac, and Colosseum would never have existed without his inspiration and guidance. Showing no signs of slowing down, John Mayall has an amazing back catalog totalling some 86 albums—including the acclaimed A Special Life from 2014—and has played more than 5,000 live concerts all over the world. He is still rated as one of the most influential and respected figures in the international blues and rock scene.” Photographs, bandography, discography, bibliography.
Aidan Levy’s Dirty Blvd.: The Life and Music of Lou Reed (Chicago Review Press) “not only covers the highlights of Reed’s career but also explores lesser-known facets of his work, such as his first recordings with doo-wop group the Jades, his key literary influences and the impact of Judaism upon his work, and his engagement with the LGBT movement. Drawing from new interviews with many of his artistic collaborators, friends, and romantic partners, as well as from archival material, concert footage, and unreleased bootlegs of live performances, author Aidan Levy paints an intimate portrait of the notoriously uncompromising rock poet who wrote ‘Heroin,’ ‘Sweet Jane,’ ‘Walk on the Wild Side,’ and ‘Street Hassle’—songs that transcended their genre and established Lou Reed as one of the most influential and enigmatic American artists of the past half-century.” Photographs, notes, discography, bibliography, index.
In Experiencing David Bowie: A Listener’s Companion (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers), “musicologist, writer, and musician, [and a senior lecturer in music at the University of Otago, New Zealand] Ian Chapman unravels the extraordinary marriage of sound and visual effect that lies at the heart of the work of David Bowie [who died on January 10 (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/12/arts/music/david-bowie-dies-at-69.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fobituaries&action=click&contentCollection=obituaries®ion=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0)], one of the most complex and enduring performers in popular music. [Bowie was] still active in a career [that reached] well into its fifth decade, [and his] influence on music and popular culture [was] vast. At the height of the ‘glam rock’ era, Bowie stood head and shoulders above his peers. His influence, however, would extend far beyond glam through successive changes of musical style and stage work that impacted upon wider popular culture through fashion, film, gender studies, theatre, and performing arts.” Notes, discography, bibliography, index.
In Sting and The Police: Walking in Their Footsteps (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers), “Aaron J. West explores the cultural and musical impact of Stewart Copeland, Andy Summers, and Sting and details the distinctive hybrid character of The Police’s musical output, which would also characterize Sting’s post-Police career. Sting’s long-lived solo career embodies the power of the artful appropriation of musical styles, while capitalizing on the modern realities of pop music consumption. The Police—and Sting in particular—were pioneers in music video, modern label marketing, global activism, and the internationalization of pop music. Sting and The Police: Walking in Their Footsteps will interest more than just fans. By placing the band within its various musical, cultural, commercial, and historic contexts, Sting and The Police: Walking in Their Footsteps will appeal to anyone interested in global popular music culture.” Discography, bibliography, index.
Curiously, Tony Barrell left out the word “Rock” in the title of his Born to Drum: The Truth About the World’s Greatest Drummers—from John Bonham and Keith Moon to Sheila E. and Dave Grohl (Dey Street Books/Harper Collins), now out in paperback. Although several non-rock drummers get passing mention—Baby Dodds, Billy Cobham, Olatunji, Steve Gadd, Cindy Blackman— they are the exceptions that prove that Barrell’s conception of who the World’s Greatest Drummers are is confined to the world of rock. And so unfamiliar, apparently, is he with the history of jazz, he cites “Warren ‘Baby’ Dodds” and ludicrously complains that his nickname is “patronizing” and “still trotted out today . . . as if he were an American assassin like Lee Harvey Oswald or John Wilkes Booth, despite the fact that he deserves more respect as a seminal New Orleans jazz drummer.”! Oh well, give the author his due. The publicity hawks his book as “shin[ing] a long overdue spotlight on these musicians, . . . including Chad Smith, Ginger Baker, Clem Burke, Sheila E, Phil Collins, Nick Mason, Patty Schemel, Butch Vig, and Omar Hakim—who share astonishing truths about their work and lives. He investigates the stories of late, great drummers such as Keith Moon and John Bonham, analyzes many of the greatest drum tracks ever recorded, and introduces us to the world’s fastest drummer, the world’s loudest drummer, and the first musician to pilot a ‘flying drum kit’ on stage. Fascinating and filled with little known details, Born to Drum elevates drummers and their achievements to their rightful place in the culture of the world.” Bibliography.
The author of Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams, and Drugs with the Grateful Dead (St. Martin’s Press), by Bill Kreutzmann and Benjy Eisen, “co-founded the Grateful Dead in 1965 with his musical cohorts Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan, and Phil Lesh. As the drummer in that band for all 30 years until they disbanded in 1995, he performed more than 2,300 concerts and played on every one of their albums. He continues to play music in various bands including Billy and the Kids. He lives on an organic farm in Hawaii.” Benjy Eisen has written for Rolling Stone and Esquire.
Death Punch’d: Surviving Five Finger Death Punch’s Metal Mayhem (Dey Street Books/Harper Collins), by Jeremy Spencer is “A fascinating inside account of one of the most successful heavy metal bands of the past decade and a revealing personal journey through the wild highs and terrifying lows of rock ‘n’ roll from the cofounder of Five Finger Death Punch, Jeremy Spencer. With fierce honesty and self-deprecating playfulness, Jeremy takes us behind the scenes, on tour, and into the studio to tell the band’s raucous story, providing snapshots of a life fueled by sex, booze, drugs, and a thrashing metal sound. He also reveals the fghting and tensions among highly opinionated musicians that grew increasingly out of control—battles that created both intense drama and the music fans love. In addition to pulling back the curtain on the band, Death Punch’d tells Jeremy’s personal hard-charging, laugh-out-loud tale of how he left small-town Indiana and rose to rock royalty—and how he nearly destroyed it all for a good time. Told in his unique, darkly humorous voice, Death Punch’d is a lively, no-holds-barred ride as well as a sincere and inspiring cautionary tale to help anyone who is struggling to battle demons and addictions of their own.” Photographs.
The dust jacket flap of Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story (Harper), by Rick Bragg, reads, “For nearly sixty years, Jerry Lee Lewis has been a monumental figure in American life. The wildest and most dangerous of the early rock and rollers, he electrified the world with hit records such as ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,’ ‘Great Balls of Fire,’ and ‘Breathless.’ His music was raucous, exuberant, slyly sexual; his wailing vocals were grounded by the locomotive force of his pumping piano. But his persona and performing style were what changed the world: whipping his long hair back, he would pound the keyboard like a coal-fired steam engine, then kick back the bench, climb atop the piano, and work the audience like the Pentecostal preacher he almost became. Poised to steal the crown from Elvis Presley, he seemed unstoppable—until news of his marriage to his thirteen-year-old cousin broke during his first British tour, nearly ending his career. Now, for the first time, Lewis’s story is told in full, as he shared it over two years with Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Rick Bragg. In a narrative rich with atmosphere and anecdote, we watch Jerry Lee emerge from the fields and levees of Depression-era Louisiana, blazing a path across Bible colleges and nightclubs en route to international fame. He shared bills with Johnny Cash and Chuck Berry, toured Australia with Buddy Holly and Paul Anka, and went Cadillac for Cadillac with Elvis on the streets of Memphis—even as both of them struggled with the conflict between their faith and their music. After a decade in the wilderness, he returned as the biggest star in country music, but his victory lap became a marathon of excess, a time of guns and pills and Calvert Extra. He crashed Rolls-Royces and Lincolns, including one he drove into the gates of Graceland; suffered the deaths of wives and loved ones; and nearly met his maker twice himself. Yet after six marriages, a long spell without a recording contract, and a bruising battle with the IRS, he overcame a crippling addiction, remarried, and scored his biggest hit records since the 1970s. Today, as he approaches his eightieth year, he continues to electrify audiences around the world. The story of Jerry Lee Lewis has inspired songs and articles, books and films, but in these pages Rick Bragg restores a human complexity missing from other accounts. The result is a story of fire and faith and resilience, informed by Rick Bragg’s deep understanding of the American spirit, and rich with Jerry Lee’s own unforgettable voice.” Photographs, bibliography, index.
In Going into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man (Dey Street Books/Harper Collins), now out in paperback, Robert Christgau, “the Dean of American Rock Critics . . . takes us on a heady tour through his life and times in this vividly atmospheric and visceral memoir that is both a love letter to a New York long past and a tribute to the transformative power of art. Lifelong New Yorker Robert Christgau has been writing about pop culture since he was twelve and getting paid for it since he was twenty-two, covering rock for Esquire in its heyday and personifying the music beat at the Village Voice for over three decades. Christgau listened to Alan Freed howl about rock ’n’ roll before Elvis, settled east of Manhattan’s Avenue B forty years before it was cool, witnessed Monterey and Woodstock and Chicago ’68, and the first abortion speak-out. He’s caught Coltrane in the East Village, Muddy Waters in Chicago, Otis Redding at the Apollo, the Dead in the Haight, Janis Joplin at the Fillmore, the Rolling Stones at the Garden, the Clash in Leeds, Grandmaster Flash in Times Square, and every punk band you can think of at CBGB. [It] is a loving portrait of a lost New York. It’s an homage to the city of Christgau’s youth from Queens to the Lower East Side—a city that exists mostly in memory today. And it’s a love story about the Greenwich Village girl who roamed this realm of possibility with him.”
Eric Walrond: A Life in the Harlem Renaissance and the Transatlantic Caribbean (Columbia University Press) by James Davis “Eric Walrond (1898-1966) was a writer, journalist, caustic critic, and fixture of 1920s Harlem. His short story collection, Tropic Death, was one of the first efforts by a black author to depict Caribbean lives and voices in American fiction. Restoring Walrond to his proper place as a luminary of the Harlem Renaissance, this biography . . . builds an eloquent and absorbing narrative of an overlooked figure.” The book “will unquestionably make an original and significant contribution to the fields of African American and Caribbean literary studies, transnational studies, and Diaspora studies. It is the only existing biography of Walrond, and does an admirable job of not only presenting solid research on its subject but also thinking through the complexity of Walrond’s particular contribution and role in twentieth-century black transnational and Diaspora history and culture,” says Gary Edward Holcomb, Professor of African American Literature at Ohio University. Photographs, chronology, notes, bibliography, index.
Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.: A Memoir (Thomas Dunne Books) is the story of British Viv Albertine, who was lead guitarist of the Slits and is “one of a handful of original punks who changed music, and the discourse around it, forever,” says Rough Trade. Dwight Garner, in the New York Times, observes, “Ms. Albertine’s book is wiry and cogent and fearless . . . . Her book has an honest, lo-fi grace. If it were better written, it would be worse.” Photographs.
I thoroughly enjoyed Girl in a Band: A Memoir (Dey Street Books/ Harper Collins), the autobiography of a feisty and creative woman in the male-dominated world of punk rock. Its author, Kim Gordon, bassist and co-founder of Sonic Youth and a visual artist, grew up in Southern California and traveled the world as a superstar. Here’s the publisher’s PR description: “Sonic Youth is one of the most influential and successful bands to emerge from the post-punk New York scene, and their legacy continues to loom large over the landscape of indie rock and American pop culture. Almost as celebrated as the band’s defiantly dissonant sound was the marriage between Gordon and her husband, fellow Sonic Youth founder and lead guitarist Thurston Moore. So when Matador Records released a statement in the fall of 2011 announcing that—after twenty-seven years—the two were splitting, fans were devastated. . . . What did this mean? What comes next? What came before? [The] famously reserved superstar speaks candidly about her past and the future. … [and of] New York’s downtown art and music scene in the eighties and nineties and the birth of a band that would pave the way for acts like Nirvana, as well as help inspire the Riot Grrl generation. . . . Exploring the artists, musicians, and writers who influenced Gordon, and the relationship that defined her life for so long, Girl in a Band is filled with the sights and sounds of a pre-Internet world and is a deeply personal portrait of a woman who has become an icon. “I’ve always admired Kim Gordon. She is cool, smart, and dignified. Girl in a Band is a fascinating and honest memoir full of raw emotion and insight,” says Sofia Coppola, filmmaker. Photographs.
Lion Songs: Thomas Mapfumo and the Music That Made Zimbabwe (Duke University Press), by Banning Eyre, “is an authoritative biography of Mapfumo that narrates the life and career of this creative, complex, and iconic figure. Like Fela Kuti and Bob Marley, singer, composer, and bandleader Thomas Mapfumo and his music came to represent his native country’s anticolonial struggle and cultural identity. Mapfumo was born in 1945 in what was then the British colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The trajectory of his career—from early performances of rock ‘n’ roll tunes to later creating a new genre based on traditional Zimbabwean music, including the sacred mbira, and African and Western pop—is a metaphor for Zimbabwe’s evolution from colony to independent nation.” Photographs, notes, glossary, discography, bibliography, index of songs and albums, general index.
Elvis Costello (Declan Patrick MacManus), in his autobiography Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink (Blue Rider Press/Penguin Random House), covers not only his own life and career from his birth in 1954 to the present, but surveys his Irish ancestry, and provides and account of his father, a big band singer and trumpet player and his mother, who worked in British record stores. Singer, guitarist, and composer Costello seems to have collaborated and/or performed with just about every musician of importance in the rock world since the 1970s, when he began performing. He has also touched base with a great many country and jazz luminaries, e.g., Johnny Cash and Chet Baker—as well as married Diana Krall in 2003. I really enjoyed reading this tome, and tome it is at 672 pages. “The story unfolds like a movie that jumps across time, more thematic than chronological, as boyhood anecdotes and obsessions intersect with mature songs and adult reckoning. . . . The book doubles as a selective mini-history of 20th century music, as told by a discerning guide. He addresses artists both towering (Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Johnny Cash) and relatively unheralded (David Ackles, Robert Wyatt) with a fan’s affection and music scholar’s insight.” Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune. “Enthralling. . . . This is family history as musical encyclopedia, and to listen to Costello recount his life is to be buttonholed by an enthusiastic fan. Fandom for Costello is inseparable from the compulsion to write songs and, it seems, to understand his own life. . . . Fortunately for the fan of Costello’s music the topic of discussion is often his own songs, and he is, unsurprisingly, a witty and eloquent guide.” Paul Grimstad, New Republic. Photographs.
2) HISTORY, REFERENCE, CRITICISM, ETC.
Jazz Puzzles (Volume 2 (http://www.jazzedit.org/Pz2/jazz-puzzles2.html)
by Dan Vernhettes. with Bo Lindström is a volume of collective biographies, the sequel to the 2012 Jazz Puzzles, Volume 1, another groundbreaking study by the same authors. With 300 photos and illustrations, Volume 2 “studies the varying aspects of riverboat jazz history. Between 1907 and the 1940s there was a continuous collaboration between New Orleans musicians and those from St. Louis, as well as other northern towns, who worked on the riverboats, especially, but not exclusively with the Streckfus lines on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Some musicians worked for many years on the steamers, staying entire seasons in St. Louis or New Orleans, eventually moving one place or the other to settle down and raise families. Others played only occasionally on the boats in New Orleans. . . . . Volume 2, adds new pieces to the overall jazz puzzle, exploring the importance of the waterways linking these riverside towns and their travelling jazz musicians by presenting the lives of eleven of these artists (the most complete studies on these subjects).” The musicians covered are: Fate Marable, Louis Armstrong, Davy Jones, Charlie Creath, Dewey Jackson, Sidney Desvignes, Armand Piron, Papa Celestin, Sam Morgan, Emmett Hardy, and Peter Bocage. The immense scholarship that characterizes this volume The earlier volume, Jazz Puzzles, Volume 1—http://www.jazzedit.org/Pz/jazz-puzzles.html—was published in 2012 and covers John Robichaux, Buddy Bolden, Manuel Perez, Ernest and Jerome Coycault, Joe Oliver, Chris Kelly, Freddie Keppard, Lorenzo Tio, Arnold Métoyer, Evan Thomas, Punch Miller, Buddy Petit, Sidney Bechet, and Kid Rena and also contains 300 photos and illustrations. I have not seen Volume 1, but judging by the excellence of Volume 2, which provides in-depth accounts of a thoroughness that one would have to look far and wide to find the equal of—and certainly not within the covers of a single publication—the initial volume no doubt holds to the same standards. Lindström and Vernhettes also authored the 2009 Traveling Blues, The Life and Music of Tommy Ladnier (http://www.jazzedit.org/Traveling-blues.html).
The Ivory Ladies: Aletha and Myrtyle and Other Melrose Pianists1932-1942: A Discography
(Chris Hillman Books/chbooks.info/Scottlededoo@gmail.com), by Christopher Hillman and Daniel Gugolz withPaolo Fornara, deals with the “minefield of pianists associated with A&R maestro Lester Melrose [1891-1968],” recorded by Bluebird and Vocalion, and issued in their “race” series during the period cited. This 78-page thoroughly documented study can serve as a model for discographical research. Acting as musical archaeologists, the authors have seemingly unearthed all available information about the subjects of their investigation. Photographs, illustrations of record labels, bibliography, index, and a CD of 26 examples of the two label’s releases. A highly recommended text and a CD that will provide rewarding repeated listenings.
From the same publisher, Crescent City Cornet (Chris Hillman Books/chbooks.info/Scottlededoo@gmail.com), by Christopher Hillman and Richard Rains, “is an analysis of the evolution and development of New Orleans cornet and trumpet style from before the start of jazz proper up until the present day. It . . . cover[s] the playing of virtually all known exponents from the city and related environs, both famous and obscure, whose work is available to us on recordings. It . . . also include[s] an assessment of those important musicians who did not record from the valuations of their peers and from the common factors in the playing of those whom they are known or assessed to have influenced. The Foreword is by Claes Ringqvist, founder and President of the Swedish Bunk Johnson Society and a trumpet player himself.” As with the above entry and other books by Hillman and his collaborators, Crescent City Cornet is a masterful work of scholarship and a solid contribution to early jazz history. Photographs, illustrations of record labels, bibliography, index.
Peter Vacher’s Swingin’ on Central Avenue: African American Jazz in Los Angeles (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers) “recreates the energy and vibrancy of the Central Avenue scene through first-hand accounts from such West Coast notables as trumpeters Andy Blakeney , George Orendorff, and McLure ‘Red Mack’ Morris; pianists Betty Hall Jones, Chester Lane, and Gideon Honore, saxophonists Chuck Thomas, Jack McVea, and Caughey Roberts Jr; drummers Jesse Sailes, Red Minor Robinson, and Nathaniel ‘Monk’ McFay; and others. Throughout, readers learn the story behind the formative years of these musicians, most of whom have never been interviewed until now. While not exactly headliners—nor heavily recorded—this community of jazz musicians was among the most talented in pre-war America. Arriving in Los Angeles at a time when black Americans faced restrictions on where they could live and work, jazz artists of color commonly found themselves limited to the Central Avenue area. This scene, supplemented by road travel, constituted their daily bread as players—with none of them making it to New York. Through their own words, Vacher tells their story in Los Angeles, offering along the way a close look at the role the black musicians union played in their lives while also taking on jazz historiography’s comparative neglect of these West Coast players.” Notes, bibliography, index.
Tom Perchard’s After Django: Making Jazz in Postwar France (University of Michigan Press Jazz Perspectives Series) is a very important examination of jazz in France. Here is the jacket description of the book: “How did French musicians and critics interpret jazz—that quintessentially American music—in the mid-twentieth century? How far did players reshape what they learned from records and visitors into more local jazz forms, and how did the music figure in those angry debates that so often suffused French cultural and political life? After Django begins with the famous interwar triumphs of Josephine Baker and Django Reinhardt, but, for the first time, the focus here falls on the French jazz practices of the postwar era. The work of important but neglected French musicians such as André Hodeir and Barney Wilen is examined in depth, as are native responses to Americans such as Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. The book provides an original intertwining of musical and historical narrative, supported by extensive archival work; in clear and compelling prose, Perchard describes the problematic efforts towards aesthetic assimilation and transformation made by those concerned with jazz in fact and in idea, listening to the music as it sounded in discourses around local identity, art, 1968 radicalism, social democracy, and post colonial politics.” Adam Shatz, in theNew York Review of Books, says, “The ambiguity of France’s attraction to Afro-America was surely what James Baldwin had in mind when, in 1960, he suggested that ‘someone, some day, should do a study in depth of the role of the American Negro in the mind and life of Europe, and the extraordinary perils, different from those of America but not less grave, which the American Negro encounters in the Old World.’ Baldwin’s challenge has been taken up in recent years by a group of jazz historians working on France. Tom Perchard’s After Django is the latest addition to an impressive body of scholarship . . . . [An] illuminating study.” Photographs, notes, index.
I’m putting Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul (W. W. Norton & Company) by Charles King here rather than in the MISCELLANEOUS section below because it actually does contain some jazz interest. Istanbul (formerly Constantinople and, in ancient times, Byzantium) had a jazz scene in the 1920s and ’30s and there are eight index entries testifying to this phenomenon. Some of these are in a chapter entitled “THE POST-WAR WORLD WAS JAZZING.” For example, a recording boom in the late 1920s documented the lively sounds of Istanbul cabarets, nightclubs, and “dive bars,” and record collectors “specializing in [the city’s] unique amalgam of classical music, jazz, tango, and other styles” abounded. Vladimir Dukelsky—AKA composer Vernon Duke, after he expatriated to the U.S.—“performed at venues throughout the city. The cymbal-making Zildjian family moved its business to the U.S. and Istanbul-born American record industry giants Nesuhi and Ahmet Ertegün, sons of the Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to the United States, “jumped eagerly into Washington’s raucous jazz scene . . . and spent their weekend evenings along U Street, D.C’.s version of Harlem, and took occasional trips to New York, with its reefer-filled clubs and late-night music sessions.” Apart from its (albeit meager) jazz interest, the book “brings to life a remarkable era when a storied city stumbled into the modern world and reshaped the meaning of cosmopolitanism” and it is full of absorbing history. Photographs, chronology, bibliography, notes, glossary, index.
On Highway 61: Music, Race, and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom, (Counterpoint) by Dennis McNally, “explores the historical context of the significant social dissent that was central to the cultural genesis of the sixties. The book is going to search for the deeper roots of American cultural and musical evolution for the past 150 years by studying what the Western European culture learned from African American culture in a historical progression that reaches from the minstrel era to Bob Dylan. . . . As the book reveals, the connection that began with Thoreau and continued for over 100 years was a cultural evolution where, at first individuals, and then larger portions of society, absorbed the culture of those at the absolute bottom of the power structure, the slaves and their descendants, and realized that they themselves were not free.” Photographs, notes, index, bibliography.
Jason C. Bivins’ Spirits Rejoice!: Jazz and American Religion (Oxford University Press) “explores the relationship between American religion and American music, and the places where religion and jazz have overlapped [and] connects Religious Studies to Jazz Studies through thematic portraits, and a vast number of interviews to propose a new, improvisationally fluid archive for thinking about religion, race, and sound in the United States. Bivins’s conclusions explore how the sound of spirits rejoicing challenges not only prevailing understandings of race and music, but also the way we think about religion.” Photographs, notes, index, bibliography.
“Using the stories of tapper Bill Bojangles Robinson, Ginger Rogers, and Fred Astaire, ballet and Broadway choreographer Agnes de Mille, choreographer Paul Taylor, and Michael Jackson,” Megan Pugh’s America Dancing: From the Cakewalk to the Moonwalk (Yale University Press) “shows how freedom—that nebulous, contested American ideal—emerges as a genre-defining aesthetic. In [her] account, ballerinas mingle with slumming thrill-seekers, and hoedowns show up on elite opera house stages. Steps invented by slaves on antebellum plantations captivate the British royalty and the Parisian avant-garde. Dances were better boundary crossers than their dancers, however, and the issues of race and class that haunt everyday life shadow American dance as well. Deftly narrated, America Dancing demonstrates the centrality of dance in American art, life, and identity, taking us to watershed moments when the nation worked out a sense of itself through public movement.” Photographs, list of dance films and videos, notes, index.
“Magisterial, revelatory, and-most suitably-entertaining,” Brian Seibert’s What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) “offers an authoritative account of the great American art of tap dancing. Brian Seibert, a dance critic for the New York Times, begins by exploring tap’s origins as a hybrid of the jig and clog dancing from the British Isles and dances brought from Africa by slaves. He tracks tap’s transfer to the stage through blackface minstrelsy and charts its growth as a cousin to jazz in the vaudeville circuits and nightclubs of the early twentieth century. Seibert chronicles tap’s spread to ubiquity on Broadway and in Hollywood, analyzes its decline after World War II, and celebrates its rediscovery and reinvention by new generations of American and international performers. In the process, we discover how the history of tap dancing is central to any meaningful account of American popular culture. This is a story with a huge cast of characters, from Master Juba (it was probably a performance of his in a Five Points cellar that Charles Dickens described in American Notes for General Circulation) through Bill Robinson and Shirley Temple, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and Gene Kelly and Paul Draper to Gregory Hines and Savion Glover. Seibert traces the stylistic development of tap through individual practitioners, vividly depicting dancers both well remembered and now obscure. And he illuminates the cultural exchange between blacks and whites over centuries, the interplay of imitation and theft, as well as the moving story of African-Americans in show business, wielding enormous influence as they grapple with the pain and pride of a complicated legacy. What the Eye Hears teaches us to see and hear the entire history of tap in its every step.” Photographs, notes, index.
Microgroove: Forays into Other Music (Duke University Press), by John Corbett, “continues John Corbett’s exploration of diverse musics, with essays, interviews, and musician profiles that focus on jazz, improvised music, contemporary classical, rock, folk, blues, post-punk, and cartoon music. Corbett’s approach to writing is as polymorphous as the music, ranging from oral history and journalistic portraiture to deeply engaged cultural critique. Corbett advocates for the relevance of “little” music, which despite its smaller audience is of enormous cultural significance. He writes on musicians as varied as Sun Ra, PJ Harvey, Koko Taylor, Steve Lacy, and Helmut Lachenmann. Among other topics, he discusses recording formats; the relationship between music and visual art, dance, and poetry; and, with Terri Kapsalis, the role of female orgasm sounds in contemporary popular music. Above all, Corbett privileges the importance of improvisation; he insists on the need to pay close attention to “other” music and celebrates its ability to open up pathways to new ideas, fresh modes of expression, and unforeseen ways of knowing.” Photographs, Selected Listening, index.
In his Fresh Music: Explorations with the Creative Workshop Ensemble for Musicians, Artists, and Teachers (YO! Publications), Jon Damian explores the arts of improvising and teaching, sometimes bending the two as a single approach to creativity and learning. “[A] performer, composer, lecturer, author, and clinician whose work has taken him to five continents,” the jacket blurb informs us, Damian’s associations have included the likes of Luciano Pavoratti and Howard McGhee and, among his many students, Leni Stern and Lionel Loueke. Damian performs on guitar and the rubbertellie, a lap-held string instruement of his own invention (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXoKY1B6qFM). On the Berklee College of Music website, Professor Damian describes his classes: “Participants don’t need advanced sight-reading skills or the ability to shred through a line of chord symbols. The goal is to heighten listening skills and truly play in the moment to compose and improvise original works spontaneously. Inspirational sources for [Creative Workshop] compositions have ranged from the alphabet to the zodiac, Bach to bop, and jelly beans to doughnuts. For one piece, we even had a goldfish serve as conductor. Guest artists from various media, including dance and the visual arts, have joined the workshop on particular pieces.” His book expatiates brilliantly on these themes. Bill Frisell, a former student, enthuses, “[Jon Damian] showed me new ways of looking at what I already knew . . . turning them around and seeing them from a different angle, new possibilities, expanding [my] imagination. His new book Fresh Music Bebop, Swing and Bella Musica: Jazz and the Italian American Experience (Bella Musica Publishing) by Bill Dal Cerro and David Anthony Witter is a long-overdue tribute to the inestimable role that Italian-Americans have played in the evolution of jazz from its beginnings to the present. On the book’s website (http://www.italiansinjazz.com), where it can be ordered (as well as on Amazon.com), the volume’s theme and substance are summed up: “Bebop, Swing and Bella Musica is more than just a book about music. From the lynching of Italian immigrants in New Orleans in 1891 through hard times and prejudice, this book documents the cultural barriers that Italians faced in their pursuit of the American Dream. It also profiles musicians like [clarinetist] Joe Marsala, who played an active role in the integration of jazz music. [The book] features original, in-depth interviews with many artists who overcame poverty, illness and other personal tragedies. In the end, they drew strength from the musical traditions of their ancestors, bringing Italian passion to America’s greatest art form.” Nick LaRocca, Wingy Manone, Joe Venuti, Louie Bellson, Frank Sinatra, Lennie Tristano, Buddy DeFranco, Joannie Pallatto, Bucky and John Pizzarelli, Dottie Dodgion, Joe Lovano, Ada Rovati, Roberta Gambarini, and score upon score more of Italian heritage are included in this splendid and authoritative study. Photographs, bibliography, index.
Free Jazz/Black Power (American Made Music Series) (University Press of Mississippi), by Philippe Carles and Jean-Louis Comolli and translated by Grégory Pierrot, was published, in French, in 1971 and now sees its first English edition. “[A] treatise on the racial and political implications of jazz and jazz criticism[, it] remains a testimony to the long ignored encounter of radical African American music and French left-wing criticism. . . . It critiques the critics, building a work of cultural studies in a time and place where the practice was virtually unknown. The authors reached radical conclusions–free jazz was a revolutionary reaction against white domination, was the musical counterpart to the Black Power movement, and was a music that demanded a similar political commitment. The impact of this book is difficult to overstate, as it made readers reconsider their response to African American music. In some cases it changed the way musicians thought about and played jazz. Free Jazz / Black Power remains indispensable to the study 0of the relation of American free jazz to European audiences, critics, and artists. This monumental critique caught the spirit of its time and also realigned that zeitgeist.” Notes, discography, bibliography, index.
giving birth to sound – women in creative music) (Renate Da Rin),
by Renate Da Rin and William Parker, is a collection of several-page statements by forty-eight women “shar[ing] their experiences in the process of creating music and living as [artists].” Horn and string players, percussionists, pianists, keyboardists, accordionists, singers, and composers, they hail from North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Of the better known, we find trumpeter Stephanie Richards, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, pianists Sumi Tonooka, Jessica Williams, Mala Waldron, and Marilyn Crispell, flutist Nicole Mitchell, flutist, saxophonist, and orchestra leader Hazel Leach, multi-instrumentalists Kali Z, Fasteau and Jen Shuy, singers Jay Clayton and Lisa Sokolov, and conductor and composer Renée Baker. “giving birth to sound is about Her-story as told by some of the most brilliant and creative women musicians in the world. Individual thinkers and movers who have been brave enough to devote their lives to the making of music the way they hear it. They were not afraid to sing and speak in the name of sound, showing us that they are a family of unique individuals, separate but united. Read their words and listen to their music whenever you can it will take you even closer to the great mystery called life. There is a Foreword by Amina Claudine Myers and thumbnail photos and brief biographies of those included in the book.
Listen to This: Miles Davis and Bitches Brew (American Made Music Series) (University Press of Mississippi) by Victor Svorinich, is “the first book exclusively dedicated to Davis’s watershed 1969 album Bitches Brew” and “reveals much of the legend of Miles Davis–his attitude and will, his grace under pressure, his bands, his relationship to the masses, his business and personal etiquette, and his response to extraordinary social conditions seemingly aligned to bring him down. Svorinich revisits the mystery and skepticism surrounding the album, and places it into both a historical and musical context using new interviews, original analysis, recently found recordings, unearthed session data sheets, memoranda, letters, musical transcriptions, scores, and a wealth of other material.” Photographs and illustrations, notes, musical scores, index.
Anyone interested in jazz should be interested in the era in which it came into being, right? That’s why I include here Maureen Corrigan’s So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures (Little, Brown and Company), for it deals with “one of the most popular novels in America, [one that] many of us first read . . . when we were too young to fully comprehend its power. . . . With rigor, wit, and infectious enthusiasm, Corrigan inspires us to re-experience the greatness of Gatsby and cuts to the heart of why we are, as a culture, ‘borne back ceaselessly’ into its thrall. . . . Offering a fresh perspective on what makes [this novel] great and utterly unusual, [Corrigan] takes us into archives, high school classrooms, and even out onto the Long Island Sound to explore the novel’s hidden depths, a journey whose revelations include [its] surprising debt to hard-boiled crime fiction, its rocky path to recognition as a ‘classic,’ and its profound commentaries on the national themes of race, class, and gender.” So read this great novel again and familiarize yourself with the Jazz Age, when girls in bobbed hair and guys in tuxedos packing hip flasks of bathtub gin checked out Bix, King Oliver, and Bessie Smith in speakeasies. And then read So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures to learn what it all meant.
Ted Gioia has written half a shelf or so of seminal and essential books on jazz, the blues, work songs, and the American Song Book. Now comes his Love Songs: The Hidden History (Oxford University Press), in which he “uncovers the unexplored story of the love song for the first time. Drawing on two decades of research, Gioia presents the full range of love songs, from the fertility rites of ancient cultures to the sexualized YouTube videos of the present day. The book traces the battles over each new insurgency in the music of love—whether spurred by wandering scholars of medieval days or by four lads from Liverpool in more recent times.” Notes, bibliography, index.
One can count on the Smithsonian Institution to restore to availability jazz, blues, and popular music recorded classics that have long been out of print and to accompany them with authoritative commentary and history. This goes back to the 1970s when the late Martin Williams was in charge of its reissue program. Now we have the magnificent Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection (Smithsonian/Folkways), a companion to the 2012 Grammy-winning Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection. The box set , containing five discs and a 140-page large-format book, was compiled and produced by Grammy-winning Smithsonian Folkways archivist Jeff Place and Executive Director of the Grammy Museum Robert Santelli. Photographs, illustrations, discography, 106 music recordings (14 previously unreleased), and two 15-minute radio shows from 1941.
Richard Polenberg’s Hear My Sad Story: The True Tales That Inspired “Stagolee,” “John Henry,” and Other Traditional American Folk Songs (Cornell University Press) “describes the historical events that led to the writing of many famous American folk songs that served as touchstones for generations of American musicians, lyricists, and folklorists. Those events, which took place from the early nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, often involved tragic occurrences: murders, sometimes resulting from love affairs gone wrong; desperate acts borne out of poverty and unbearable working conditions; and calamities such as railroad crashes, shipwrecks, and natural disasters. All of Polenberg’s accounts of the songs in the book are grounded in historical fact and illuminate the social history of the times. Reading these tales of sorrow, misfortune, and regret puts us in touch with the dark but terribly familiar side of American history.” Photographs, notes, index.
Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs (Bloomsbury USA) by Johann Hari will interest those who follow jazz and its history because Billie Holiday is one of the four individuals whom the author tracks vis-à-vis their involvement with drugs. They will also find quite disturbing the vendetta that Harry Anslinger—the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) and a fanatical supporter of prohibition and the criminalization of drugs—launched against jazz musicians. “A frank and often brutal examination of the origins of the American war-on-drugs policy . . . Hari concisely lays out the history and long-term effects of the war on drugs with both depth and precision. He portrays everyone with empathy, from drug dealers to drug addicts, law enforcement personnel, and civilians caught in the middle . . . [He ends with] hope for a new understanding of drug use in the future,” is the assessment of Booklist. “An absolutely stunning book. It will blow people away,” was Elton John’s reaction, and Noam Chomsky says that he “couldn’t put it down.” For Norman Stamper, former chief of the Seattle Police, the book “is beautifully wrought: lively, humorous, and poignant. And, it’s a compelling case for why the drug war must end, yesterday.”
Notes, bibliography, index.
Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival (Oxford University Press) by Stephen Petrus and Ronald D. Cohen, “capture[s] the exuberance of the times and introduce[s] readers to a host of characters who brought a new style to the biggest audience in the history of popular music. Among the savvy New York entrepreneurs committed to promoting folk music were Izzy Young of the Folklore Center, Mike Porco of Gerde’s Folk City, and John Hammond of Columbia Records. While these and other businessmen developed commercial networks for musicians, the performance venues provided the artists space to test their mettle. The authors portray Village coffee houses not simply as lively venues but as incubators of a burgeoning counterculture, where artists from diverse backgrounds honed their performance techniques and challenged social conventions. Accessible and engaging, fresh and provocative, rich in anecdotes and primary sources, Folk City is lavishly illustrated with images collected for the accompanying major exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York in 2015.” Photographs, notes, index.
Guitar Player: The Inside Story of the First Two Decades of the Most Successful Guitar Magazine Ever (Backbeat Books), by Jim Crockett and Dara Crockett, “looks at the magazines evolution from a 40-page semi-monthly to a monthly exceeding 200 pages, with a gross yearly income that grew from $40,000 to nearly $15 million. The story is told by many people important to Guitar Player ‘s history, including Maxine Eastman, Bud Eastman’s widow, and Crockett, who edited this book with his daughter Dara. Also here are recollections of key personnel, including Tom Wheeler, Jas Obrecht, Roger Siminoff, Mike Varney, Jon Sievert, George Gruhn, and Robb Lawrence; leading early advertisers, such as Martin, Randall, and Fender; and prominent guitar players featured in the magazine, including Joe Perry, George Benson, Pat Travers, Country Joe McDonald, Pat Metheny, Steve Howe, Lee Ritenour, Johnny Winter, Steve Morse, Larry Coryell, Michael Lorimer, John McLaughlin, Stanley Clarke, Liona Boyd, Steve Vai, and many others. Among the many illustrations are then-and-now shots of performers and staff, early ads, behind-the-scenes photos from company jam sessions (with such guests as B. B. King and Chick Corea), various fascinating events, and key issue covers. Rich in history and perspective, Guitar Player: The Inside Story of the First Two Decades of the Most Successful Guitar Magazine Ever is the definitive first-person chronicle of a music magazine’s golden age.” Photographs, index.
Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables 33 1⁄3 by Michael Stewart Foley and Koji Kondo’s Super Mario Bros. Soundtrack 33 1⁄3 by Andrew Schartman are additions to Bloomsbury Academic’s series of pocket-size paperbacks devoted to analyses of individual albums. Rolling Stone has praised the project as “Ideal for the rock geek who thinks liner notes just aren’t enough.”
It’s Been Beautiful: Soul! and Black Power Television (Duke University Press), by Gayle Wald, tells the story of “Soul!, where Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire got funky, where Toni Morrison read from her debut novel, where James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni discussed gender and power, and where Amiri Baraka and Stokely Carmichael enjoyed a sympathetic forum for their radical politics. Broadcast on public television between 1968 and 1973, Soul!, helmed by pioneering producer and frequent host Ellis Haizlip, connected an array of black performers and public figures with a black viewing audience. In It’s Been Beautiful, Gayle Wald tells the story of Soul!, casting this influential but overlooked program as a bold and innovative use of television to represent and critically explore black identity, culture, and feeling during a transitional period in the black freedom struggle.” Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare 2nd Edition (Oxford University Press), edited by
Michael Dobson, Stanley Wells, Will Sharpe, and Erin Sullivan, “is the most comprehensive reference work available on Shakespeare’s life, times, works, and his 400-year global legacy. In addition to the authoritative A-Z entries, it includes nearly 100 illustrations, a chronology, a guide to further reading, a thematic contents list, and special feature entries on each of Shakespeare’s works. Tying in with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, this much-loved Companion has been revised and updated, reflecting developments and discoveries made in recent years and to cover the performance, interpretation, and the influence of Shakespeare’s works up to the present day. First published in 2001, the online edition was revised in 2011, with updates to over 200 entries plus 16 new entries. These online updates appear in print for the first time in this second edition, along with a further 35,000 new and revised words. These include more than 80 new entries, ranging from important performers, directors, and scholars (such as Lucy Bailey, Samuel West, and Alfredo Michel Modenessi), to topics as diverse as Shakespeare in the digital age and the ubiquity of plants in Shakespeare’s works, to the interpretation of Shakespeare globally, from Finland to Iraq. To make information on Shakespeare’s major works easier to find, the feature entries have been grouped and placed in a center section (fully cross-referenced from the A-Z). The thematic listing of entries—described in the press as ‘an invaluable panorama of the contents’—has been updated to include all of the new entries. This edition contains a preface written by much-lauded Shakespearian actor Simon Russell Beale. Full of both entertaining trivia and scholarly detail, this authoritative Companion will delight the browser and reward students, academics, as well as anyone wanting to know more about Shakespeare.”
Robert Tombs’ The English and Their History(Knopf)—at 1024 pages, 899 of them text—is a big one. I plan to work my way through over the next few years, seeing as how my ancestors hailed from there, Scotland, Ireland, and France (Cambridge University professor of history Tombs is also an authority on English-French relations). “[T]he first single-volume work on this scale for more than half a century, [it] incorporates a wealth of recent scholarship [and] presents a challenging modern account of this immense and continuing story, bringing out the strength and resilience of English government, the deep patterns of division, and also the persistent capacity to come together in the face of danger.” “Spectacular and massive. . . . It’s a book for our times that should also become the standard text for the century to come,” opines David Frum in The Atlantic, and Peter Hitchens, in the New York Times Book Review, says that The English and Their History . . . is right to combine a fresh retelling of English history with a thoughtful analysis of the changing ways in which the English themselves have interpreted their past. It successfully does both. . . . In this book he bicycles pleasingly through the picturesque valleys and stormy moorlands of England’s long adversarial struggle with itself. . . . Tombs entertainingly describes England’s frequent aggressive adventures into other people’s countries, not least its immediate neighbors.” Photographs, illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index.
Grand Illusions: American Art and the First World War (Oxford University Press), by David M. Lubin, is a “vivid, engaging account of the famous and forgotten artists and artworks that sought to make sense of America’s first total war. Despite the prevailing view of World War I’s general lack of impact on American Art, David Lubin takes readers on a journey through the major historical events during and immediately after the war to discover the often missed vast and pervasive influence of the Great War on American visual culture[,] assess[ing] the war’s impact on two dozen painters, designers, photographers, and film makers from 1914 to 1933[,] creatively upend[ing] traditional understandings of the Great War’s effects on the visual arts in America.” “What Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory did for literature, David Lubin’s Grand Illusions does for the painting, photography, sculpture, and architecture inspired by the First World War. Astutely guiding his readers through the treacherous landscape where stubborn romantic myths befog the ghastly realities of modern warfare, Lubin powerfully demonstrates the Great War’s lasting legacy in all the visual arts.” says David M. Kennedy, author of Over Here: The First World War and American Society, and David Reynolds, author of The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century, praises the book as “A fascinating, richly illustrated examination of how this supposedly ‘forgotten’ war figured in the American imagination.” Photographs, illustrations, notes, index.
The enjoyment of reading Stanley Plumly’s The Immortal Evening: A Legendary Dinner with Keats, Wordsworth, and Lamb
(W. W. Norton & Company) derives in large part from the author’s familiarity with the era and the individuals who peopled its artistic scene. In addition to those in the title (plus others) who attended the late-December 1817 dinner in painter Benjamin Robert Haydon’s studio on Lisson Grove, London, Byron, George IV, Coleridge, William Hazlitt, and others step in and out of the narrative, and it is the social and cultural intersections of them that constitute the book’s fascination. “Written with great eloquence and insight . . . . The colorful portrait [Plumly] paints is that of a select artistic fraternity, frequently contrary in their opinions and attitudes, who nevertheless knew that they were making a significant impact on the spirit of their age,” says Publishers Weekly. “Deeply considered[,] . . . an essay on mortality as much as immortality,” is Michael Dirda’s judgment in the Washington Post. One illustration (the painting at issue), selected bibliography, index.
Brandon Kirk’s Blood in West Virginia: Brumfield v. McCoy (Pelican Publishing) recounts “ a cut-throat war of extermination [that] journalists hyped . . . as something even more awful than the Hatfield-McCoy feud [and] it is only now that the true story of this once-famous West Virginia feud is told. Based on county records, local and national newspaper articles, and oral histories provided by descendants of the feudists, historian Brandon Kirk profiles pivotal characters, bringing these mountaineers to life and presenting each individual’s perspective on the feud. A descendant of the original feudists, Kirk has a unique insight into the blood battle that transpired in his own hometown. With more than twenty photographs, this well-researched book thoroughly documents the saga of a community and its residents in turmoil.” Photographs, List of Principal Participants, bibliography, index.
Not the Met: Exploring the Smaller Museums of Manhattan (Pelican Publishing) by Janel Halpern and Harvey Appelbaum allows one to “Peek into some of New York City’s [smaller museums . . . and experience exhibits through the authors’ eyes . . . Readers will enjoy having a profile of the city’s art community in the palms of their hands. Eighty-one museums are featured along with photographs, directions, helpful tips, and the authors’ impressions. From the Museum of American Illustration to the Rubin Museum of Art, visitors and natives alike will delight in these unique gems.” Photographs.
Paul Kaplan’s Jewish New York: A History and Guide to Neighborhoods, Synagogues, and Eateries (Pelican Publishing) “provides a road map to the history of Jewish immigration in New York . . . with a focus on the communities of Manhattan [and its] museums, places of historic interest, restaurants, synagogues, and entertainment venues of the present and those that no longer exist. Many are illustrated with vintage photos that capture the vibrant history of the city. Provided are suggested itineraries, tips for the visitor, and reference notes for further exploration. Each chapter also contains a map of the area marking key sites and a broad introduction to the district’s place in the historic timeline of Jewish immigration.” Photographs, notes, References (Books, Online Sources, etc.), index.
In her introduction to her Bad Feminist: Essays (Harper Perennial), Roxane Gay clarifies, “These essays are political and they are personal. They are, like feminism, flawed, but they come from a genuine place.” Harper’s Bazaar says that the volume is “An assortment of comical, yet astute essays that touch on Gay’s personal evolution as a woman, popular culture throughout the recent past, and the state of feminism today,” and Bitch Magazine opines that it is “is an outtake of her wisdom, and we would all do well to take heed.”
Insurrections of the Mind: 100 Years of Politics and Culture in America (Harper Perennial), Franklin Foer, editor, compiles essays spanning a century from the New Republic penned by the likes ofVirginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, Vladimir Nabokov, George Orwell, Graham Greene, Philip Roth, Pauline Kael, Michael Lewis, Zadie Smith, and Margaret Talbot.
Wanda Kennedy Kuntz’s Kennedy Music: An Historical Novel Based on the Kennedy Family, Maplewood, MO (Gene Del Publishing) tells the story of “Ray[,] a charismatic, hot-swing trumpet player who comes to Maplewood and opens a music school and store at the height of the Great Depression. Mae is a demure, star struck beauty 20 years his junior. Together they work to raise a family and keep their small business afloat as the world—and the music industry—changes around them. This story spans over four decades in which shellac records eventually evolved into cassette tapes, and big band jazz gave way to rock ’n’ roll. The author says the story ‘recalls an era when a music store could serve as the heart for an entire town, and when a family reached beyond a simple brick and mortar store to make their mark on the world around them.’” Photographs.
Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale (Oxford University Press), by Marina Warner, “is a perfect ‘short history of the fairy tale.’ The writing is pungent, the authority unassailable, the pace quick . . . . Warner, in short, knows fairy tales better than Mother Goose herself,” says Michael Dirda in the Washington Post.
A Coney Island Reader: Through Dizzy Gates of Illusion (Columbia University Press), by Louis J. Parascandola and John Parascandola, “Featur[es] a stunning gallery of portraits by the world’s finest poets, essayists, and fiction writers–including Walt Whitman, Stephen Crane, José Martí, Maxim Gorky, Federico García Lorca, Isaac Bashevis Singer, E. E. Cummings, Djuna Barnes, Colson Whitehead, Robert Olen Butler, and Katie Roiphe—this anthology is the first to focus on the unique history and transporting experience of a beloved fixture of the New York City landscape. Moody, mystical, and enchanting, Coney Island has thrilled newcomers and soothed native New Yorkers for decades. With its fantasy entertainments, renowned beach foods, world-class boardwalk, and expansive beach, it provides a welcome respite from the city’s dense neighborhoods, unrelenting traffic, and somber grid. Coney Island has long offered a kaleidoscopic panorama of people, places, and events, creating, as Lawrence Ferlinghetti once wrote, ‘a Coney Island of the mind.’ This anthology captures the highs and lows of that sensation, with works that imagine Coney Island as a restful resort, a playground for the masses, and a symbol of America’s democratic spirit, as well as a Sodom by the sea, a garish display of capitalist excess, and a paradigm of urban decay. As complex as the city of which it is a part, Coney Island engenders limitless perspectives, a composite inspiring everyone who encounters it to sing its electric song.” Photographs, illustrations, filmography.
Heather Cox Richardson’s To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party (Basic Books) “A readable and provocative account of the many paths that Republicans have taken to their current state of confusion. America does not have a broken political system. It has a broken political party: the Republicans,” says Jonathan Rauch in the New York Times Book Review. Notes, index.
Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers, and Swells: The Best of Early Vanity Fair (Penguin Press), Graydon Carter, editor, with David Friend, “celebrates the publication’s astonishing early catalogue of writers, with works by Dorothy Parker, Noël Coward, P. G. Wodehouse, Jean Cocteau, Colette, Gertrude Stein, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sherwood Anderson, Robert Benchley, Langston Hughes—and many others. [It] features great writers on great topics, including F. Scott Fitzgerald on what a magazine should be, Clarence Darrow on equality, D. H. Lawrence on women, e.e. cummings on Calvin Coolidge, John Maynard Keynes on the collapse in money value, Thomas Mann on how films move the human heart, Alexander Woollcott on Harpo Marx, Carl Sandburg on Charlie Chaplin, Djuna Barnes on James Joyce, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. on Joan Crawford, and Dorothy Parker on a host of topics ranging from why she hates actresses to why she hasn’t married.” Includes brief bios of contributors.
You won’t wonder why Alice Munro was the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature after dipping into her Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014 (Knopf), the companion volume to her 1997 Selected Stories (1968-1994). The new collection “brings us twenty-four of Alice Munro’s most accomplished, most powerfully affecting stories, many of them set in the territory she has so brilliantly made her own: the small towns and flatlands of southwestern Ontario. Subtly honed with her hallmark precision, grace, and compassion, these stories illuminate the quotidian yet extraordinary particularity in the lives of men and women, parents and children, friends and lovers as they discover sex, fall in love, part, quarrel, suffer defeat, set off into the unknown, or find a way to be in the world. Munro’s stories encompass the fullness of human experience—from the wild exhilaration of first love . . . to the lengths a once-straying husband will go to make his wife happy as her memory fades . . . [to] the punishing consequences of leaving home . . . or leaving a marriage [to the] part romantic love plays in one’s existence. And in stories that Munro has described as ‘closer to the truth than usual’ . . . we glimpse the author’s own life.” Tod Goldberg, in Las Vegas Weekly, says that “There is simply not a better writer of short fiction alive . . . . Alice Munro may have written only short stories, but in each is the mystery of life, the questions of existence, where the answers are rarely answered cleanly.”
The Love Object: Selected Stories (Little, Brown and Company) by Edna O’Brien (edited by and with introduction by John Banville) provides deep pleasure for this longtime admirer of the great Irish author. I read her early novels in the 1950s and have cherished her work since then. “When a writer as gifted as O’Brien memorializes a vanishing world, we experience not only the ‘lost landscape’ but the richly ambivalent emotions it has evoked,” says Joyce Carol Oates in the Times Literary Supplement. And Alan Cheuse, on NPR, observes, “When O’Brien ranges farther into the lives of women and men, married and single, beyond the borders of Ireland, she describes longing and desire and the intricacies of love and adultery as keenly and memorably as any modern writer you’ll read. . . . The lyrical turnings of her quest for truth, the deftness of her sentences and the clinical eye she turns on the imprisoning values of her country hark back to Joyce, modern Ireland’s old artificer. All together, they make O’Brien the first female bard of the place she bitterly names as ‘a land of shame, a land of murder, and a land of sacrificial women.’ O’Brien’s 84 now, and eventually she herself will be gone. But her stories will linger—not just smoldering, but burning as fiercely as when they first appeared.”
In The Secret History of Wonder Woman (Knopf), Jill Lepore—a prolific author, the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University, and a staff writer at The New Yorker—reveals that “the origin of one of the world’s most iconic superheroes hides within it a fascinating family story—and a crucial history of twentieth-century feminism. Wonder Woman, created in 1941, is the most popular female superhero of all time. Aside from Superman and Batman, no superhero has lasted as long or commanded so vast and wildly passionate a following. Like every other superhero, Wonder Woman has a secret identity. Unlike every other superhero, she has also has a secret history. . . . The Secret History of Wonder Woman is a tour de force of intellectual and cultural history. Wonder Woman, Lepore argues, is the missing link in the history of the struggle for women’s rights—a chain of events that begins with the women’s suffrage campaigns of the early 1900s and ends with the troubled place of feminism a century later.” Photographs, illustration, comics Index, notes, index.
I was in my twenties and becoming a liberal and feminist in the 1950s and so the profiles in Rachel Cooke’sHer Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties (Harper Perennial) were especially meaningful to me. I found the account of Rose Heilbron, the first woman in the UK to win a scholarship to Gray’s Inn (a professional association for barristers and judges), one of the first two women to be appointed King’s Counsel in England, the first woman to lead in a murder case, the first woman Recorder (a judicial officer), the first woman judge to sit at the Old Bailey, and the first woman Treasurer of Gray’s Inn. She was also the second woman to be appointed a High Court judge, after Elizabeth Lane. Also quite fascinating were the careers of archaeologist Jacquetta Hawkes and journalist Nancy Spain. “Lively. . . . Cooke offers up a ‘sly kind of feminism’ with this collection of rule-breakers and role mode. . . . What shines through in these intimate stories is Cooke’s respect for her subjects’ shared attitude of ‘derring-do’,” says Joanna Scutts in the Washington Post. Photographs, bibliography, index.
It has been a few years since I was as moved by an autobiography as I was by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Princeton professorTracy K. Smith’s Ordinary Light: A Memoir (Knopf). The book’s publicity blurb sums it up as “a quietly potent memoir that explores coming-of-age and the meaning of home against a complex backdrop of race, [religious] faith, and the unbreakable bond between a mother and daughter. . . . In lucid, clear prose, Smith interrogates her childhood in suburban California, her first collision with independence at Harvard, and her Alabama-born parents’ recollections of their own youth in the Civil Rights era. These dizzying juxtapositions—of her family’s past, her own comfortable present, and the promise of her future—will in due course compel Tracy to act on her passions for love and ‘ecstatic possibility,’ and her desire to become a writer. Shot through with exquisite lyricism, wry humor, and an acute awareness of the beauty of everyday life, Ordinary Light is a gorgeous kaleidoscope of self and family, one that skillfully combines a child’s and teenager’s perceptions with adult retrospection. Here is a universal story of being and becoming, a classic portrait of the ways we find and lose ourselves amid the places we call home.” Poet Darryl Pinckney, in The New York Times Book Review, says, “Her inclusive lists of influences—Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost, Philip Larkin, Yusef Komunyakaa—testify that black identity these days is way past black and white.” Tracy K. Smith’s three volumes of poetry, all published by Graywolf Press, are The Body’s Question (winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize); Duende (winner of the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets and an Essence Literary Award); and her latest, Life on Mars (winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, a New York Times Notable Book, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and a New Yorker, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year.)
Mary Morris’s The Jazz Palace: A Novel (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday) “encompasses the seismic shifts of turbulent decades, the early 20th century in Chicago. It gives us the breakups and reconfigurations of immigrant families, the beat-downs and triumphs of struggling outsiders . . . . One of the novel’s pleasures is the skill with which Morris glides from fictional to actual events of World War I or Prohibition. As she colors in the background, she never neglects the drama . . . . [Morris] understands what great things come from staying light on your feet,” opines John Domini in the Washington Post.
In Loitering: New and Collected Essays (Tin House Books), Charles D’Ambrosio, “no matter his subject—Native American whaling, a Pentecostal ‘hell house,’ Mary Kay Letourneau, the work of J. D. Salinger, or, most often, his own family—approaches each piece with a singular voice and point of view.” Phillip Lopate, in the New York Times Book Review, says “[W]e can see he is one of the strongest, smartest and most literate essayists practicing today. This, one would hope, is his moment. . . . These [essays] are highly polished, finished, exemplary performances.”
David M. Friedman’s Wilde in America: Oscar Wilde and the Invention of Modern Celebrity (W. W. Norton & Company) recounts how, “On January 3, 1882, Oscar Wilde, a twenty-seven-year-old “genius”—at least by his own reckoning—arrived in New York . . . traveling some 15,000 miles and visiting 150 American cities as he created a template for fame creation that still works today. . . taking the stage in satin breeches and a velvet coat with lace trim. . . . What Wilde so presciently understood is that fame could launch a career . . . . David M. Friedman’s lively and often hilarious narrative whisks us across nineteenth-century America, from the mansions of Gilded Age Manhattan to roller-skating rinks in Indiana, from an opium den in San Francisco to the bottom of the Matchless silver mine in Colorado—then the richest on earth—where Wilde dined with twelve gobsmacked miners, later describing their feast to his friends in London as ‘First course: whiskey. Second course: whiskey. Third course: whiskey.’” Photographs, notes, index.
I have become a fan of Hal Howland’s stories. His now reprinted The Jazz Buyer: Short Fiction (New Atlantian Library) joins his other volumes on my shelf of short story collections and is frequently taken down and dipped into, as are Cities & Women>/em>, After Jerusalem: A Story and Two Novellas, and Landini Cadence and Other Stories. His memoir, The Human Drummer: Thoughts on the Life Percussive, is enlightening. The recipient of the 2012 Eric Hoffer Award for excellence in independent publishing, Howland has also released several jazz recordings. Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Virginia, Europe, and the Middle East, he now lives in Key West. His Web site is at www.halhowland.com. “This collection of Howland’s short stories and one novella is a tour de force of virtuosity! Howland seems to spin out plots as easily as an accomplished jazz musician riffs around a melody. (The metaphor is especially appropriate as Howland is a musician.) There is something for everyone in this book—the music aficionado, the philosopher, the mystery buff. Howland even gives his rendition of every man’s fantasy: the ménage à trois. The Jazz Buyer is a well-written, entertaining read, and I highly recommend it.” Elizabeth Warner, author of Perdita, the Lost One and Rock Bottom.
Barbara Leaming’s Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story (Thomas Dunne Books) is the “first book to document Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ brutal, lonely and valiant thirty-one year struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that followed JFK’s assassination.” Kirkus Reviews says, “An intimate and revealing look at one of the 20th century’s most remarkable–and misunderstood–women.” Photographs, notes, index.
Norman Lear’s Even This I Get to Experience (Penguin Press) is the memoir of “the television producer of such groundbreaking sitcoms as All in the Family, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, Good Times, and Maude. He has received four Emmy awards, a Peabody, and the National Medal of Arts. As an advocate, Lear founded People For the American Way and supports First Amendment rights and other progressive causes.” President William J. Clinton says,
“That Norman Lear can find humor in life’s darkest moments is no surprise—it’s the reason he’s been so successful throughout his more than nine decades on earth, and why Americans have relied on his wit and wisdom for more than six. It’s also why Even This I Get to Experience is such a great read.”
Best-selling Norwegian authorPer Petterson’s I Refuse (Graywolf Press), translated by Don Bartlett, is a story of two old friends who meet again after many years’ separation and find that their circumstances have quiet altered. His seventh novel, it is “a portrait of childhood friendship, family, and loss” that “conveys both the melancholy and the demi-pleasurable sensation of being fundamentally untethered, says Stacey D’Erasmo in the New York Times Book Review. “Readers will find that they’re in the hands of a master whose quiet, unforgettable voice leaves you yearning to hear more,” opines the Boston Globe. “Per Petterson stands unsurpassed among contemporary writers for existential truth-telling” is the assessment of the Financial Times.
I love collections of correspondence and, while “It’s the Pictures That Got Small”: Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood’s Golden Age (Columbia University Press), edited by Anthony Slide is actually a compilation of unpublished diary entries, it fits the bill for me as a fascinating revelation of the personal thoughts, ramblings, opinions, and so forth of an individual. In this case, it delivers the insights of the writing partner of director Billy Wilder during Hollywood’s Golden Age and we learn how a great director of that era operated. “Brackett was also a producer, served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Screen Writers Guild, was a drama critic for the New Yorker, and became a member of the exclusive literary club, the Algonquin Round Table. [In his introduction, Anthony] Slide provides a rare, front row seat to the Golden Age dealings of Paramount, Universal, MGM, and RKO, and the innovations of legendary theater and literary figures, such as Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Edna Ferber, and Dorothy Parker. Through Brackett’s keen, witty perspective, the political and creative intrigue at the heart of Hollywood’s most significant films comes alive, and readers will recognize their reach in the Hollywood industry today.” Includes a section of thumbnail biographies of “Leading Names and Subjects in the Diaries,” photographs, and an index. A must read for cinema historians and critics, film buffs, and those who devour biographical writing.
Lady in the Dark: Iris Barry and the Art of Film (Columbia University Press), by Robert Sitton, is essential reading, for any who are curious about the history of film and its treatment by the art community. “Iris Barry (1895-1969) was a pivotal modern figure and one of the first intellectuals to treat film as an art form, appreciating its far-reaching, transformative power. . . . [S]he founded the Museum of Modern Art’s film department and became its first curator, assuring film’s critical legitimacy. She convinced powerful Hollywood figures to submit their work for exhibition, creating a new respect for film and prompting the founding of the International Federation of Film Archives.” Earlier, in her native England, her circle of associates included Ezra Pound [and] Bloomsbury figures, including Ford Maddox Ford, T. S. Eliot, Arthur Waley, Edith Sitwell, and William Butler Yeats. She fell in love with . . . Wyndham Lewis and had two children by him.” “Sitton’s book is chock full of fascinating detail and tells a compelling story about an unusual character, a woman who built institutions and contributed to a way of thinking about film that we take for granted today. The result is a much larger and untold history about art, film, and culture,” says Haidee Wasson, author of Museum Movies: The Museum of Modern Art and the Birth of Art Cinema. Foreword by Allistair Cooke, photographs, notes, index.
Rachel Swaby’s Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World (Broadway Books/Crown Publishing) responds in detail and with passion to the query, “Who are the role models for today’s female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?” It tells, for example, the story of Yvonne Brill, who was “a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit and had . . . been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.” As Maria Konnikova, author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, points out, “A woman revolutionized heart surgery. A woman created the standard test given to all newborns to determine their health. A woman was responsible for some of the earliest treatments of previously terminal cancers. We shouldn’t need to be reminded of their names, but we do. With a deft touch, Rachel Swaby has assembled an inspiring collection of some of the central figures in twentieth century science. Headstrong is an eye-opening, much-needed exploration of the names history would do well to remember, and Swaby is a masterful guide through their stories.” Bibliography, notes, index.
Oxford University graduate and lecturer at universities in Holland, Japan, and Africa David Crane’s Went the Day Well?: Witnessing Waterloo (Knopf) “is an astonishing hour-by-hour chronicle that starts the day before the battle that reset the course of world history and continues to its aftermath. Switching perspectives between Britain and Belgium, prison and palace, poet and pauper, lover and betrothed, husband and wife, David Crane paints a picture of Britain as it was that summer when everything changed. Drawing on a wide range of primary sources—from newspapers and journals to letters and poems, Went the Day Well? offers a highly original view of Waterloo, grand in scope but meticulous in detail. What was Britain doing on that Sunday, from the mad king downward? Who were born to live out their lives in the Britain created at Waterloo? Who died? Who was preaching, who was writing, and who was painting? Lyrically rendered in Crane’s signature prose style, Went the Day Well? freeze-frames the men and women of Britain in 1815 as they went about their business, attended lectures, worked in fields, and factories—all on the cusp of a new, unforeseeable age.” Notes, bibliography, illustrations, index.
The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915-1964 (Knopf), the first of a projected two-volume work, “traces Bellow’s Russian roots; his birth and early childhood in Quebec; his years in Chicago; his travels in Mexico, Europe, and Israel; the first three of his five marriages; and the novels from Dangling Man and The Adventures of Augie March to the best-selling Herzog. New light is shed on Bellow’s fellow writers, including Ralph Ellison, John Berryman, Lionel Trilling, and Philip Roth, and on his turbulent and influential life away from the desk, which was as full of incident as his fiction. Bellow emerges as a compelling character, and Leader’s powerful accounts of his writings, published and unpublished, forward the case for his being, as the critic James Wood puts it, ‘the greatest of American prose stylists in the twentieth century.’” Notes, photos, index.
Saul Bellow, There Is Simply Too Much to Think About: Collected Nonfiction, edited by Benjamin Taylor, is, along with the biography noted above, fitting tribute to Bellow in the centennial year of his birth and the tenth anniversary of his death. “[A] Nobel Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner, and the only novelist to receive three National Book awards, [Bellow] has long been regarded as one of America’s most cherished authors. Here, Benjamin Taylor, editor of the acclaimed Saul Bellow: Letters, presents lesser-known aspects of the iconic writer. Arranged chronologically, this literary time capsule displays the full extent of Bellow’s nonfiction, including criticism, interviews, speeches, and other reflections, tracing his career from his initial success as a novelist until the end of his life. Bringing together six classic pieces with an abundance of previously uncollected material, There Is Simply Too Much to Think About is a powerful reminder not only of Bellow’s genius but also of his enduring place in the western canon and is sure to be widely reviewed and talked about for years to come.” Index.
The very pleasurable experience of reading James Wood’s The Nearest Thing to Life (The Mandel Lectures in the Humanities) (Brandeis University Press) derives as much from its guise as literary criticism in the form of—sort of, that is—memoir. While making the point of the importance of “detail” in fiction and how the “notice” of it is more often than not ignored in real life, Wood digresses with examples from his own life, drawing from his youth and his student days in the 1970s in “an ecclesiastical institution” in Durham, in Northern England coal mining country. Among the many details that he recalls are the headmaster’s all-black attire, the sound of sacks of coal being poured down the chute of his family home, and his mother providing tea and a sandwich to a beggar seated at their kitchen table. This not only enlivens his thesis—most of the book was, after all, delivered to an audience—but makes its points more concretely. Indeed, in a final section, Wood returns to his personal history, adding reflections on his experience as an expatriate here. (He is a Harvard professor and a staff writer at the New Yorker.) “These pieces are autobiographical, but only as a stepping stone to more universal themes dealing with what we look for from the experience of reading,” observes Amazon.com reviewer Charlus.
Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age (Graywolf Press), by Sven Birkerts, gives voice to the apprehensions harbored by those of us who grew up with typewriters and carbon paper, paperbacks that sold for 25¢, 78rpm records, cameras with film, and dial telephones. “In 1994, Sven Birkerts published The Gutenberg Elegies, his celebrated rallying cry to resist the oncoming digital advances, especially those that might affect the way we read literature and experience art—the very cultural activities that make us human. After two decades of rampant change, Birkerts has allowed a degree of everyday digital technology into his life. He refuses to use a smartphone, but communicates via e-mail and spends some time reading online. In Changing the Subject, he examines the changes that he observes in himself and others—the distraction when reading on the screen; the loss of personal agency through reliance on GPS and one-stop information resources; an increasing acceptance of ‘hive’ behaviors. ‘An unprecedented shift is underway,’ he argues, and ‘this transformation is dramatically accelerated and more psychologically formative than any previous technological innovation.’ He finds solace in engagement with art, particularly literature, and he brilliantly describes the countering energy available to us through acts of sustained attention, even as he worries that our increasingly mediated existences are not conducive to creativity. It is impossible to read Changing the Subject without coming away with a renewed sense of what is lost by our wholesale acceptance of digital innovation and what is regained when we immerse ourselves in a good book.” I’m very sympathetic to Sven Birkerts’ argument and share his worries. I grew up in a household that contained 2000 books and have always loved the feel and smell of a bound volume.
Jed Rasula’s Destruction Was My Beatrice: Dada and the Unmaking of the Twentieth Century (Basic Books/Perseus Books Group) “presents the first narrative history of Dada, showing how this little-understood artistic phenomenon laid the foundation for culture as we know it today. Although the venue where Dada was born closed after only four months and its acolytes scattered, the idea of Dada quickly spread to New York, where it influenced artists like Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray; to Berlin, where it inspired painters George Grosz and Hannah Höch; and to Paris, where it dethroned previous avant-garde movements like Fauvism and Cubism while inspiring early Surrealists like André Breton, Louis Aragon, and Paul Éluard. The long tail of Dadaism, Rasula shows, can be traced even further, to artists as diverse as William S. Burroughs, Robert Rauschenberg, Marshall McLuhan, the Beatles, Monty Python, David Byrne, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, all of whom—along with untold others—owe a debt to the bizarre wartime escapades of the Dada vanguard. A globe-spanning narrative that resurrects some of the 20th century’s most influential artistic figures, Destruction Was My Beatrice describes how Dada burst upon the world in the midst of total war—and how the effects of this explosion are still reverberating today.” Notes, bibliography, photographs, index.
The blurb for Matthew Coniam’s The Annotated Marx Brothers: A Filmgoer’s Guide to In-Jokes, Obscure References and Sly Details (McFarland) asks, “Have you ever watched a Marx Brothers film and wondered what ‘habeas Irish rose’ is? What is the trial of Mary Dugan with sound? What is a college widow? When exactly did Don Ameche invent the telephone? Their films are full of such in-jokes and obscure theatrical, literary, and topical references that can baffle modern audiences. In this viewer’s guide to the Marx Brothers you will find the answer to such mysteries, along with an exhaustive compilation of background information, obscure trivia and even the occasional busted myth. Each of the Marx Brothers’ 13 films is covered by a running commentary, with points in the film discussed as they appear. Each reference is listed by its running time, with time code given for both PAL and NTSC DVD. An introduction for neophytes and a resource for fanatics, this book is a travel guide to the rambling landscape of these remarkable comedies.” Notes, bibliography, photographs, index.
Shocking Paris: Soutine, Chagall and the Outsiders of Montparnasse (St. Martin’s Press), by Stanley Meisler, an emeritus foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, recounts how “For a couple of decades before World War II, a group of immigrant painters and sculptors, including Amedeo Modigliani, Marc Chagall, Chaim Soutine, and Jules Pascin dominated the new art scene of Montparnasse in Paris. Art critics gave them the name ‘the School of Paris’ to set them apart from the French-born (and less talented) young artists of the period. Modigliani and Chagall eventually attained enormous worldwide popularity, but in those earlier days most School of Paris painters looked on Soutine as their most talented contemporary. Willem de Kooning proclaimed Soutine his favorite painter, and Jackson Pollack hailed him as a major influence. Soutine arrived in Paris while many painters were experimenting with cubism, but he had no time for trends and fashions; like his art, Soutine was intense, demonic, and fierce. After the defeat of France by Hitler’s Germany, the East European Jewish immigrants who had made their way to France for sanctuary were no longer safe. In constant fear of the French police and the German Gestapo, plagued by poor health and bouts of depression, Soutine was the epitome of the tortured artist. Rich in period detail, Stanley Meisler’s Shocking Paris explores the short, dramatic life of one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.” Illustrations, sources, index.
Edward T. O’Donnell’s Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age (Columbia History of Urban Life (Columbia University Press) is “A long-overdue social biography of an activist who warned of the dangers of rising inequality and inspired a vibrant working class political culture in Gilded Age America [and who] published a radical critique of laissez-faire capitalism and its threat to the nation’s republican traditions. Progress and Poverty (1879), which became a surprise bestseller, offered a provocative solution for preserving these traditions while preventing the amassing of wealth in the hands of the few: a single tax on land values. George’s writings and years of social activism almost won him the mayor’s seat in New York City in 1886. Though he lost the election, his ideas proved instrumental to shaping a popular progressivism that remains essential to tackling inequality today. Edward T. O’Donnell’s exploration of George’s life and times merges labor, ethnic, intellectual, and political history to illuminate the early militant labor movement in New York during the Gilded Age. He locates in George’s rise to prominence the beginning of a larger effort by American workers to regain control of the workplace and obtain economic security and opportunity. The Gilded Age was the first but by no means the last era in which Americans confronted the mixed outcomes of modern capitalism. George’s accessible, forward-thinking ideas on democracy, equality, and freedom have tremendous value for contemporary debates over the future of unions, corporate power, Wall Street recklessness, government regulation, and political polarization today.” Notes, photographs, illustrations, index.
Jay Griffiths’ A Country Called Childhood: Children and the Exuberant World (Counterpoint Press) “seeks to discover why we deny our children the freedoms of space, time and the natural world. Visiting communities as far apart as West Papua and the Arctic as well as the UK, and delving into history, philosophy, language and literature, she explores how children’s affinity for nature is an essential and universal element of childhood. It is a journey deep into the heart of what it means to be a child, and it is central to all our experiences, young and old.” It is “a must-read for every parent, teacher, child psychiatrist, or psychologist, anyone who works with kids. Not an easy book, it is a necessary one,” says the Philadelphia Inquirer. Notes, bibliography, index.
I must note several novels that I have during 2015 much enjoyed. The Story of the Lost Child, the fourth and final volume of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, saw print in 2015. The three preceding novels of the tetralogy appeared, respectively, in 2012, 2013, and 2014. All four are translated by Ann Goldstein and are published by Europa Editions. The third of the series was cited by the New York Times as a Notable Book of the Year and the fourth was among the paper’s five Best Fiction Works of 2015. (The series has won many other awards.) The narrative, set “against the backdrop of a Naples that is as seductive as it is perilous and a world undergoing epochal change,” begins in the 1950s and proceeds to the early years of the present century. I resided in Naples for two years as a professor of classics in the Tufts in Italy study-abroad program in the mid-1960s. Thus the locale of the story is particularly meaningful to me. I spent a couple of weeks reading through the whole work and couldn’t put it down! “Ferrante’s novels are intensely, violently personal, and because of this they seem to dangle bristling key chains of confession before the unsuspecting reader. . . . [They are] large, captivating, amiably peopled bildungsromans,” says James Wood in the The New Yorker.
It is amazing that Eleanor Catton wrote a novel as complex and rich as The Luminaries (Little, Brown and Company/Back Bay Books) while still in her early twenties. “Richly evoking a mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping, banking, and gold rush boom and bust, The Luminaries is at once a fiendishly clever ghost story, a gripping page-turner, and a thrilling novelistic achievement. It richly confirms that Eleanor Catton is one of the brightest stars in the international literary firmament.” Says Bill Roorbach in the New York Times Book Review, “The Luminaries is a true achievement. Catton has built a lively parody of a 19th-century novel, and in so doing created a novel for the 21st, something utterly new. The pages fly, the great weight of the book shifting quickly from right hand to left, a world opening and closing in front of us, the human soul revealed in all its conflicted desperation. I mean glory. And as for the length, surely a book this good could never be too long [at 864 pages!].”
I’m a fan of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series and an admirer of its heroine Lisbeth Salander. I’ve read the trilogy and have seen the Swedish films based on them and the American film of the initial volume. Those disappointed that the original author is no longer with us to continue the series can rejoice that David Lagercrantz has taken over and produced a splendid sequel in The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A Lisbeth Salander Novel (Knopf). Of course there are those still disappointed because they think that Lagercrantz’s effort doesn’t hold up to the standard set by Larsson. But I enjoyed this fourth adventure of Lisbeth and agree with Amazon.com the ReviewNotes: “What I immediately noticed was how Lagercrantz followed Larsson’s blueprint and stuck closely to the original author’s imagination by keeping Lisbeth Salander’s vengeful and rancorous side intact, which is the result of her horrifying experiences early in life. Any other person with such a spirit may be disgusting but readers of the series do not bear any such attitude towards her. Rather, she is quite adorable, and fans of the series know that she possesses admirable qualities. Mikael Blomkvist is still the same person with new challenges and demons of his own.”
I’ve read Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and Freedom with much enjoyment and consider him a powerful current literary voice. His Purity: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is indeed “A magnum opus for our morally complex times [and] the most daring and penetrating book yet by one of the major writers of our time.” Sam Tanenhaus, in The New Republic belives that “Franzen may well now be the best American novelist. He has certainly become our most public one, not because he commands Oprah’s interest and is a sovereign presence on the best-seller list—though neither should be discounted—but because, like the great novelists of the past, he convinces us that his vision unmasks the world in which we actually live . . . . A good writer will make an effort to purge his prose of clichés. But it takes genius to reanimate them in all their original power and meaning.”
Scott Frank packs a lot into Shaker: A novel (Knopf), e.g., “a powerful earthquake [that] has knocked out cell service, buckled the freeways, and thrown L.A. into chaos,” a Queens, New York, hit man on an “errand” in he city, a feisty (and occasionally alcoholic) female L.A.P.D. Mexican-American detective named Kelly, an incompetent and vain mayor, teenage gangbangers, you name it! The book kept me riveted for three evenings and I’m still working through the ingenious plot details and reviewing how the back stories of the many characters flesh out the narrative. It’s one of the most fascinating police and crime action novels I’ve read for some time.
Donning my classics hat (http://camws.org/News/newsletter/files/WRSAutobio.pdf), I requested review copies of the following books.
I learned much from Caroline Alexander’s The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War (Penguin Books, 2010). And now this far-reaching scholar has produced The Iliad: A New Translation (Ecco/Harper Collins). “Soldier and civilian, victor and vanquished, hero and coward, men, women, young, old—the Iliad evokes in poignant, searing detail the fate of every life ravaged by the Trojan War. And, as told by Homer, this ancient tale of a particular Bronze Age conflict becomes a sublime and sweeping evocation of the destruction of war throughout the ages. Carved close to the original Greek, acclaimed classicist Caroline Alexander’s new translation is swift and lean, with the driving cadence of its source—a translation epic in scale and yet devastating in its precision and power.” G.W. Bowersock of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, praises Alexander’s effort as “miraculous . . . Its language conveys the precise meaning of the Greek in a sinewy yet propulsive style . . . In my judgment, this new translation is far superior to the familiar and admired work of Lattimore, Fitzgerald, and Fagles.” I’ve read the Iliad (and the Odyssey) in Greek and I concur with the learned Professor Emeritus Bowersock.
Why Homer Matters (Henry Holt and Co.) by Adam Nicolson did not disappoint me, for it truly is “a magical journey of discovery across wide stretches of the past, sewn together by the poems themselves and their metaphors of life and trouble. . . . . The [Iliad and Odyssey] ask the eternal questions about the individual and the community, honor and service, love and war [and] tell us how we became who we are.” Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index.
Bryan Doerries’ The Theater of War: What Ancient Greek Tragedies Can Teach Us Today (Knopf) “is the personal and deeply passionate story of a life devoted to reclaiming the timeless power of an ancient artistic tradition to comfort the afflicted. For years, theater director Bryan Doerries has led an innovative public health project that produces ancient tragedies for current and returned soldiers, addicts, tornado and hurricane survivors, and a wide range of other at-risk people in society. Drawing on these extraordinary firsthand experiences, Doerries clearly and powerfully illustrates the redemptive and therapeutic potential of this classical, timeless art: how, for example, Ajax can help soldiers and their loved ones better understand and grapple with PTSD, or how Prometheus Bound provides new insights into the modern penal system. These plays are revivified not just in how Doerries applies them to communal problems of today, but in the way he translates them himself from the ancient Greek, deftly and expertly rendering enduring truths in contemporary and striking English.” “A deeply humane quest, movingly recalled. Doerries’s passionate search for meaning in ancient text has led him out of the dusty stacks of scholarship into an arena of ecstatic public engagement. He has taken his elegantly reasoned thesis—that the main business of tragedy has always been catharsis—and created a theatrical experience that has lifted countless audiences out of isolation and into profound community,” opines cartoonist Garry Trudeau. And here is actress (Fargo) Frances McDormand’s take: “I have always thought of Greek tragedies as the earliest public service announcements. Those ancient stories of family politics, their warnings about civic duty, and their parables of grief and its management are as vital today as when first written. Through his translations and public readings, and now this powerful book, Doerries offers modern audiences access to these ancient PSAs. We hunger and thirst for the guidance these plays contain.” Notes, bibliography.
A decade ago I thoroughly enjoyed Bettany Hughes’ Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore (Knopf). Now, from a different perspective, we have Ruby Blondell’s Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation (Oxford University Press). Professor Blondell says, “Helen of Troy could never have existed. She is in her very essence a creature of myth—a concept, not a person. It is that concept, and its meaning for ancient Greek authors, that is my subject.” She dismisses Bettany Hughes’ equally scholarly study as “a quixotic search for the historical reality of Helen’s life.” Blondell’s volume has illustrations bibliographical notes, bibliography, index and glossary.
Of Professor (of Greek and Roman History and Greek and Latin Literature at the University of Michigan) David Potter’s Theodora: Actress, Empress, Saint (Women in Antiquity Series) (Oxford University Press), Claudia Rapp of the University of Vienna enthuses, “This book is much more than a straightforward biography or an apology for an empress who has been slandered as over-sexed or over-ambitious. Writing with palpable delight and a deep knowledge of the period, Potter weaves Theodora into networks of athletes and entertainers, generals and aristocrats, bishops and monks, showing her as level-headed, driven by self-interest, and fiercely loyal to her close circle of supporters. In the process, he offers new perspectives on the larger historical framework of the Later Roman Empire during a time of challenges and transformations, spiked with colorful insights into the daily life of women.” Maps, illustrations, dramatis personae, timeline, notes, bibliography, index.
Martial, Selected Epigrams (Wisconsin Studies in Classics) (University of Wisconsin Press), translated by Susan McLean, “accurately captures the wit and uncensored bawdiness of the epigrams of Martial, who satirized Roman society, both high and low, in the first century CE. His pithy little poems amuse, but also offer vivid insight into the world of patrons and clients, doctors and lawyers, prostitutes, slaves, and social climbers in ancient Rome. The selections cover nearly a third of Martial’s 1,500 or so epigrams, augmented by an introduction by historian Marc Kleijwegt and informative notes on literary allusion and wordplay by translator Susan McLean.” A delightful rendering by a poet who was the recipient of the 2014 Donald Justice Poetry Prize for her collection The Whetstone Misses the Knife and the 2009 Richard Wilbur Award for her The Best Disguise.
W. Royal Stokes, Ph.D (wroyalstokes.com) was the 2014 recipient of the Jazz Journalists Association’s Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism Award. Dr. Stokes has been an ardent reader since the mid-1930s and a close observer of the jazz, blues, and popular music worlds since the early 1940s. A few years later, he began immersing himself in fiction, biography, history, etc., in 1965 earning a Yale Ph.D. in Greek and Latin languages and literature and Ancient History and then serving as a professor of these subjects at, serially, four universities, one of which, Tufts, sent him to Naples, Italy, to teach in its study-abroad program for two years. He is author of The Jazz Scene: An Informal History from New Orleans to 1990, Swing Era New York: The Jazz Photographs of Charles Peterson, Living the Jazz Life: Conversations with Forty Musicians about Their Careers in Jazz, and Growing Up With Jazz: Twenty-Four Musicians Talk About Their Lives and Careers. Volume 1 of his trilogy of novels Backwards Over, Rufus Has Been on the Lam, saw publication in June 2015. (Volumes 2 and 3 will see print in the spring 2016.) He is currently at work on a memoir and A W. Royal Stokes Jazz, Blues & Beyond Reader. A founding member of the Jazz Journalists Association, Royal pays tribute to the JJA in “The Jazz Journalists Association: A 25-Year Retrospective” (http://news.jazzjournalists.org/2013/06/the-jazz-journalists-association-a-25-year-retrospective/). Royal’s Amazon Author Page is at http://www.amazon.com/W.-Royal-Stokes/e/B001HD17MY/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1441028875&sr=1-2-ent.
The lists below are my choices from the 400 or so CDs that I received for review during 2015.
Nota bene: All of my choices are in alphabetical order by artist and thus are equally rated.
10 BEST NEW RELEASES
Michael Gibbs & the NDR Big Band, Play A Bill Frisell Set List (CUNEIFORM RECORDS)
Milford Graves & Bill Laswell, Space / Time – Redemption (Tum Records)
Mary Halvorson, Meltframe (Firehouse 12 Records)
Fred Hersch, Solo (Palmetto Records)
Mikko Innanen, William Parker and Andrew Cyrille, Song For A New Decade (Tum Records)
Bill Kirchner, An Evening of Indigos (Jazzheads)
Nicholas Payton, Letters (Paytone Records)
Maria Schneider Orchestra, The Thompson Fields (ArtistShare)
Wadada Leo Smith & John Lindberg, Celestial Weather (Tum Records)
Henry Threadgill & Zooid, In for a Penny in for a Pound (Pi Recordings)
3 BEST REISSUES
Billie Holiday, Banned From New York City – Live 1948-1957 Live (Uptown Records)
Eddie Condon & Bud Freeman, Complete Commodore & Decca Sessions (Mosaic)
Wild Bill Davison, The Jazz Giants (Sackville/Delmark)
BEST VOCAL RELEASE
Kim Nazarian, Some Morning (Kimj Music)
BEST DEBUT RELEASE
Caili O’Doherty Padme (ODO Records)
BEST LATIN JAZZ RELEASE
Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet, 10 (ZOHO)
NOTABLE 2015 RELEASES
Tiffany Austin, Nothing But Soul (Con Alma Music)
Michael Blum, Commitment (Michael Blum Music)
Dan Brubeck, Celebrating the Music & Lyrics of Dave & Iola (Blue Forest Records)
Dheepa Chari, Patchwork (DheepaChari.com)
Shareef Clayton, North & South (Harlem River Records)
Anat Cohen, Luminosa (Anzic Records)
Steve Coleman & Council of Balance, Synovial Joints (Pi Recordings)
Joseph Daley Warren Smith Scott Robinson, The Tuba Trio Chronicles (Joda Music Records)
Mary Foster Conklin, Photographs (MockTurtle Music)
Connie Crothers Quartet, Deep Friendship (New Artists Records)
Laurie Dapice, Parting the Veil (LaurieDapice.com)
Caroline Davis, Doors: Chicago Storylines (ears & eyes Records)
Dahi Divine, The Element (dahidivine.com)
Sinne Eeg and Thomas Fonnesbaek, Eeg – Fonnesbaek (Stunt Records)
Eli & The Hot Six, Contemporary Classic Jazz Live (Delmark)
Laszlo Gardony, Life In Real Time (Sunnyside Records)
Michael Gibbs & the NDR Bigband, In My View (CUNEIFORM RECORDS)
Rhiannon Giddens, Tomorrow Is My Turn (Nonesuch Records)
Marty Grosz Meets the Fat Babies, Diga Diga Doo (Delmark)
The H2 Big Band, It Could Happen (Origin Records)
Jeff Hamilton Trio, Great American Songs – Through the Years (Capri Records Ltd)
Rich Halley 4 and Michael Vlatkovich, Eleven (Pine Eagle Records)
Scott Hamilton and Jeff Hamilton, Live In Bern (Capri Records Ltd)
Lafayette Harris Jr, Bend to the Light (Airmen Records)
Christian Howes, American Spirit (Resonance Records)
INNERrOUTe, Fourmation (Planet Arts Recordings)
Eugenie Jones, Come Out Swingin’ (Open Mic Records)
Emma Larsson, Sing To The Sky (Origin Records)
Ingrid Laubrock, Ubatuba (Firehouse 12 Records)
Jennifer Leitham, Mood (S)Wings (Sinistral Records)
Roberto Magris Trio & Herb Geller, An Evening With Herb Geller & the Roberto Magris Trio (Jmood Records)
Gillian Margot, Black Butterfly (Hipnotic Records)
Susie Meissner, Tea for Two (Lydian Jazz Records, LLC)
Billy Mintz, The 2 Bass Band . . . Live (Thirteenth Note Records)
Bob Mintzer Big Band, Get Up! (MCG Jazz)
Mipso, Old Time Reverie (Robust Records)
Wes Montgomery, In the Beginning (Resonance Records)
Jack Mouse & Scott Robinson with Janice Borla, Three Story Sandbox (Tall Grass Records)
Luis Munoz, Voz (Pelin Music)
Buell Neidlinger and Marty Krystall, Criss Cross – Live at the Red Sea (K2B2 Records)
Larry Novak Trio, Invitation (Delmark)
Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, Cuba: The Conversation Continues (Motema Music)
Dion Parson & 21st Century Band, St. Thomas (United Jazz International, LLC)
Lisa Parrott, Round Tripper (Serious Niceness Records)
Cristina Pato, Latina (Sunnyside Records)
Roberta Piket, Emanation: Solo 2 (Thirteenth Note Records)
Bucky Pizzarelli, Renaissance: A Journey From Classical to Jazz (Arbors Records)
Reggie Quinerly, Invictus (Redefinition Music)
Gloria Reuben, Perchance To Dream (MCG Jazz)
Cheryl Richards, Adam Caine & Nick Lyons, If Not for You (New Artists Records)
Scott Robinson Julian Thayer, ? (ScienSonic Recordings)
Pete Rodriguez, El Conde Negro (Destiny Records)
Molly Ryan, Let’s Fly Away (MollyRyan.com)
Matthew Shipp Mat Walerian Duo Live at Okuden, Uppercut (Esp Disk Ltd.)
Deborah Shulman, My Heart’s in the Wind (Summit Records)
Sonny Simmons, Reincarnation (Arhoolie Records)
Daniel Smith, Jazz Suite for Bassoon (Summit Records)
The Spanish Donkey Raoul (RareNoise Records)
Norbert Stein Pata Messengers Play Rainer Maria Rilke, Das Karussell (Pata Music)
Lew Tabackin, Soundscapes (Lewtabackin.com)
Sweet Sue Terry and Friends, Live at the Deer Head Inn (Deer Head Records)
Ryan Truesdell Presents Gil Evans Project: Live at Jazz Standard, Lines of Color (ArtistShare)
Papo Vazquez Mighty Pirates Troubadours, Spirit Warrior (Picaro Records)
The Weave, Knowledge Porridge (TheWeavemusic.com)
Carrie Wicks, Maybe (Oa2 Records)
Tony Yazbeck, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Clyde Alves, Megan Fairchild, Alysha Umphress, Elizabeth Stanley, On the Town: New Broadway Cast Recording (PS Classics)
The Ivory Ladies Aletha and Myrtyle and Other Melrose Pianists 1932-1942: A Discography (chbooks.info)
Humphrey Lyttelton, In Canada (Sackville/Delmark)
J.R. Monterose, Live In Albany 1979 Live (Uptown Records)
Sonny Sharrock, Ask the Ages (M.O.D. Technologies)
This Ain’t No Mouse Music!: The Story of Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records (DVD) (Kino Lorber)
Various Artists, Spiritual Jazz 6: Vocals (Jazzman Records Limited)
W. Royal Stokes was the 2014 recipient of the Jazz Journalists Association’s Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism Award. He has been observing the jazz, blues, and popular music worlds since the early 1940s. He was editor of Jazz Notes (the quarterly journal of the Jazz Journalists Association) from 1992 to 2001 and has participated in the annual Down Beat Critics Poll since the 1980s. He hosted his weekly “I thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say . . . .” and Since Minton’s on public radio in the 1970s and ’80s. He has been the Washington Post’s jazz critic and editor of JazzTimes and is the author of The Jazz Scene: An Informal History from New Orleans to 1990 (Oxford University Press, 1991), Swing Era New York: The Jazz Photographs of Charles Peterson (Temple University Press, 1994), Living the Jazz Life: Conversations with Forty Musicians about Their Careers in Jazz (Oxford University Press, 2000), and Growing Up With Jazz: Twenty-Four Musicians Talk About Their Lives and Careers (Oxford University Press, 2005). Volume 1 of his trilogy of novels Backwards Over, Rufus Has Been on the Lam, saw publication in June 2015. (Volumes 2 & 3 will see print over the course of the winter and spring 2015-16.) He is currently at work on a memoir and The W. Royal Stokes Jazz, Blues & Beyond Reader.
W. Royal Stokes, Ph.D.
JJA News (http://news.jazzjournalists.org)
The lists below are my choices from the 500 or so CDs (and one LP) that I received for review during 2014. NOTA BENE: All of my choices are in alphabetical order by artist and thus are equally rated.
TEN BEST NEW RELEASES
Paul Bley, Blue (ECM)
Diva, A Swingin’ Life (MCG Jazz)
Mary Halvorson-Michael Formanek-Tomas Fujiwara: Thumbscrew (Cuneiform)
Penguin Cafe, The Red Book (Penguin Cafe)
Tineke Postma and Greg Osby, Sonic Halo (Challenge)
Sonny Rollins Road Shows, Vol.3 (Okeh)
Ada Rovatti, Disguise (Piloo)
Daniel Smith, Smokin Hot’ Bassoon Blues (Summit)
Wadada Leo Smith, Jamie Staff, Joe Morris, and Balazs Pandi, Red Hill (Rarenoise)
Miguel Zenon, Identities Are Changeable (Miel Music)
The Columbia and RCA Victor Live Recordings of Louis Armstrong and the All Stars (Mosaic)
Bud Powell, Birdland 1953 (ESP)
60 Years of Jazz (Delmark)
BEST VOCAL RELEASE
Catherine Russell, Bring it Back (Jazz Village)
BEST DEBUT RELEASE
Zan Stewart, Street Is Making Music (Mobo Dog)
BEST LATIN JAZZ RELEASE
Eliana Cuevas, Espejo (Alma)
BEST CHRISTMAS RELEASES
Renée Fleming, Christmas in New York (Universal Music Classics)
Jennifer Leitham, Future Christmas (Sinistral)
Sackville All-Stars, Sackville All Star Christmas Record
Tony Trischka, Of a Winter’s Night (Tony Trischka)
NOTABLE DEBUT JAZZ RELEASES
Lena Bloch, Feathery (13th Note)
The Michael Blum Quartet, Initiation (Michael Blum Music)
Sherie Julianne, 10 Degrees South (Azul do Mar)
Allegra Levy, Lonely City (SteepleChase/LookOut)
Lauren Meccia, Inside Your Eyes (Spirit Music)
Vance Thompson’s Five Plus Six, Such Sweet Thunder (Shade Street)
NOTABLE INSTRUMENTAL JAZZ RELEASES
Rez Abbasi, Intents and Purposes (ENJA)
Jason Adasiewicz’s Sun Rooms, From the Region (Delmark)
Jason Anick, Tipping Point (Magic Fiddle Music)
The Awakening Orchestra and Kyle Saulnier, Awakening Orchestra,
Vol. 1: This is Not the Answer (Innova)
Ballister (Dave Rempis, Fred Lonberg-Holm, and Paal Nilssen-Love),
Worse For The Wear (Aerophonic)
Mike Bardash Quintet, Polygon (Rhombus)
Battle Trance (Travis Laplante, Matthew Nelson, Jeremy Viner, and
Patrick Breiner), Palace of Wind (New Amsterdam)
Alex Belhaj’s Crescent City Quartet, Sugar Blues (Raymond Street)
Paul Bollenback, Portraits in Space & Time (Mayimba Music)
Dewa Budjana and Jimmy Johnson, Surya Namaskar (Moonjune)
Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, The L.A. Treasures Project (Capri)
The Cookers (Billy Harper, Donald Harrison, Eddie Henderson, David
Weiss, George Cables, Cecil McBee, and Billy Hart), Time and Time
Again (Motema Music)
Connie Crothers Quartet, Deep Friendship (New Artists)
Connie Crothers & Paula Hackett, Sharing the Thrill (New Artists)
Charles Davis, For the Love of Lori (reade street)
Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble,
Sketches of Spain (Revisited) (3/16 Records)
James Davis, Beveled (ears&eyes)
Akua Dixon, Akua Dixon (Akua’s Music)
Ewan Dobson, Acoustic Metal (Candyrat)
Laura Dreyer, Vida Arte Amor (Mayimba)
Echoes of Swing (Colin T. Dawson, Chris Hopkins, Bernd Lhotzky, and
Oliver Mewes), Blue Pepper (Act Music)
John Ellis, Mobro (Parade Light)
Oran Etkin, Gathering Light (Motema Music)
David Friesen Circle 3 Trio, Where The Light Falls (Origin)
George Gee, Swing Makes You Happy (Rondette)
Sax Gordon, In The Wee Small Hours (Delmark)
Danny Green Trio, After The Calm (OA2)
Rich Halley 4 (featuring Michael Vlatkovich, Clyde Reed, and Carson
Halley), The Wisdom of Rocks (Pine Eagle)
Phil Haynes, Drew Gress, Dave Liebman, No Fast Food
Fred Hersch Trio, Floating (Palmetto)
Harmonie Ensemble and Steven Richman, conductor, Henry Mancini:
Music for Peter Gunn (Harmonia Mundi)
Alexander Hawkins, Song Singular (Babel)
Alexander Hawkins Ensemble, Step Wide, Step Deep (Babel)
Holly Hoffman, Low Life: The Alto Flute Project (Capri)
Ideal Bread, Beating The Teens: Songs Of Steve Lacy (Cuneiform)
Max Johnson, The Invisible Trio (Fresh Sound)
Mimi Jones, Balance (Hot Tone Music)
Kalle Kalima & K-18, Bunuel De Jour (Tum)
Darrell Katz and The JCA Orchestra, Do You Ride? (Leo)
Assaf Kehati Trio, Naked (AKJazz)
Frank Kimbrough, Quartet (Palmetto)
David Krakauer, The Big Picture (Table Pounding)
Matt Lavelle & John Pietaro, Harmolodic Monk (Unseen Rain)
Kenny Lavender, Conscious Journey, Part 1 & 2 (Kenny Lavender
Mike Longo, Step On It (Consolidated Artists Productions)
Gordon Lee with the Mel Brown Septet, Tuesday Night (OA2)
Roberto Magris Quintet, Morgan Rewind: A Tribute to Lee Morgan
Vol. 2 (Jmood)
Raymond MacDonald & Marilyn Crispell, Parallel Moments (Babel)
Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bird Calls (Act Music & Vision)
Telsa Manaf, Tesla Manaf (Moonjune)
Mike Markaverich Trio, One More for the Road (Marktime)
Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble Reimagines Popular Hebraic
Melodies, Mosaica (MELL Enterprises)
Delfeayo Marsalis, The Last Southern Gentlemen (Troubador Jazz)
Shawn Alliance Maxwell’s, Shawn Maxwells Alliance (Chicago
Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra, Strength in Numbers (Summit)
Brad Mehldau & Mark Guiliana, Mehliana: Taming the Dragon
The Microscopic Septet, Manhattan Moonrise (Cuneiform)
Tony Monaco, Furry Slippers (Chicken Coup)
Jack Mouse & Scott Robinson, Snakeheads & Ladybugs (Jack Mouse & Scott Robinson)
The North, Slow Down (This Isn’t The Mainland) (Dowsett)
Jim Norton Collective, Time Remembered: Compositions Of Bill Evans
Now’s the time, The Best in Contemporary Jazz from France &
Ed Palermo Big Band, Oh No! Not Jazz!! (Cuneiform)
Evan Parker, Paul Dunmall, Tony Bianco, Extremes (Red Toucan)
Nicholas Payton, Numbers (PAYTONE)
Clarence Penn & Penn Station, Monk: The Lost Files (Origin)
Leslie Pintchik, In The Nature Of Things (Pintch Hard)
Anthony Pirog, Palo Colorado Dream (Cuneiform)
Pixel Queen, Jeremy Manasia (Blujazz)
Kerry Politzer, Below the Surface (Pjce)
Louis Prima Jr. & The Witnesses, Blow (Warrior)
PJ Rasmussen, Another Adventure (Third Freedom Music)
Rebirth Brass Band, Move Your Body (Basin Street)
Marc Ribot Trio (with Henry Grimes and Chad Taylor), Live at the
Village Vanguard (PI Recordings)
David Roitstein and Larry Koonse, Conversations (Jazz Compass)
Ellen Rowe Quintet, (featuring Ingrid Jensen), Courage Music (PKO)
Joe Sample & Ndr Bigband, Children of the Sun (Pra)
Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, American Adventure (Spartacus)
Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, Culloden Moor Suite (Spartacus)
Halley Shoenberg, Private Concert (Timescape Music)
Marc Seales, American Songs, Volume 2 – Blues And Jazz (Origin)
Simakdialog, Live at Orion (Moonjune)
Matt Slocum (With Walter Smith III, Dayna Stephens, Gerald Clayton
and Massimo Biolcati), Black Elk’s Dream (Chandra)
Adam Smale, Out of the Blue (Adam Smale Jazz)
Wadada Leo Smith, The Great Lakes Suites (Tum)
Tyshawn Sorey, Alloy (PI Recordings)
Sivan Rotem Trio, For Emotional Use Only (Fresh Sound)
Stan Kenton Alumni Band, Road Scholars Live (Summit)
Doc Stewart, Code Blue! (Doc Stewart)
Ben Stolorow and Ian Carey, Duocracy (Kabocha)
Dave Stryker, Eight Track (Panorama)
Swiss Youth Jazz Orchestra, Future Steps: Live at Jazzaar Festival 2014 (Shanti)
“Sweet” Sue Terry and Friends, Live at the Deer Head Inn (Deer Head)
Ken Thomson And Slow/Fast, Settle (Ncm East)
Camille Thurman, Origins (Hot Tone Music)
Shirazette Tinnin, Humility: Purity of My Soul (Hot Tone Music)
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, OverTime: Music of Bob Brookmeyer
(Planet Arts Recordings)
The Weave, The Weave (Rufus Albino)
Dan Weiss, Fourteen (PI Recordings)
David Weiss, When Words Fail (Motema Music)
David White Jazz Orchestra, The Chase (Mister Shepherd)
Brad Whiteley, Pathless Land (Destiny Recordings)
Woven Entity, Woven Entity (Babel)
Yagull, Kai (Moonjune)
NOTABLE JAZZ VOCAL RELEASES
Dee Alexander, Songs My Mother Loves (Blujazz)
Laurie Antonioli, Songs Of Shadow, Songs Of Light: The Music Of
Joni Mitchell (Origin)
Margie Baker, So Many Stars (Consolidated Artists Production, Inc.)
Perry Beekman, Bewitched (Perry Beekman)
Janice Borla Group, Promises to Burn (Tall Grass)
Susan Clynes, Life Is . . . (Moonjune)
Dee Daniels, Intimate Conversations (Origin)
E. J. Decker, A Job of Work (Candela)
Bob Dorough, Eulalia (Merry Lane)
Cynthia Felton, Save Your Love for Me (Felton Entertainment)
Lisa Ferraro, Serenading the Moon (Pranavasonic Universal)
Carol Fredette, No Sad Songs for Me (Soundbrush)
Kat Gang, Dream Your Troubles Away (Arbors Jazz)
Hilary Gardner, The Great City (Anzic)
Jua, Colors of Life (Chocolate Chi Music)
Rebecca Kilgore, I Like Men (Arbors Jazz)
Lauren Kinhan, Circle in a Square (Dotted i)
Ellen LaFurn, C’est LaFurn (Ellen LaFurn)
Julie, Julie Lyon Quintet (Unseen Rain)
Sharon Marie Cline, This Is Where I Wanna Be (Sharon Marie Cline)
Tony Messina, All About Love and Life (Heart to Heart)
Robert Moore, Outta My Soul (Reference)
Beata Pater, Golden Lady (B&B)
Judy Philbin & Adam Levine, Keeping It Simple (Judy Philbin)
Annie Ross, To Lady With Love (Red Anchor Productions, Inc.)
Kate Ross, People Make the World Go Round (KimCourt Productions)
Judi Silvano & Michael Abene, My Dance (Jsl)
Lyn Stanley, Potions (A.T. Music)
Marlene VerPlanck, I Give Up, I’m in Love (Audiophile)
Roseanna Vitro, Clarity: Music of Clare Fischer (Random Act)
Ingrid Felts & Ken Watters, Watters/Felts Project (Summit)
Libby York, Memoir (Libby York Music)
NOTABLE LATIN JAZZ RELEASES
Harry Allen’s All-Star Brazilian Band, Flying Over Rio (Arbors Jazz)
Phil Degreg & Brasilia, Brazilian People (Prevenient Music)
Paulinho Garcia, Beautiful Love (Jazzmin)
Steve Pouchie and Wilson Chembo Corniel North By Northeast (Latin Jazz Alive)
Various Artists, Salsa de la Bahia: A Collection of SF Bay Salsa and Latin Jazz (Patois)
NOTABLE BLUES AND BEYOND RELEASES
James Armstrong, Guitar Angels (Catfood)
Eden Brent, Jigsaw Heart (Yellow Dog)
Otis Clay & Johnny Rawls, Soul Brothers (Catfood)
Daunielle, Daunielle (Catfood)
The Ebony Hillbillies, Barefoot and Flying (EH Music Inc.)
Robin Eubanks + Mental Images, Klassik Rock Vol. (ArtistShare)
Gaelic Storm, The Boathouse (Lost Again)
Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball (Nonesuch)
HowellDevine, Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju (Arhoolie)
Tommy Malone, Poor Boy (M.C.)
Nickel Creek, A Dotted Line (Nonesuch)
Portland Cello Project, Homage (Jealous Butcher) (CD & LP)
Third Coast Percussion and David T. Little, Haunt of Last Nightfall
NOTABLE MUSICAL CAST RECORDINGS
Michael Cerveris and Judy Kuhn, Fun Home (P.S. Classics)
Sutton Foster and Colin Donnell, Violet (P.S. Classics)
Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill (P.S. Classics)
NOTABLE JAZZ AND BLUES REISSUES
Smoky Babe, Way Back in the Country Blues (Arhoolie)
Evergreen Classic Jazz Band, Early Recordings 1915-1932
Chubby Jackson Big Band, New York City 1949: Ooh, What An
Outfit! (Uptown Jazz)
Illinois Jacquet and Leo Parker, Toronto 1947 (Uptown Jazz)
Charles Lloyd, Manhattan Stories (Resonance)
Howard McGhee, West Coast 1945-1947 (Uptown Jazz)
The Duke Pearson Big Band, Baltimore 1969 (Uptown Jazz)
Don Pullen, Richard’s Tune (Sackville/Delmark)
Scottdale String Band, Old Folks Better Go to Bed (Arhoolie)
Buddy Tate Quartet, Texas Tenor (Sackville/Delmark)
Sonny Til And The Orioles, Live In Chicago 1951 (Uptown Jazz)
Lennie Tristano, Chicago April 1951 (Uptown Jazz)
Dave Van Ronk, Down on Washington Square: The Smithsonian
Folkways Collection (Smithsonian/Folkways)
George Van Eps, Once In Awhile (Jump/Delmark)
Various Artists, This Ain’t No Mouse Music!: The Story of Chris
Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records (Arhoolie)
NOTABLE DVD RELEASES
Eric Clapton, The 1970s Review (Sexy Intellectual/MVD Visual)
Mos Def, The Last Poets, et alii, Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme (Hip
Hop Films/MVD Visual)
Michael Flek, Warrick Sony, Lee Thomson, et alii, Punk In Africa (Punk
In Africa/MVD Visual)
Eileen Twain, Shania: The Discovery Of Eileen Twain (Video Service
Suzanne Vega, Solitude Standing (Wienerworld/MVD Visual)
W. Royal Stokes was the 2014 recipient of the Jazz Journalists Association’s Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism Award. He has been observing the jazz, blues, and popular music worlds since the early 1940s. He was editor of Jazz Notes (the quarterly journal of the Jazz Journalists Association) from 1992 to 2001 and has participated in the annual Down Beat Critics Poll since the 1980s. He hosted his weekly “I thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say . . . .” and Since Minton’s on public radio in the 1970s and ’80s. He has been the Washington Post’s jazz critic and editor of JazzTimes and is the author of The Jazz Scene: An Informal History from New Orleans to 1990 (Oxford University Press, 1991), Swing Era New York: The Jazz Photographs of Charles Peterson (Temple University Press, 1994), Living the Jazz Life: Conversations with Forty Musicians about Their Careers in Jazz (Oxford University Press, 2000), and Growing Up With Jazz: Twenty-Four Musicians Talk About Their Lives and Careers (Oxford University Press, 2005). His trilogy of novels Backwards Over will see publication in the fall and winter of 2014. He is currently at work on a memoir and a W. Royal Stokes Jazz, Blues & Beyond Reader.
BY W. ROYAL STOKES
1) BIOGRAPHIES, DISCOGRAPHIES, ETC.
2) HISTORY, REFERENCE, CRITICISM, ETC.
3) COFFEE-TABLE BOOKS
4) SCARECROW PRESS
1) BIOGRAPHIES, DISCOGRAPHIES, ETC.
The Ivory Men: Black Bob & Blind John 1932-1942: A Discography (Chris Hillman Books), by Christopher Hillman and Daniel Gugolz with Paolo Fornara, presents pianists Black Bob and Blind John Davis in a variety of combos recorded by Vocalion, Bluebird, and other labels during the period cited. This 78-page thoroughly documented discography can — as do the earlier monographs by former publisher Cygnet — serve as a model for discographical research. Acting as musical archaeologists, the authors have unearthed all available information about the two musicians and their recordings. Highly recommended for both its text and the accompanying CD that repeated listening well rewards. (Order from firstname.lastname@example.org) Photographs, illustrations of record labels, bibliography, index, and a CD of 26 tracks.
In Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press), author Matthew Pratt Guterl “brings out a little known side of the celebrated personality [and] banana-skirted siren of Jazz Age Paris[,] showing how her ambitions of later years were even more daring and subversive than the youthful exploits that made her the first African American superstar. Her performing days numbered, Baker settled down in a sixteenth-century chateau, [adopted] twelve children from around the globe, . . . transformed her estate into a theme park [and] a collective farm [and] attracted an adoring public eager to spend money on a utopian vision and to worship at the feet of Josephine, mother of the world. . . . Guterl concludes that Baker was a serious and determined activist who believed she could make a positive difference by creating a family out of the troublesome material of race.” Photographs, notes, index.
In Softly, With Feeling: Joe Wilder and the Breaking of Barriers in American Music (Temple University Press), Edward Berger, whose other books include Benny Carter: A Life in American Music (co-author) and Bassically Speaking: An Oral History of George Duvivier, “lays out, piece by piece, Joe Wilder’s entire career from start to present in a very entertaining way,” says Jazz Man. Photographs, notes, Discography/Solography, index.
The Original Guitar Hero and the Power of Music: The Legendary Lonnie Johnson, Music, and Civil Rights (University of North Texas Press) by Dean Alger is the first full-length work on this pioneer blues and jazz player. “Though recognized by B. B. King and others for his strong influence, blues- and jazz-guitar pioneer and singer Lonnie Johnson is an underappreciated giant of the music, a precursor not only of King, but also of jazz great Charlie Christian and rockers such as Eric Clapton. In often-minute detail, Alger recounts Johnson’s long—if interrupted—career, from his early solos and duets (with his brother and with guitarist Eddie Lang and blues singer Victoria Spivey) to his accompanying Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington on classic recordings, and into the blues revival of the 1960s. . . . Alger makes a substantial contribution to the history of early jazz, of the guitar’s preeminence in twentieth-century music, and of Johnson’s major, but regrettably forgotten, role.” Mark Levine, Booklist. Photographs, notes, bibliography, discography, song index, subject index.
In her autobiographical ART: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman (Arthur Pepper Music Corporation), Laurie Pepper picks up after her late husband’s 1981 Straight Life: The Story of Art Pepper (Da Capo, 1994, revised edition), which she co-authored with the great saxophonist. “This book has Art Pepper mentioned in it, but it is not about him. It is about Laurie Pepper and what she has to teach us about life on its own terms and that one does not merely wish to endure, but ultimately prevail,” clarifies critic C. Michael Bailey, AllAboutJazz. Photographs, index.
Frank Benjamin Foster III’s A Jazz Master: An Autobiography (PFDGS Media), with Forewords by Sheila Jordan, Cecil Bridgewater, and Charlotte VM Ottley, “was published just as Frank wrote it. In his own words, Frank chose to reveal the complexities both positive and negative that would tell his story. His final request to his beloved wife Cecilia was to make certain that his book was published after his death. Frank’s musical career spanned seven decades with a contribution to the Jazz world that will never be forgotten. He was called a musical genius. As you read this book, you will see a life that reveals the triumphs and struggles of a man who made a major impact as a saxophonist extraordinaire, composer, arranger, educator, conductor of the world famous Count Basie Orchestra, as well as establishing his own 3 bands that became legendary. I second the quote by his publicist, ‘Here’s to Frank, a musical genius for all time…One More Time!’”, says Dana Gillespie, publisher. Photographs.
Benson: The Autobiography (Da Capo Press) by George Benson and Alan Goldsher, with a Foreword by Bill Cosby, “follows George’s remarkable rise from the ghettos of Pittsburgh to the stages of South Africa, and everywhere in between. George Benson is an unparalleled storyteller, and his tales of scuffling on the Chitlin Circuit with jazz legend Brother Jack McDuff, navigating his way through the recording studio with Miles Davis, and performing with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Quincy Jones, Benny Goodman, Rod Stewart, Chaka Khan, Count Basie, and Lou Rawls will enthrall devotees of both music history and pop culture.” Photographs, index.
Bombay-born and New York resident Radhika Philip, in a collection of her wide-ranging and in-depth conversations with 25 jazz musicians Being Here (Radhio.org), demonstrates that she knows what questions to ask and how to listen. “What an amazing book! I’m so impressed with Radhika’s ability to have these intimate discussions with these incredible artists. . . . There is a thread that runs throughout all of these artists. They have humility, drive, and an almost selfless commitment to their craft. . . . . Billy Hart’s conversation was very touching and humble. Brian Blade was absolutely inspiring, Steve Coleman is one of the most fascinating characters you will ever discover too! Every chapter has taught me something about my own musical development,” enthuses drummer Tim Orlieb. Discographies are included.
The Time of My Life: A Righteous Brother’s Memoir (Da Capo Press) by Bill Medley and Mike Marino, with a Foreword by Billy Joel, is “an unvarnished look at Bill Medley’s personal triumphs and tragedies through the filter of five decades of musical, television, motion picture, and live-performance success. Medley opens his head and his heart, sharing his thoughts and feelings about the great African-American music that inspired him, his loving yet tumultuous and complicated relationship with Bobby Hatfield, the murder of his first wife Karen and his struggle to raise their son alone, his close friendship with Elvis and its sad ending, his deep depression over losing his voice (and how he got it back), his smash duet with Jennifer Warnes on “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” for the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, and how he learned to settle down and become a family man and enjoy a nearly thirty-year (and counting) marriage.” Photographs, index.
Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues (Counterpoint) by Joel Selvin “is both a definitive account of the golden age of rhythm and blues of the early ’60s and the harrowing, ultimately tragic story of songwriter and record producer Bert Berns, whose meteoric career was fueled by his pending doom. His heart damaged by rheumatic fever as a youth, Berns was not expected to live to see 21. Although his name is little remembered today, Berns worked alongside all the greats of the era—Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, Burt Bacharach, Phil Spector, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, anyone who was anyone in New York rhythm and blues. In seven quick years, he went from nobody to the top of the pops—producer of monumental r&b classics, songwriter of ‘Twist and Shout,’ ‘My Girl Sloopy,’ ‘Piece of My Heart,’ and others.” Photographs, bibliography, discography, index.
The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob (Simon & Schuster) by David Kinney, “a compelling study of Dylan’s most fervent and studious fans, [presents] sympathetic, respectful portraits of people who were inspired by Dylan to write, read, travel, archive, and rethink their lives.” The Chicago Tribune
Of Eddie Shapiro’s Nothing Like a Dame: Conversations with the Great Women of Musical Theater (Oxford University Press), actor Alan Cumming says, “This book is an encyclopedia of modern musical theatre via a series of tender meetings between a diehard fan and his idols. Because of Eddie Shapiro’s utter guilelessness, these women open up and reveal more than they ever have before, and we get to be the third guest at each encounter.” Photographs, index.
Rush FAQ: All That’s Left To Know About Rock’s Greatest Power Trio by Max Mobley (Backbeat Books) is the latest volume in its publisher’s FAQ Series, “one-stop source[s] of info, history, and minutia on an array of performing arts subjects” that are “[p]acked with a staggering amount of data, rare photographs and period ephemera.” Photographs, bibliography, index.
Simon Critchley’s Bowie (OR Books) is a “slim book, in which no essay takes longer to read than it would take to listen to a David Bowie song, but in which there is a cumulative sense of revelation as regards what makes Bowie special, and why it is that his work seems to yield more, the more time you spend there. The book is delightful, highly readable, with bits of Nietzsche, Ruskin, Roland Barthes and Deleuze rising up like wisps of cloud in its funny, moving and passionate field of inquiry,” opines Rick Moody in Salon. Illustrations by Eric Hanson.
A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, From Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man by Holly George-Warren (Viking). “It’s a credit to Warren’s unflinching tone that the Chilton of Destruction is a charismatic, oft-frustrating man unwilling to kowtow to anything or anyone . . . . You’ll never hear his music the same way again,” says the L. A. Times.
Of Richard Zoglin’s Hope: Entertainer of the Century (Simon & Schuster), Woody Allen enthuses, “A wonderful biography . . . . For me it’s a feast.” Photographs, notes, a “Bob Hopes Major Work” compilation, index.
Mark Whitaker’s Cosby: His Life and Times (Simon & Schuster) is the first major biography of the comedian Bill Cosby. Based on interviews with Cosby and sixty or so of his closest friends and associates, it is a fascinating account of his life and career. Photographs, a “Cosbyography” compilation, notes, index.
Scott Saul’s Becoming Richard Pryor (Harper) “Becoming Richard Pryor is a compulsively readable book that sets a new gold standard for American biography. Scott Scaul’s research is extraordinary; his writing is taut, elegant, and insightful; and he captures both the hilarity and pain that made Richard Pryor such a towering figure,” is the judgment of Debby Applegate, author of Madam: The Notorius Life and Times of Polly Adler. Photographs, notes, index.
2) HISTORY, REFERENCE, CRITICISM, ETC.
Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans (Crown) by Gary Krist is “[A] well-reported and colorful tale of jazz, sex, crime, and corruption. I can attest, as a native of New Orleans, that in Empire of Sin [Krist] has captured the flavors and class nuances of the town. And his interwoven storylines, intentional or note, evoke a piece of jazz,” says Walter Isaacson in The New York Times Book Review. The jazz inclined will find multiple page entries in the index for the likes of Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, and other New Orleans jazz musicians of the early period. This is both a serious historical study and a very entertaining read. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
The beautifully produced French Baroque Music of New Orleans: Spiritual Songs from the Ursuline Convent (1736) (The Historic New Orleans Collection), Molly Reid, editor, with essays by Jean Duron, Jennifer Gipson, Andrew Justice, Alfred E. Lemmon, and Mark McKnight, “features a full-color facsimile of the document known as the Ursuline music manuscript, a four-volume, illustrated collection of baroque songs compiled in 1736 and sent to the Ursuline nuns of New Orleans in 1754. The songs, call contrafacta, could be considered baroque versions of remixes: poets took popular tunes by leading composers, such as Jean-Baptiste Lully and François Couperin, and changed the lyrics from secular to sacred. This practice allowed all listeners–but particularly women, such as the Ursulines and their boarding students–to enjoy popular music of the day without compromising their virtue. Accompanied by four scholarly essays in English and one in French, [the volume] offers a rare look at New Orleans’s earliest days and musical culture.”
A major work of scholarship, Sally Newhart’s The Original Tuxedo Jazz Band: More than a Century of a New Orleans Icon (The History Press) chronicles “The longest continuously performing jazz band in New Orleans and the first jazz band to play the White House, [following] the band from its inception until today. . . . Reading the history of this long-standing jazz band is to understand the beginning and evolution of jazz in New Orleans,” says The Daily Advertiser. “This book is the tale of a jazz band that has not only transcended the stereotypes but has also survived for more than a century (a feat that has never been equaled in jazz history), working its way from the black tenderloin into the homes and hearts of the city’s affluent, white social elite in less than a decade,” writes Bruce Raeburn, author of New Orleans Style and the Writing of American Jazz History (Jazz Perspectives) and Curator of the Hogan Jazz Archives, Tulane University. Photographs, bibliography, discography, index, and a complete (and amazing!) list of the bands’ members since 1910.
Thomas Jacobsen’s The New Orleans Jazz Scene from 1970 to 2000 (Louisiana State University Press) not only renders the musical scene of the period covered in its varietal forms, it renders it as part of a broad canvas that includes essential information on its players, both musicians and support network; the venues that have come and gone, some still active today; the political scene; the journalism and radio outlets that have reviewed and supported the jazz idiom over the years; jazz education, both public school and university; and a number of other facets and circumstances. All of these categories are fleshed out with interesting material on the individuals involved. Jacobsen has lived in New Orleans for much of the period he covers and prior to his residency was a frequent visitor to the city. He has made use of his time there by constant presence on the jazz scene and involvement in its community, collecting his impressions and recording his data whenever he came into contact with that community. Nor does he limit his account to what is, clearly, his first musical love, traditional jazz. His outlook and taste are definitely catholic and his coverage comprehensive. All styles played in the city are given their due in this essential book. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
Lynnell L. Thomas’s Desire and Disaster in New Orleans: Tourism, Race, and Historical Memory (Duke University Press) is “a much-needed critique of how the tourism industry romanticizes the city’s history of slavery and race relations. It is also an important account of how African Americans have struggled to create a place within the industry for themselves and their history,” says Leslie M. Harris, author of In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Crown), by Sheri Fink, is an “elaborately researched chronicle of life, death, and the choices in between at a New Orleans hospital immediately following Hurricane Katrina . . . [and] like all great journalism, a document unto itself, an artifact of what we thought about ‘life and death’ issues in the early twenty-first century,” says Bookforum’s Jeff Sharlet. Not a pretty story but a deeply moving account. Notes, index.
Tom Cooper’s The Marauders: A Novel (Crown) recounts another Louisiana disaster, the aftermath of the BP oil spill. Stephen King calls it “one hell of a novel.”
The Spring 2014 semiannual journal Washington History, titled Jazz in Washington, is a special issue on jazz in D.C., edited by Dr. Maurice Jackson of Georgetown University and Dr. Blair Ruble of the Woodrow Wilson Center. Its articles are: “From the Editors;” “Seventh Street, Black D.C.’s Music Mecca” by Blair Ruble; “Great Black Music and the Desegregation of Washington, D.C.,” by Maurice Jackson; “Washington’s Duke Ellington,” by John Edward Hasse; “Interview with Bill Brower,” by Willard Jenkins; “Jazz Radio in Washington, a Memoir,” by Rusty Hassan; “Legislating Jazz,” by Anna Celenza; “Researching D.C. Jazz,” by Mike Fitzgerald; and “Three poems” by E. Ethelbert Miller. Photographs, illustrations, notes (containing bibliographical references), and “Repositories of Washington Jazz History, an institutional guide.”
In The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture & Style (William Morrow), Nelson George provides “the story of the barrier-breaking and hugely influential television show Soul Train, which for 35 years delivered ‘love, peace, and soul’ to households everywhere in the form of hit songs, innovative dance moves, and ‘freaky, fantastic’ fashions. Inspired by the civil rights movement, Chicago radio reporter turned television trailblazer Don Cornelius, whom George describes as the epitome of cool, boldly carved out the first mass-media space for ‘black dance by black dancers presented by a black producer.’” Photographs.
Michelle Ann Stephens, in her Skin Acts: Race, Psychoanalysis, and the Black Male Performer (Duke University Press), “has taken the most immediate and seemingly obvious site of racialization, the skin, and given it a revelatory new genealogy. She sets the standard for all future engagements with what Frantz Fanon termed ‘epidermalization,’” says Tavia Nyong’o, author of The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
Rick Mitchell’s Jazz in the New Millennium: Live and Well (Dharma Moon) “offers the first comprehensive overview of jazz in the 21st Century, with nearly 60 conversational profiles of major jazz artists, from living masters such as Wayne Shorter to rising stars such as Esperanza Spalding. The artists discuss their lives, their music, and the state of the art form. In his 6000- word introduction, author Rick Mitchell concludes that despite economic struggles, jazz is continuing to thrive creatively 100 years after its birth. In addition to black and white Photographs of each artist, the book includes approximately two dozen color Photographs of the artists in performance at the DaCamera Jazz Series in Houston. The book is intended for musicians and fans, and should be of special interest to jazz studies programs at high schools, colleges and universities.” Photographs, discographies.
About Scott B. Bomar’s Southbound: An Illustrated History of Southern Rock (Backbeat Books), The Macon Telegraph opines, “Imagine if everything ever written about Southern rock was boiled down to its essence — and combined into one big book. . . . Besides the musical significance of Southern rock, Bomar also investigates the cultural impact the genre had across the rest of the country.” Photographs, sources.
Donald L. Miller’s Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America (Simon & Schuster) is “Original in concept, deeply researched, and utterly fascinating [and] transports readers to that time and to the city which outsiders embraced, in E.B. White’s words, ‘with the intense excitement of first love.’ . . . . In four words—‘the capital of everything’—Duke Ellington captured Manhattan during one of the most exciting and celebrated eras in our history: the Jazz Age. Radio, tabloid newspapers, and movies with sound appeared. The silver screen took over Times Square as Broadway became America’s movie mecca. Tremendous new skyscrapers were built in Midtown in one of the greatest building booms in history. [Here] is the story of Manhattan’s growth and transformation in the 1920s and the brilliant people behind it.”
Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
The Fender Archives: A Scrapbook of Artifacts, Treasures, and Inside Information (Hal Leonard Books) by Tom Wheeler, former Editor In Chief of Guitar Player magazine, and the author of several other books on the guitar, provides “plenty . . . for the gear-head, player or collector and the casual fan alike [and] deserves a place on your shelf right next to a vintage tweed and Broadcaster,” says AllMusicBooks. Photographs and illustrations.
About Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by Joshua Wolf Shenk, Walter Isaacson says, “We sometimes think of creativity as coming from brilliant loners. In fact, it more often happens when bright people pair up and complement each other. Shenk’s fascinating book shows how to spark the power of this phenomenon.” And David Sheff, author of All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, recalls, “When I spoke with John Lennon in 1980 —the final in-depth interview of his life — he described writing many songs ‘eyeball to eyeball’ with Paul McCartney. Powers of Two conveys the intimacy and complexity of their collaboration — and collaboration in general — with brilliant clarity.” Selected Sources, notes, index.
Todd Decker’s Who Should Sing ‘Ol’ Man River’?: The Lives of an American Song (Oxford University Press) “[charts] the performance history of one of America’s greatest and most controversial songs. Lyrically written and persuasively argued, the book transports the reader through a kaleidoscope of performers from Paul Robeson to Ray Charles, female and male, black and white, who wanted to make the song their own,” says Jordan Goodman, author of Paul Robeson: A Watched Man. Photographs, A Select List of Recorded Versions of ‘Ol’ Man River’, notes, index.
Can’s Tago Mago by Alan Warner, Kevin Young’s The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, Ethan Hayden’s Sigur Rós’s (), Susan Fast’s Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, Alex Niven’s Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, Kirk Walker Graves’s Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Gina Arnold’s Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, Pete Astor’s Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ Blank Generation, Kevin J.H. Dettmar’s Gang of Four’s Entertainment!, Luis Sanchez’s The Beach Boys’ Smile!, are additions to 33 1⁄3/Continuum International Publishing Group’s series of pocket-size paperbacks devoted to analyses of individual albums. Rolling Stone has praised the project as “Ideal for the rock geek who thinks liner notes just aren’t enough.”
Greil Marcus, in pitching his idea for The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs (Yale University Press) to his editor, wondered, “What if it neglected the well-known, iconic moments (the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, Bob Dylan going electric), and centered instead on a small number of songs, each of which in its own unique way embodied rock ’n’ roll?” “Greil Marcus lingers inside a song, following it from the first utterance to the last note, through performances across time, to give us the context, meaning, and interpretation not only of the song but of peoples and nations as well. His is an unconventional, fearless chronicle of the famous and the less well-known, the sacred and the profane, of the limitations and full-blown possibilities,” says Farah Jasmine Griffin, William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University and author of If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday and Clawing At the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever. Notes.
Barry Shank’s The Political Force of Musical Beauty (Duke University Press), in the publisher’s Refiguring American Music series, “addresses the relation of music to politics. In the process, [it] makes a significant contribution to aesthetic theory. It is beautifully written, nuanced yet accessible. Its central theme, on the political agency of music, is refreshing and Shank’s close readings and formal analyses of musical examples are both richly rewarding and entertaining.” Bernard Gendron, author of Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant-Garde. Photographs, notes discography, bibliography, index.
Black Performance Theory (Duke University Press), by Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez, “is a palimpsest of black performance histories, practices, affects, and ideologies. . . . Exceeding iterations of ready-made blackness and overcooked theories of performance, this volume honors the charge to theorize outside the expected and to say something new.” D. Soyini Madison, author of Acts of Activism: Human Rights as Radical Performance.
Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Youth Culture (Pantheon) by Hisham D. Aidi “examines young European and American Muslims and their search for what [Aidi] calls ‘a nonracist utopia.’ Specifically, [he] is concerned with how the so-called American dream exists in Europe’s Muslim ghettos, how young European and American Muslims are drawing on African American history (especially the U.S. civil rights movement) for inspiration, and how American diplomacy is using race and diversity to court Muslims around the world. Aidi touches on many issues in this ambitious and far-reaching book, including the rise of the Far Right; the spread of the war on terror; the mind-boggling cultural fusion going on today (Arabic country music in Alabama, punk rockers in Pakistan); and the power of music to effect social change. Sufi rock, Islam and jazz, Gnawa music, Andalusi music—it’s all covered here. This book will be especially appealing to young people who want to better understand the Muslim perspective on war, prejudice, and national identity.” June Sawyers, author of Bob Dylan: New York and editor of Read the Beatles: Classic and New Writings on the Beatles, Their Legacy, and Why They Still Matter, and Racing in the Street: The Bruce Springsteen Reader. Discography, videography, notes, index.
Decomposition: A Music Manifesto (Pantheon), by Andrew Durkin, “is a bracing, revisionary, and provocative inquiry into music—from Beethoven to Duke Ellington, from Conlon Nancarrow to Evelyn Glennie—as a personal and cultural experience: how it is composed, how it is idiosyncratically perceived by critics and reviewers, and why we listen to it the way we do.” In the index you’ll also find — along with Bach, Wagner, and many others of the classical world — Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Art Pepper, Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Janet Jackson, and others of the jazz and pop worlds. Notes, Works Cited, and index.
Matthew Kennedy’s Roadshow!: The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s (Oxford University Press) “tells the fascinating story of the downfall of the big-screen musical in the late 1960s. It is a tale of revolutionary cultural change, business transformation, and artistic missteps, all of which led to the obsolescence of the roadshow. . . . From Julie Andrews to Barbra Streisand, from Fred Astaire to Rock Hudson, <[it] offers a brilliant, gripping history of film musicals and their changing place in our culture. Photographs, References, bibliography, index.
Then there is Richard Barrios’ Dangerous Rhythm: Why Movie Musicals Matter (Oxford University Press), which “ explores movie musicals from those first hits, The Jazz Singer and Broadway Melody, to present-day Oscar winners Chicago and Les Misérables. History, film analysis, and a touch of backstage gossip combine to make [it] a compelling look at musicals and the powerful, complex bond they forge with their audiences. Going behind the scenes, Barrios uncovers the rocky relationship between Broadway and Hollywood, the unpublicized off-camera struggles of directors, stars, and producers, and all the various ways by which some films became our most indelible cultural touchstones — and others ended up as train wrecks.” Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
Stephen Nachmanovitch’s 1991 Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art (Tarcher/Putnam/Penguin Group) has been made available in a Kindle Edition. The author “tells it like it is in the most important book on improvisation I’ve yet seen,” says Keith Jarrett. Photographs, illustrations, notes, bibliography.
3) COFFEE TABLE BOOKS
Creole World: Photographs of New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean SphereKen Richard Sexton, Molly Reid and Sarah R. Doerries, editors, Alison Cody, illustrator, with essays by Jay D. Edwards and John H. Lawrence, deserves first place here for several reasons. It is not only a perfectly gorgeous publication in the finest tradition of photography collections, it provides a wealth of insight into the Creole culture of New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean. Familiarity with that world is fundamental to an understanding of the roots of jazz. As Jelly Roll Morton said, “if you can’t manage to put tinges of Spanish in your tunes, you will never be able to get the right seasoning . . . for jazz.”
Ken Franckling’s JAZZ IN THE KEY OF LIGHT – Eighty of our Finest Jazz Musicians Speak for Themselves (Key of Light Press), with Foreword by George Wein, combines photographic art and brief quotations for a sublime volume that deserves a place on the coffee table of not only those who love jazz but of anyone who appreciates portrait photography at its best. The work of all of the great jazz photographers has come across my desk the past four decades and it seems perfectly obvious that Ken Franckling’s name now belongs in that pantheon. Along with legends such as Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Horn, Les Paul, Dorothy Donegan, Phil Woods, Don Cherry, Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz, Benny Carter, and Marian McPartland, Ken has captured rising stars of today like Ingrid Jensen, Gregory Porter, Nicki Parrott, Cyrus Chestnut, Danilo Perez, James Carter, Tierney Sutton, Terri Lyne Carrington, Diana Krall, and Miguel Zenón. The quotation included with two shots of Dizzy says it all: “Every generation has its own thing. It has to.”
The dictionary definitions of “Rube Goldberg” as an adjective are along the lines of “accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply.” The Art of Rube Goldberg (Harry N. Abrams), selected by Jennifer George (Goldberg’s granddaughter), with Introduction by Adam Gopnik, is a lavishly pictorial coffee table collection of the work of one of the most popular American cartoonists of his time (he was active from the early years of the twentieth century until his death in 1970). It contains not only illustrations of many of his weird inventions and bizarre contraptions but examples of his first published drawings in his high school newspaper and college yearbook, comic strips, political cartoons, and advertising work. There are also essays by comics historians, letters, memorabilia, patents, and photographs of his sculptures. The sequential-panel-action front-cover cartoon is of steps A-H of a “Simple way to get fresh orange juice upon awakening,” i.e., as a person slumbers in bed beneath covers, the rising sun at the window shines through a magnifying glass affixed to the top of the bed’s headboard and burns a small hole in a suspended hot-water bottle, which drips on the nose of a dog below causing him to wag his tail, which is tied to a rope that through a pulley above raises the lid of a jack-in-box below, out of which a tiny orchestra leader rises and waves a baton at a seated clown, who crashes two cymbals above his head against a halved orange dangling on a rope above a glass on the clown’s head, and the cymbals meet at the two sides of the orange and squeeze its juice into the glass. There is a pull-tab so that “the reader can add his or her own personal touch by moving the tab at a variable rate — slowing down momentarily to enhance the more subtle movement, or speeding up for dramatic effect.” Gopnik, in his introductory essay, places Goldberg in the company of Marcel Duchamp, the Dadaists, surrealists, and other practitioners of “anti-art,” for his “mock-machine[s]” were also “meant to mock the elaborate world of machinery [that] as often as not . . . add[s] complexity to life despite its promise to simplify it.” There is a bibliography of Goldberg’s daily and Sunday comic strips and his cartoons, articles, short fiction, and books and a timeline of his life. Jennifer George has done her grandfather proud with her The Art of Rube Goldberg, which is surely the definitive representation of his art. Not only that, it is a vastly entertaining volume that appeals to all ages. I plan to spend many an hour re-examining Rube’s mock machines with my grandchildren Coen and Maya, neither of whom is yet of reading age.
Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia (The University of North Carolina Press) by Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr is lavish in chronicling and depicting how in “the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a steady stream of Scots [who] migrated to Ulster and eventually onward across the Atlantic to resettle in the United States made their way into the mountains of the southern Appalachian region,” bringing “a wealth of traditional ballads and tunes from the British Isles and Ireland, a carrying stream that merged with sounds and songs of English, German, Welsh, African American, French, and Cherokee origin[, an] enduring legacy of music [that] flows today from Appalachia back to Ireland and Scotland and around the globe. Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr guide readers on a musical voyage across oceans, linking people and songs through centuries of adaptation and change.” Photographs, illustrations, notes, discography, bibliography, index, and “a CD featuring 20 songs by musicians profiled in the book, including Dolly Parton, Dougie MacLean, Cara Dillon, John Doyle, Pete Seeger, Sheila Kay Adams, Jean Ritchie, Doc Watson, David Holt, Anais Mitchell, Al Petteway, and Amy White.”
Hollywood Frame by Frame: The Unseen Silver Screen in Contact Sheets, 1951-1997 (Princeton Architectural Press) was compiled by Karina Longworth, who has authored books about George Lucas, Al Pacino, and Meryl Streep. It “recounts the history of a long-gone aspect of Hollywood film-making. Until the late 1990s, professional photographers were employed by movie studios to shoot ‘candids’ of cast and crews on movie sets and in behind-the-scenes settings. From the resulting contact sheets, studios would choose the best shots for release to fan magazines,” explains Michael OConnor, a Top 500 reviewer at Amazon.com. Photographs, notes, index.
4) SCARECROW PRESS and ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD
Just as the Library of America aims to keep classics of America’s literary heritage in print and Mosaic Records has returned to availability more than 200 long out-of-print classic jazz sessions, so has Scarecrow Press established itself as a leading loci of scholarly biographies, histories, and discographies in the fields of jazz, blues, rock, pop, and film studies. The past year or so has seen publication of a number of splendid titles under Scarecrow’s imprimatur.
Steve Sullivan’s Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings (Scarecrow Press), in two volumes, “covers the vast scope of its subject with virtually unprecedented breadth and depth. Approximately 1,000 key song recordings from 1889 to the present are explored in full, unveiling the stories behind the songs, the recordings, the performers, and the songwriters. Beginning the journey in the era of Victorian parlor balladry, brass bands, and ragtime with the advent of the record industry, readers witness the birth of the blues and the dawn of jazz in the 1910s and the emergence of country music on record and the shift from acoustic to electrical recording in the 1920s. The odyssey continues through the Swing Era of the 1930s; rhythm & blues, bluegrass, and bebop in the 1940s; the rock & roll revolution of the 1950s; modern soul, the British invasion, and the folk-rock movement of the 1960s; and finally into the modern era through the musical streams of disco, punk, grunge, hip-hop, and contemporary dance-pop. Sullivan, however, also takes critical detours by extending the coverage to genres neglected in pop music histories, from ethnic and world music, the gospel recording of both black and white artists, and lesser-known traditional folk tunes that reach back hundreds of years. This book is ideal for anyone who truly loves popular music in all of its glorious variety, and anyone wishing to learn more about the roots of virtually all the music we hear today. Popular music fans, as well as scholars of recording history and technology and students of the intersections between music and cultural history will all find this book to be informative and interesting.” Photographs, bibliography, title index, subject and name index
Experiencing Jazz: A Listener’s Companion (Scarecrow Press),
by Michael Stephans, “offers a much-needed survey in the art of listening to and enjoying this dynamic, ever-changing art form. More than mere entertainment, jazz provides a pleasurable and sometimes dizzying listening experience with an extensive range in structure and form, from the syncopated swing of big bands to the musical experimentalism of small combos[,] offering not only brief portraits of key musicians . . . but also their own commentaries on how best to experience their music. [It] encourages further reading, listening, and viewing, helping potential listeners cultivate an understanding and appreciation of the jazz art.” Photographs, glossary, “Surfing the Jazz Net,” “CDs and DVDs,” “Works Cited,” “Other Sources,” name index, title index, recording index.
The Jerome Kern Encyclopedia (Scarecrow Press), by Thomas S. Hischak, “consists of entries on people, theatre and film musicals, songs, subjects, and themes related to the composer. Not only are all of Kern’s stage and screen projects from 1904 to 1946 covered, but there are also entries on all the major librettists and lyricists with whom he worked, as well as producers, directors, actors, and other individuals who figured prominently in his career. Approximately 100 of Kern’s most important songs are discussed, and other entries address awards, collaborations, working methods, song styles, and other related subjects. The encyclopedia also includes a brief biography of Kern, a chronology of his life and work, and appendices on recordings, interpolations, revivals, and remakes. The most complete work on one of America’s greatest composers, this fascinating, readable, and extensive look at Kern will appeal to theatregoers, movie musical fans, students, teachers, and professionals in musical theatre.” Photographs, bibliography, index.
Ellen Johnson’s Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers) is the seventieth volume of the Studies in Jazz Series of Rutgers University’s Institute of Jazz. In the first (and authorized, with the full cooperation of the artist) biography of the remarkable singer Sheila Jordan, Ellen Johnson “reveals the challenges [Jordan] confronted, from her growing up poor in a Pennsylvania coal mining town to her rise as a bebop singer in Detroit and New York City during the 1950s to her work as a recording artist and performer under the influence of and in performance with such jazz luminaries as Charlie Parker, George Russell, Lennie Tristano, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk. Jordan’s views as a woman living the jazz life in an era of racial and gender discrimination while surrounded by those often struggling with the twin evils of alcohol and drug abuse are skillfully woven into the tapestry of the tale she tells.” Photographs, notes, bibliography, discography, index.
David King Dunaway’s definitive
A Pete Seeger Discography: Seventy Years of Recordings, in the American Folk Music and Musicians Series (Scarecrow Press), “is a comprehensive listing of the 45s, 78s, LPs, and CDs recorded by Seeger in his various incarnations: with the Almanac Singers, with the Weavers, as a solo artist, and with other musicians and contributors. . . [and] tells us not just the story of his career but the story of our culture and its political and social history.” Illustrations of album covers, “easy to use cross-references, on rare recordings and archival collections,” song title index, album index, collaborating artist index.
Sing Us a Song, Piano Woman: Female Fans and the Music of Tori Amos,
by Adrienne Trier-Bieniek (Scarecrow Press), “explores the many-layered relationships female fans build with feminist musicians in general and with Tori Amos, in particular. Using original interview research with more than forty fans of Tori Amos, multiple observations at Amos’s concerts and an analysis of Amos’s lyrics, [it] employs a combination of gender, emotions, music, and activism to unravel the typecasts plaguing female fans [and] examines the wide range of stories, exploring how Amos’s female fans are unique because Amos places the experiences of women at the center of her songwriting and musical composition.” Notes, bibliography, index.
Bon Jovi: America’s Ultimate Band (Scarecrow Press), by Margaret Olson, “chronicles the history and music of the band from its inception to present day[, closely examining its] musical and social relevance to listeners past and present, exploring the remarkable ways the band has emerged as the expression and product of deep cultural needs and how, within a few years of commercial success, it has made a lasting impact on Generation X, the music business, and American culture.” Photographs, notes, works cited, album list, index.
Hitchcock’s Villains: Murderers, Maniacs, and Mother Issues (Scarecrow Press), by Eric San Juan and Jim McDevitt, “explore[s] a number of themes that form the foundation of villainy in Hitchcock’s long and acclaimed career[,] provide[s] a detailed look at some of the director’s most noteworthy villains and examine how these characters were often central to the enjoyment of Hitchcock’s best films.” Photographs, bibliography, index.
Examining Lois Lane: The Scoop on Superman’s Sweetheart (Scarecrow Press), by Nadine Farghaly, “is the first anthology to explore the many incarnations of this empowering American icon. Chapters analyze the character of Lois Lane in various media through the perspectives of feminism, gender studies, cultural studies, and more. In some discussions she is compared to mythological heroines, while others explain her importance in popular culture. This wide-ranging collection looks at previously neglected aspects of Lois and offers new insights into the evolution of her character. Seventy-five years after Lois Lane’s first appearance, this book creates a fascinating picture of the obstacles and decisions faced by her character, whose challenges and accomplishments often reflected those of women over the course of the past century.” Notes, bibliographies, index.
In The ABC Movie of the Week: Big Movies for the Small Screen (Scarecrow Press),
Michael McKenna “examines this programming experiment that transformed the television landscape and became a staple of broadcast programming for several years. The author looks at how the revolving films showcased the right mixture of romantic comedy, action, horror, and social relevance to keep viewers interested week after week.” Photographs, filmography, plot summaries, chronology, bibliography, appendix of available sources of the films, index.
I had read John Updike’s Couples decades ago and some of his short stories in the New Yorker but had not gotten around to his Rabbitt tetralogy, considered by many to be his masterwork. When he died in 2009 I decided it was time to check it out. Written across the decades in which the four-volume epic unfolds, it is truly a panorama of small-town and suburban America from the 1950s to the ’80s. “We must write where we stand; wherever we do stand, there is life; and in imitation of the life we know, however narrow, is our only ground,” John Updike said in a mid-1970s lecture, “Why Write?” To become acquainted with the life that provided the materials and inspiration for this major American writer’s works (sixty or so books, hundreds of short stories, poems, essays, magazine articles, and book reviews), there can be no better source than Adam Begley’s masterful biography Updike (Harper). Photographs, notes, index.
Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel: A Graphic Novel (Penguin Books) by Anya Ulinich is a gas, both for its story and pictorially. It “works as something of a confessional, a series of notebooks that excavate its protagonist’s life and psyche from the inside. . . . This is the power of the graphic novel, that it not only tells but also shows us, that by integrating images into the narrative, it draws us into Lena’s experience with the force of memory. Ulinich means—not unlike Pekar in American Splendor or Karl Ove Knausgaard in My Struggle—to set aside literature with a capital L (whatever that is) in favor of the epic textures of the day-to-day,” says David Ulin in the Los Angeles Times.
One of the rewards I took away from Harold Holzer’s Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion (Simon & Schuster) was the prescience of our sixteenth president. Here are some observations made by Lincoln and quoted by Holzer. “Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can charge public opinion, can change the government. . . . . [P]ublic sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.” “[P]rinting came. It gave ten thousand copies of any written matter, quite as cheaply as ten were given before; and consequently a thousand minds were brought into the field where there was but one before.” Of course, the Great Emancipator was far ahead of his time in too man ways to cite here. This is an absorbing account of how he made use of the press to his great advantage. In an age when presidential contenders did not campaign in person, he recognized, as the book’s title indicates, the power of the press. “At no time in our history did newspapers wield more political influence than during the Civil War era, and no political figure was more aware of this influence than Abraham Lincoln. Harold Holzer’s compelling narrative of the intertwined world of politics and journalism demonstrates Lincoln’s canny skill in using the press to advance his own career as well as the cause of Union and freedom. A tour de force,” says Civil War authority and author James M. McPherson. Photographs, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
I found The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World (Other Press) by George Prochnik one of the most deeply moving biographies I have ever read. Nor is that a hyperbolic judgment, for Stefan Zweig suffered not only as a persecuted European Jew, but as an artist who was not granted the fullest opportunity to realize his artistic destiny. Not that this Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist, and biographer was denied publication. Indeed, he became, early in his life, one of the most read writers on the Continent. It could be said without exaggeration that, in his thirties and forties, he was one of the most popular writers in the world. But he was forced to depart his beloved Vienna and its coffee houses and its literary salons, which were actually often one and the same. He departed Austria in 1934, his exile taking him to London, New York City, Ossining, New York, Rio de Janeiro, and Petrópolis, Brazil. Haunted, increasingly, by the conviction that the future for humanity was hopeless and, in his final months, by “the sense that he no longer belonged anywhere,” he committed suicide at the age of sixty in February 1942. One of the aspects of this book that makes it so affecting is that its author comes from a family whose names (his grandparents’) “were on a Gestapo list to be rounded up” on the morrow, in 1938, but Gentile friends hid them for several days and they escaped to Switzerland and then to America. “The experiences of exile and refuge undergone by my father, Martin Prochnik, made the writing of this book imperative,” says George Prochnik, whose research was nothing short of exhaustive, the chapter-by-chapter Notes citing multiple sources here and abroad. Anyone interested in European literature and its arts, German history, and the origins of World War Two will find this a fascinating account of a very sensitive humanist who lived during and deeply felt the pain of that period. Photographs, notes.
How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City (Bloomsbury) by Joan DeJean “demonstrates that the Parisian model for urban space was in fact invented two centuries earlier, when the first complete design for the French capital was drawn up and implemented. As a result, Paris saw many changes. It became the first city to tear down its fortifications, inviting people in rather than keeping them out. Parisian urban planning showcased new kinds of streets, including the original boulevard, as well as public parks and the earliest sidewalks and bridges without houses. Venues opened for urban entertainment of all kinds, from opera and ballet to a pastime invented in Paris, recreational shopping. Parisians enjoyed the earliest public transportation and street lighting, and Paris became Europe’s first great walking city.” Photographs, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
The Hotel on Place Vendome: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris (Harper Collins) by Tilar J. Mazzeo elicitis this from Booklist’s Annie Bostrom: “Mazzeo’s latest threads a great many strands—stories of a war, a people, a city, a time and place—through a single bead: Paris’ Hotel Ritz. In a narrative style, Mazzeo holds a dizzying cast of persons of interest under glass as they sleep and work, meet and seek refuge in the then-Swiss-owned hotel, beginning with its grand Belle Epoque opening and focusing mainly on WWII and Paris’ German occupation. Truly, fiction could not write betrayal, resistance, collaboration, or celebration with more robustness or with a more alluring who’s-who of writers, artists, and military powers than history did in this single hotel. Amid chilling tales of the terrible ambiguities of war and the treatment and purging of enemies on all sides, Mazzeo offers lightness in her biography of an inarguably dark time through obvious care for her subjects. Friends and lovers abound, and all but the worst villains are showed multidimensionally, as Mazzeo contemplates the Ritz, Paris, and Europe in flux.” Photographs, notes, bibliography.
The pocket-size Old-Fashioned Corners of Paris (Little Bookroom) by Christophe Destournelles with Photographs by Christophe Lefébure is “portable, cute and filled with fanciful Photographs of old-timey Paris and suggestions for where to find, say, puppet theaters or a philately shop,” says the New York Times. Carry it along with your Baedeker on your next trip to the City of Light. Photographs, illustrations, table of contents.
Of Garrison Keillor’s The Keillor ReaderNew York Times says, “Our bard of small-town melancholy and nostalgia . . . Keillor is terrific, as always, at describing man’s ability to wince in the face of hardship or boredom. Also winning in this book are the behind-the-scenes glimpses that Keillor gives us of ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ . . . one is moved to beam back at Keillor the amount of charity he has beamed at all his characters.” Photographs.
A Most Imperfect Union: A Contrarian History of the United States (Basic Books) by Ilan Stavans and illustrated by Lalo Alcaraz “is more evocative of a grand political cartoon than a comic book,” says the New York Times Book Review and its “tales of the dispossessed . . . are painted with compelling humanity” is the judgment of the Washington Post. Noam Chomsky opines, in a jacket blurb, that the book indeed depicts “a most imperfect union [and is] thought provoking as well.” Harvard professor and author Henry Louis Gates’ endorses the volume for presenting “too easily missed truths of our American story.” I go along with all these observations. Turn to page 3 and be advised, “It’s not always the stars who write the story. Often, it’s the extras . . . who makes things happen.” In the bottom left corner the balloon of a canine urges, “Could we also have a history of the dogs, by the dogs, and for the dogs?”) Concision is the name of the game. For example, pages 198-99 cover Woodstock, Stonewall, the launch of PBS, the first Earth Day, and the debut of All In the Family, each taking place 1969-71. It’s a fun book, but at the same time utterly serious. There is a useful index.
Max Brooks’ graphic novel (illustrated by Caanan White) The Harlem Hellfighters (Broadway Books) is a “fictionalized account of the famous all-black 369th Infantry . . . and the whole thing comes off as resolutely Tarantinoesque,” says Booklist’s Daniel Kraus.
Gregg Herken’s absorbing The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington (Knopf) also rings bells for me since I was in my twenties, thirties, and forties during its time span and was avidly, as now, following politics as a leftist liberal. Thus I was reading many of the newspaper and magazine articles cited in its notes. “It’s the great gossip text and comedy of manners anatomizing the darkest of Cold War intrigue. Noel Coward meets John le Carre and Graham Greene, cross-bred with Robert Ludlum. A triumph!” says crime fiction writer and essayist James Ellroy. Photographs, notes, index.
Rick Perlstein’sThe Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of ReaganThe New York Times Book Review. It is a sort of sequel to, and equally as absorbing as, the author’s 2009 Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. Photographs, notes, index.
Fire Shut Up in My Bones: A Memoir (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by Charles M. Blow, “is a luminous memoir that digs deep into territory I’ve longed to read about in black men’s writing: into the horror of being submerged in a vast drowning swirl of racial, spiritual, and sexual complexity, only to somehow find one’s self afloat, though gasping for breath, and then, at long last and at great cost, swimming. I believe both Ancestors and Descendants will cheer,” says author Alice Walker.
On The Wire (Spin Offs), by Linda Williams (Duke University Press), is an in-depth examination of what many consider to be the best television series to ever grace the small screen. Williams, a film scholar and authority on the connections between film and issues of race, argues that, while the series powerfully explores the dysfunction of institutions, it is not Greek tragedy, as some claim. Its narrative strengths are grounded in observation of Baltimore’s people and institutions, i.e., police and criminals, schools and blue-collar labor, local government and local journalism. The Wire highlights the good and evil of its characters in the contexts of public and private-sector institutions. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century (The New Press) is a collection of essays by Eric Hobsbawm, who died in 2012 and had, along with his vast knowledge of history, a love for and keen insight into jazz. In addition to his roles as Cambridge don, social critic, communist theorist, and prolific author of historical works, Hobsbawm for many years wrote a regular jazz column for the New Statesman (these and other articles on jazz are collected in his book The Jazz Scene). For his jazz=writer byline, he used the pseudonym Francis Newton, which was inspired by Billie Holiday’s trumpet player Frankie Newton, who held communist sympathies. Both jazz and popular music are touched upon here and there in Fractured Times. “It is a treasure to have the last essays from that great historian Eric Hobsbawm. It’s sad to think that there will be no more but here he is in all his strength, his extraordinary range, his ability to write with great perception on a variety of subjects, most frequently here dealing with aspects of art and culture in Europe and elsewhere. Writing with insight about art, he is also keenly aware of its limitations and failures in contributing to making a better world. He is particularly enlightening on those on the left such as J.D. Bernal and Joseph Needham. He concludes with a bravura essay on the American cowboy and the promise that America represented in the past. In a sense in this final essay he circles back to his own childhood, and his love of Karl May, the German writer of cowboy stories. Reading these wonderful pieces reminded me how lucky I was to be one of his students,” says Peter Stansky, Frances and Charles Field Professor of History, emeritus, Stanford University.
I found the subject matter, expressed in poetic prose, and the selection of photographs in Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press) deeply moving. So, evidently, did Publishers Weekly: “Accounts of racially charged interactions, insidious and flagrant, transpiring in private and in the public eye, distill the immediate emotional intensity of individual experience with tremendous precision while allowing ambiguity, ambivalence, contradiction, and exhaustion to remain in all their fraught complexity. . . . Once again Rankine inspires sympathy and outrage, but most of all a will to take a deep look at ourselves and our society.” Photographs, illustrations, bibliography.
I included Geoff Dyer’s Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews (Graywolf Press) in an earlier roundup, commending it for its insightful and knowledgeable observations about jazz and other subjects. The same publisher has now given us The Colour of Memory: A Novel and The Search: A Novel, the former a reprint of a work that first saw print a quarter of a century ago. Credited by the New Statesman as having “a poet’s gift with metaphor” and “an almost magical randomness into what ought to be the most conventional of tales” by The Spectator, Dyer combines experimental fiction, realism, and Surrealism.
Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Leanne Shapton, Leanne Shapton, and 639 Others “is essentially a conversation among hundreds of women of all nationalities—famous, anonymous, religious, secular, married, single, young, old—on the subject of clothing, and how the garments we put on every day define and shape our lives.” “[T]he prose is spliced with striking visuals . . . [and the book is a] provocative time capsule of contemporary womanhood,” says Publishers Weekly.
If asked what is the major theme of Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl: A Novel (Harper), I would have to say, Music. There are other motifs in this coming-of-age story about a British teenager who becomes a rock critic — e.g., sex, drugs, and family relations — but music is the thread throughout. “The working classes do it differently,” says the protagonist. “We power popular culture.” As the publisher’s synopsis tells us, she “decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde—fast-talking, hard-drinking Gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer—like Jo in Little Women, or the Bröntes—but without the dying young bit. By sixteen, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk and working for a music paper. . . . But what happens when Johanna realizes she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks, enough to build a girl after all?” I found the book hard to put down.
IsIain Sinclair, author of American Smoke: Journeys to the End of the Light (Faber & Faber), “A literary mud-larker and tip-picker? A Travelodge tramp (his phrase)? A middle-class dropout with a gift for bullshit (also his phrase)? A toxicologist of the twenty-first-century landscape? A historian of countercultures and occulted pasts? . . . A psycho-geographer (from which term Sinclair has been rowing away ever since he helped launch it into the mainstream)?” asks Robert Macfarlane in The Guardian, and concludes that he is “all of these, and more.” Photographs.
Jeffery Renard Allen’s novel Song of the Shank (Graywolf Press) tells the story of Thomas Greene Wiggins, a nineteenth-century slave and musical genius who performed under the name Blind Tom. “Apparently an autistic savant, Tom exhibits both giftedness and odd behavior, which unnerves and enthralls those around him. Allen uses Tom as the central figure as the novel explores complex relationships and the interior lives of black and white folks. . . . Told from various perspectives, . . . Allen’s tour de force sweeps from the rural South to New York City and between lonely apartments and raucous refugee camps, encompassing the strife of war and the draft riots. . . . A brilliant book, with echoes of Ralph Ellison and William Faulkner,” says Vanessa Bush, Booklist.
I much enjoyed Hal Howland’s new story collection Cities & Women (The New Atlantian Library). He is the author of other works of fiction, including After Jerusalem: A Story and Two Novellas and Landini Cadence and Other Stories and a memoir, The Human Drummer: Thoughts on the Life Percussive. The recipient of the 2012 Eric Hoffer Award for excellence in independent publishing, Howland has also released several jazz recordings. Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Virginia, Europe, and the Middle East, he now lives in Key West. His Web site is at www.halhowland.com.
And All That Motive: A Casey McKie Mystery (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform) is the fifth of Joan Merrill’s Casey McKie detective novels. “When America’s number one male jazz singer, Sid Satin, is found dead in his dressing room at the Pacific Coast Jazz Festival, police set their sights on Dee Jefferson. She’d had a blow-up with Satin that afternoon and they believe her gun is the murder weapon. To remove suspicion from her singer friend, San Francisco PI Casey McKie sets out to find the killer.” Well, this is right up my alley! For one thing, S.F. is one of my favorite cities, although I’ve never lived there, only visited a couple of times. I renewed the love of a good mystery that drove my pre-teen years of reading, between the age of 10 and 12 (jazz took over then), amassing a collection of 100 or so of the early 1940s 25¢ Pocketbooks (Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Dorothy L. Sayers, et alii) and keeping by my bedside The Complete Sherlock Holmes. When I commenced high school, I went on to Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, John Dos Passos, and other American novelists and didn’t read any detective stories for the next six decades, until a review copy of one of Julie Smith’s novels, featuring New Orleans female cop Skip Langdon, arrived in the mail. It started me on a decade of searching out more of Skip and more of the same, reading in the oeuvres of authors whose sleuths were women. Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, Sara Paretsky’s V I Warshawski, and a dozen or so more here and abroad. And now P.I. Casey McKie. Then there’s the jazz setting of Joan Merrill’s detective fiction. For the scoop on this very talented writer and the plucky Casey, go to http://www.joanmerrill.com.
Scott Shachter’s Outside In: A Novel (StarBeat Press) is summed up by Nat Hentoff as “indeed a jazz novel–continually swinging with surprises and insights into human exceptionalism, both inspiring and desperate. It got so inside me I had to go back and read it again for more kicks.”
Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community (Oxford University Press), edited by Laura Erickson-Schroth, is “a hefty new resource . . . written by scores of transgender contributors, that encompasses social history, gender politics and wide-ranging advice on health, law, relationships and many other matters. Encyclopedic in scope, conversational in tone, and candid about complex sexual issues[, it is] a deliberate echo of a pioneering feminist health-resource book, Our Bodies, Ourselves that appeared more than 40 years ago,” says the Associated Press. Photographs, glossary, bibliographies, index.
In How About Never–Is Never Good for You?: My Life in Cartoons (Henry Holt and Co.), Bob Mankoff, the longtime cartoon editor of The New Yorker, with the help of myriad images and his funniest, most beloved cartoons, traces his love of the craft all the way back to his childhood, when he started doing funny drawings at the age of eight. “Great fun. A delightful, funny memoir of how and why he became a cartoonist,” says Shiny, an Amazon.com reviewer.
One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry when reading Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir (Bloomsbury), which inspires this critique from Booklist’s Francisca Goldsmith: “New Yorker cartoonist and prolific author Chast (What I Hate from A to Z) writes a bravely honest memoir of watching her parents decline, become too frail to stay in the Brooklyn apartment they called home for five decades, suffer dementia and physical depletion, and die in their nineties in a hospice-care facility. Unlike many recent parent-focused cartoon memoirs, such as Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? and Nicole J. George’s Calling Dr. Laura in which the story is as much about the cartoonist’s current work and family life as it is about his or her parents, Chast keeps her narrative tightly focused on her mother and father and her own problematic—though not uncommon—guilt-provoking relationships with them. Chast’s hallmark quirky sketches are complemented by annotated photographs from her own and her parents’ childhoods. Occasionally, her hand-printed text will take up more than a full page, but it’s neatly wound into accompanying panels or episodes. An unflinching look at the struggles facing adult children of aging parents.”
Julie Schumacher’s delightful parody of academe Dear Committee Members: A Novel (Doubleday) in the guise of letters and memos (à la Nabokov) seemed all too real to this former professor at four universities in the 1960s. “A smart-as-hell, fun-as-heck novel composed entirely of recommendation letters . . . . Beyond the moribund state of academia, Schumacher touches on more universal themes about growing old and facing failure: not necessarily the dramatic failure of a batter striking out with two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth, but the quieter failure that accrues over time, until we are finally forced to admit that we are not who we wanted to become,” says Alexander Nazaryan in Newsweek.
W. Royal Stokes, Ph.D (wroyalstokes.com) was the 2014 recipient of the Jazz Journalists Association’s Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism Award. He has been observing the jazz, blues, and popular music worlds since the early 1940s. He is author of The Jazz Scene: An Informal History from New Orleans to 1990, Swing Era New York: The Jazz Photographs of Charles Peterson, Living the Jazz Life: Conversations with Forty Musicians about Their Careers in Jazz, and Growing Up With Jazz: Twenty-Four Musicians Talk About Their Lives and Careers. His trilogy of novels Backwards Over will see publication in the winter and spring of 2015 and he is currently at work on a memoir and A W. Royal Stokes Jazz, Blues & Beyond Reader. A founding member of the Jazz Journalists Association, Royal pays tribute to the JJA in “The Jazz Journalists Association: A 25-Year Retrospective” http://news.jazzjournalists.org/2013/06/the-jazz-journalists-association-a-25-year-retrospective/
W. ROYAL STOKES’ ROUNDUP OF 85 OR SO JAZZ, BLUES, BEYOND, AND OTHER BOOKS PUBLISHED IN THE PAST YEAR OR SO
1) BIOGRAPHIES, DISCOGRAPHIES, ETC.
2) HISTORY, REFERENCE, CRITICISM, ETC.
3) COFFEE-TABLE BOOKS
4) SCARECROW PRESS
1) BIOGRAPHIES, DISCOGRAPHIES, ETC.
I chose >Terry Teachout’s> Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington (Gotham Books) as 2013’s Best Jazz Book in my “BEST AND NOTABLE RELEASES OF 2013” on my blog (http://www.wroyalstokes.com/2013/12/19/best-and-notable-releases-of-2013/) and I stand wholeheartedly behind that judgment despite the carping here and there among the jazz punditry. Teachout delves more deeply into the life, career, and music of Ellington than previous biographers and, yes, he does find flaws of character, some deficiencies in Duke’s composing ability, and sloppy working habits that others have neglected to point out. That is what makes his book so absorbing, rewarding, and honest. Teachout’s biography of this preeminent artist and jazz icon is, in fact, an homage to Ellington. In Duke, Teachout has another winner to place alongside his 2010 Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong and 2003 The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken. All three are page-turners. Photos, an appendix of “Fifty Key Recordings by Duke Ellington,” bibliography, notes, index.
Singer, bandleader, composer, and jazz activist Joan Cartwright’s In Pursuit of a Melody (Trafford) is her tenth book, proving her to be as prolific an author as she is energetic as a promoter and perpetuator of the music she has devoted her life to. Among her major causes is women’s role in the performance and history of jazz. As to the former, she wants to see them given a (long overdue) fairer shake, and in the latter case she has no doubt that it has been a major (largely unrecognized) one. She treats these, and other topics, with verve and wit, which makes this part autobiography and part collection of essays a delight to read while providing a very rewarding look into some of the more neglected corners of this music and its culture. There is guidance for how vocalists and musicians can make it in the music industry, a subject that Cartwright is well prepared to instruct about, considering her own preeminence as a performer (with Lou Donaldson, Freddie Hubbard, Dorothy Donegan, Philly Joe Jones, Shirley Scott, and many more) here and abroad (five continents and 15 countries!) and as an educator to the young and the mature. The volume contains a splendid set of photos of musicians and others whom the author has encountered on her travels (e.g., Betty Carter, Hugh Masekela, Gloria Lynne, Quincy Jones, and Sandy Patton of the Swiss Jazz School in Berne, Switzerland) and there are forty sets of lyrics to Cartwright’s own songs and to such standards as “A Night in Tunisia” and John Coltrane’s “Bessie’s Blues.” One looks forward to Joan Cartwright’s eleventh book!
William Stout’s Legends of the Blues (Harry N. Abrams ComicArts) could just as well be listed in Category 2 of this roundup, for it is indeed a handy little reference volume. Stout’s portraits, somewhat in the style of R. Crumb, are stunning and his one-page biographical entries offer the essential information. I found a number of my favorite performers among these 101 African Americans, all born before 1930, e.g., Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson, Bukka White, and boogie woogie greats Jimmy Yancey, Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, and Pete Johnson. Even if you own R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country Harry N. Abrams) you’ll want to find a place on your blues shelf for Stout’s volume. As Booklist reviewer Ray Olson points out, Stout “reprises only two of Crumb’s subjects (Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson) and features the electric bluesmen Crumb deliberately excluded, such as Howlin Wolf and T-Bone Walker, and musical-genre- straddlers like Chuck Berry and Dinah Washington.” Poet and screenwriter Ed Leimbacher pens an appreciative introduction, a 14-track CD accompanies the book, and there is a bibliography. And Stout has two follow-up volumes in the works that promise to carry the story of the blues to the 2100s.
Here are four books one could well read serially, profiting from their overlap: Cary Ginell’s Mr. B: The Music & Life of Billy Eckstine (Hal Leonard Books), Chuck Haddix’s The Life and Music of Charlie Parker (University of Illinois Press), Gary Giddins’ Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker (University of Minnesota Press), and Stanley Crouch’s Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker (Harper Collins). Parker (and Dizzy Gillespie) spent time in Eckstine’s big band before going on to their respective individual careers (and sometimes together in a combo). Eckstine’s story is an interesting one and well told by Ginell (who has two other titles under review in this roundup, Hot Jazz for Sale: Hollywood’s Jazz Man Record Shop and Walk Tall: The Music & Life of Julian Cannonball Adderley). Photos, Sources, index. Haddix’s Bird bio “reveals the troubled man behind the music, illustrating how his addictions and struggles with mental health affected his life and career.” Photos, Sources, index. The Giddins’ volume, a revised edition of a book that first saw publication in 1987, “[draws] primarily from original sources [and] overturns many of the myths that have grown up around Parker.” Photos, discography, bibliography, index. Almost three-and-a-half decades in the making (its author says he began doing Parker-related interviews in 1981), Crouch’s em>Kansas City Lightning stands a good chance of becoming — that is, once its follow-up second volume is published (one hopes it will surface within a couple of years from now) — the definitive account of Charlie Parker’s life, career, and music, told within the context of American society and its movement. It is stylishly written — if often extravagant, but usually entertaining, in its choice of metaphorical phrase — fast moving, and abounding with love for Parker and appreciation of his art. Photos, Sources, index.
Driving across country from Seattle to Yale grad school in July 1960 (in a tiny Fiat 600!), I spent a week or so in San Francisco visiting friends and while there checked out several bands, among which was Kid Ory’s, then in residence at On The Levee. My several-minute chat between sets with this trailblazer of ur-jazz is a treasured memory and an early-jazz “interview” that I would never match, across the subsequent five decades of conversations with musicians, in terms of the seniority of interviewee. John McCusker recounts part of the story of this legendary player and band leader in Creole Trombone: Kid Ory and the Early Years of Jazz (University Press of Mississippi), the operative word here being “Early,” for Ory’s life and career after 1933 is covered in the text’s final five pages. His role, a major one, in the 1940s New Orleans Revival is summarized in two paragraphs and little is recounted of his final three decades of life, during which he was still active as a musician. Still, the author provides a well-researched “story of a pioneering New Orleans musician bearing witness to the dawn of jazz.” Photos, notes, Selected discography, index.
In my roundup of 2012 books I included Tommy Sancton’s autobiography Song for My Fathers: A New Orleans Story in Black and White (Other Press LLC), in which the clarinetist tells of growing up in New Orleans in the 1950s and ’60s. Now we have Peter Wolf’s My New Orleans, Gone Away: A Memoir of Loss and Renewal (Delphinium Books/Harper Collins). Reading histories of New Orleans and of its music, one hears, justifiably, much about the African American pioneers of its music, some about the Italian and German Americans who participated in its beginnings as well, and about the Catholics and Protestants who were the movers and shakers of the city’s power structure. However, the Jews who were the nucleus of the city’s commercial district and owners of the big department stores and were on the lower rungs of the social ladder get short shrift. Thus Wolf’s memoir is an eye-opener, for his roots go back six generations in New Orleans. An architectural historian and authority on urban affairs, he recounts how his grandfather, Albert Wolf, a senior partner of Merrill Lynch “was not invited to join any of the elite white male, Christian-only social organizations that sponsored not only the public Mardi Gras parades but also the lavish costume balls that followed and that functioned as the de-facto power centers that controlled the city.” Except for an account of hanging out at Preservation Hall and with its founders Allan and Sandra Jaffe in the early 1960s, you won’t find any mention of jazz in My New Orleans, Gone Away, but you’ll gain much understanding of a culture and society that has too often escaped the notice of those writing about the Crescent City. Wolf lived away from his native city for four decades — at New England boarding school Exeter, as a Yale undergraduate, in New York while attending grad school at the Institute of Fine Arts and then teaching at Pratt Institute, in Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship — and then returned to New Orleans for a post-Katrina visit and found a devastated city. As a lover of many things New Orleans, I was charmed by Wolf’s story of his life. Foreword by Calvin Trillin, index.
Dan Ouellette’s Bruce Lundvall: Playing By Ear (artstShare) is the well told and remarkable story of a remarkable man. As the executive director of major record companies over the course of a very long career, Bruce Lundvall arguably has bolstered the perpetuation of jazz more than any other individual, for, along with his strong support for established players, his vision has always been to the future of the art form and to the discovery of new talent. Not that he has ignored the past, for he has headed up many a reissue program, returning to circulation many classic albums of earlier eras. He has also played impresario to a number of pop and country acts and recorded some of them on one or another of the labels he has managed. I was especially warmed by Ouellette’s account of Lundvall’s early years, which reminded me, as it will many jazzophiles, of how the obsession for the idiom takes hold at the onset of one’s teens and becomes all-consuming. Ouellette takes the story from Lundvall’s youth to his retirement several years ago. Chapters are devoted to artists he signed (discovering some of them), e.g., Herbie Hancock, Norah Jones, Dexter Gordon, Willie Nelson, Bobby McFerrin, Joe Lovano, Jason Moran, Wynton Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, Rubén Blades, Paquito D’Rivera, Dave Koz, Terence Blanchard, and Kurt Elling. Presented with the Trustee’s Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS) in 2011, Lundvall closed his eight-minute thank-you speech with, “I’ve been in this business since the time when songs were short and careers were long. So in the present time of great uncertainly, I can assure you of one thing. There are more creative musical voices out there than ever before. They’re the very reason why this business will not only survive but also thrive in the years to come. If anyone says to you, ‘What’s going on with today’s music industry that’s dying,’ just give them an evasive answer like what W. C. Fields would have said: “Go fuck yourself.’” Photos and index.
John F. Goodman conducted interviews with Charles Mingus (1922-1979) during the last decade of the bassist’s life and with his wife Sue and some of his friends and musical associates. Goodman’s Mingus Speaks (University of California Press) is “invaluable,” opines jazz pianist, trombonist, composer, author, and educator Mark Levine in Booklist, adding, “[T]he tempestuous . . . Mingus was sui generis as a musician and as an individual. His speaking style, presented here in as-good-as-it’s-possible-to-get transcriptions, was as singular as his musical voice, and jazz lovers have not heretofore been able to hear it this purely. . . [T]his present addition to the jazz library, including Mingus on the history and theory of music, the business, the so-called avant-garde, race, sex, and his forerunners and contemporaries [is] essential.” Photos, Chronology, index.
Walk Tall: The Music & Life of Julian Cannonball Adderley (Hal Leonard Books), by Cary Ginell (author of two other books in this roundup), relates the life and career of a player whose musical associates included his brother the cornetist Nat, Miles Davis (e.g., on the landmark Kind of Blue), John Coltrane, and keyboardist Joe Zawinul. Announced as the New Bird in the mid-1950s when he arrived in New York, Cannonball Adderley was also a key figure in the popularization of soul jazz in the 1960s. A solid and very readable biography. Photos, Sources (interviews, bibliography, etc.), discography, index.
The vibraphonist who is ranked along with Red Norvo, Lionel Hampton, Terry Gibbs, and Milt Jackson in terms of establishing this mallet instrument in jazz has finally gotten around to writing his autobiography, Learning to Listen:The Jazz Journey of Gary Burton (Berklee Press/Hal Leonard). With a half-century on bandstands and stages behind him, Gary Burton can take pride in his musical associations with some of the greatest names in the genre, including George Shearing, Stan Getz, Chick Corea, Roy Haynes, and Pat Metheny. A band leader, composer, educator, prolific recorder, and seven-time Grammy® winner, Burton is one of only a few openly gay musicians in jazz. Photos, discography, index.
In last year’s roundup we included Alan Govenar’s Lightnin’ Hopkins: His Life and Blues (Chicago Review Press). Now we have Timothy J. O’Brien’s and David Ensminger’s Mojo Hand: The Life and Music of Lightnin’ Hopkins (University of Texas Press), an equally riveting account of the amazing personal and professional story of one of the most recorded blues artists in history. Hopkins’ late 1950s surfacing was actually only one of several rediscoveries of this Texas-born bluesman who had been playing gigs since his teens in the 1920s and first recorded in 1946, which is when he acquired his nickname. Photos, notes, and index.
The Wikipedia entry begins, “Robert Louis ‘Bob’ Fosse (June 23, 1927 – September 23, 1987) was an American actor, dancer, musical theatre choreographer, director, screenwriter, film editor and film director. He won an unprecedented eight Tony Awards for choreography, as well as one for direction. He was nominated for an Academy Award four times, winning for his direction of Cabaret.” Sam Wasson’s Fosse (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is the full story of this Renaissance Man of theater and film in a fully-explored view of the times in which his life and career unfolded. At 723 pages it “illuminates not only Fosse’s prodigious professional life . . . [it] also uncovers the deep wounds that propelled Fosse’s insatiable appetites — for spotlights, women, and life itself.” Photos, 96 pages of notes, index.
Often left out of histories of rock or marginalized as hangers-on at best and groupies at worst, women have actually played a strong roll in the genre, and against many obstacles, as has also been the experience of women instrumentalists in jazz. Evelyn McDonnell’s Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways (Da Capo) will go a long ways toward rectifying the notion that women rockers stood by virtually unnoticed, for this “girl-punk answer to Led Zeppelin and the first of its kind, this raw all-girl all-teenage rock band took its passionate, aggressive, libidinal rock music from starter stages in Los Angeles all the way to Japan over its four years of fame.” Photos, notes, bibliography, discography, index.
The bibliography of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones continues to grow. Here are several of the latest additions.
The big book of the year in popular music studies — and literally so, at 932 pages — is clearly Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years, Vol. 1 (Crown Archetype). Written by the acknowledged leading Beatles historian and ten years in the preparation, Tune In will be followed by a second volume. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait a decade for it! “[T]here’s now an acceptance that no one can be bigger or better. . . . John, Paul, George and Ringo, the four Liverpool lads who pumped the heart of the decade that also won’t shut up, the 1960s,” the author enthuses in his Introduction. Beginning with family history and the childhoods of the “four lads,” the story is taken to 1962. It is doubtful that any detail of the foursome’s lives during their first two decades escaped Lewisohn’s notice, his 77 pages of Notes documenting the depth and breadth of his research. Photos, 10 pages of Credits (acknowledging the help Lewisohn received), index, and “AN APPEAL” from the author to contact him with any information, scans of photos, etc. through the HELP page at www.marklewisohn.com. He promises to credit any contributions that he uses in volume 2. This is an absorbingly entertaining and definitively informative book.
John McMillian’s Beatles vs. Stones (Simon & Schuster) tracks the 1960s and ’70s rivalry between, and friendship of, the two groups and examines their respective appeals to their fans, carrying the story to today, the surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr having long pursued separate careers and the Rolling Stones celebrating their 50th Anniversary in 2012. A dual biography, it offers much lore and some perceptive analysis as to the reasons some prefer the one, others the other of these two iconic representatives of popular music the past half century. Photos, “Soundtrack” (26 recommended tunes), 45 pages of source Notes, 7 pages of Selected Bibliography, and Index.
“‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want,’ ‘Paint It Black,’ ‘Satisfaction’: you know all the words but how much do you really know about the inspiration behind them?” asks the PR sheet for Bill Janovitz’s Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones (St. Martin’s Press). Checking out the six pages devoted to the first of those three songs (my favorite Stones tune), I learn that it was the final track on the Stones’ last album of the sixties and that “it summarized how they and their fans felt about the wreckage of their optimism and ideals, as well as their own personal loss of innocence as the decade flamed to a close.” Works for me! The volume is divided among three sections: “The Brian Jones Years,” “The Mick Taylor Years,” and “The Ron Wood Years” and has five pages listing Sources (Interviews, Books, Web sites, and Films) and an index.
Cited on the website of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music” and dead at twenty-seven in 1970, Jimi Hendrix was interviewed many, many times during his brief period in the spotlight and he left behind a wealth of autobiographical material recorded in those sessions as well as given voice to in his songs. Much of this has turned up in the writings on him by a legion of historians, critics, friends, and associates. However, never before has an attempt been made to compile from these materials the sort of “posthumous memoir” represented by Jimi Hendrix Starting at Zero: His Own Story (Bloomsbury), which was assembled by Alan Douglas, Peter Neal, and Michael Fairchild. Here is a sample from 1968: “I don’t even remember the Fillmore [West in San Francisco] last night. I feel completely out of my mind. . . . We were in the studio in London, into some groovy things . . . and we were snatched out of the studio [and then] we were thrown into the Paris scene, the Olympia theater, and we found ourselves waiting for two hours at London Airport. Then we found ourselves in New York, lost in the street. All these within hours of each other. Then we were thrown into the Fillmore.” Photos and illustrations. “For information concerning the sources used in this book, please go to www.startingatzero.net,” where you’ll also find much other information about the book.
Kinks singer/songwriter Ray Davies came to the U.S. in the early 1960s as part of the 1960s British Invasion and the group performed here until asked to leave in mid-decade. Davies, now a solo performer, relates in his autobiography Americana (Sterling Publishing) “his feelings—love, confusion, and fascination— toward the country that both inspires and frustrates him.” Many rock stars people his lively account of his career. Photos, index.
Los Angeles Times music criticRobert Hilburn’s Johnny Cash: The Life (Little, Brown and Company) is the definitive biography of “a towering figure in country music, a seminal influence in rock, and an icon of American popular culture.” Hilburn knew Cash throughout his life and interviewed him and his wife June Carter shortly before their deaths. “Drawing upon a trove of never-before-seen material from the singer’s inner circle, Hilburn creates an utterly compelling, deeply human portrait [that] shows the astonishing highs and deep lows that marked the journey of a man of great faith and humbling addiction who throughout his life strove to use his music to lift people’s spirits.” Photos, Source Notes (i.e., Interviews, Books, Periodicals, etc.), Guide to Recordings and DVDs, index.
The Backbeat Books series of FAQ volumes is a dream come true for rock fans, no doubt about that. “Conceived by pop culture historian Robert Rodriguez, [it] represents a one-stop source of info, history, and minutiae on an array of performing arts subjects. Packed with a staggering amount of data, rare photographs and period ephemera, these reader-friendly volumes are presented in a lively, engaging style that invites perusing at any point within the book. Each chapter serves as a freestanding article on any aspect of the story, allowing readers to put down and pick up the book with ease.” Here are two recent additions to the series. John D. Luerssen’s Nirvana FAQ: All that’s Left to Know About the Most Important Band of the !990s (Backbeat Books) “provides the most in-depth look yet into the history of the band that put grunge on the map [and] changed the sound of rock.” Photos, illustrations, notes, index. And Mike Segretto’s The Who FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Fifty Years of Maximum R&B (Backbeat Books) clarifies that “Whether they were Mods or punk pioneers, rock Wagners, or a gang of guitar-smashing thugs, the Who are a band beyond categorization or comparison, a band that constantly poses new questions.” Photos, illustrations, notes, index.
With a hundred or so country hits, dozens of albums, nearly ten thousand concerts under his belt, induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, his songs covered by Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson, the Grateful Dead, and many others, and in 2011 becoming a Kennedy Center Honoree, it is no exaggeration that “Merle Haggard has enjoyed artistic and professional triumphs few can match.” David Cantwell lays out all that and more in Merle Haggard: The Running Kind (University of Texas Press). Selected Discography.
Simon Spence’s The Stone Roses: War and Peace (St. Martin’s Griffin) “captures the magic—and chaos—behind the UK band’s rise, fall, and recent resurrection. The iconic Brit pop band . . . became an overnight sensation when their 1989 eponymous album went double platinum.” Photos, “Gigography/Discography,” bibliography, notes, index.
In Off the Books: A Jazz Life (Vehicule Press), jazz guitarist and photographer Peter Leitch “relates trying to eke out a living in jazz clubs, nightclubs, and studios in Montreal, Toronto, and New York,” playing with the likes of Oscar Peterson, Jaki Byard, Woody Shaw, and Renee Rosnes. This is an autobiography that really gets inside the jazz life, warts and all, along with due reference to the joys of the creative life. Photos, Photography Exhibits, discography, bibliography, index. Highly recommended.
2) HISTORY, REFERENCE, CRITICISM, ETC.
Los Angeles-based Scott Yanow has for four decades been covering the spectrum of jazz and blues for Downbeat, JazzTimes, Jazziz, Los Angeles Jazz Scene, the UK’s Jazz Rag, and other publications, has penned hundreds of liner notes, and has contributed introductions to several books on jazz. The Great Jazz Guitarists: The Ultimate Guide (Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Books) is his tenth book and it stands alongside the other nine (on singers, trumpeters, bebop, swing, Afro-Cuban, etc.) as an essential guide and basic reference tool. It includes full-length entries on 342 guitarists and briefer mentions of 393 more. Look up Eddie Lang, Al Casey, Django Reinhardt, Lawrence Lucie, Freddie Green, Charlie Christian, Jim Hall, James “Blood” Ulmer, Emily Remler, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Monnette Sudler, John Scofield, Grant Green, Charlie Hunter, Russell Malone, Mimi Fox, Marc Ribot — you won’t find that anyone of significance has been omitted. Stylistically, Yanow has polished to perfection the capsule bio entry. However, this is not just a look-him-or-her-up-in book, it’s fun to just browse in and come upon names you recognize and others you draw a blank on. In a word, it’s an educationally rewarding experience to spend an hour now and then with Scott Yanow’s The Great Jazz Guitarists. Album illustrations pop up every few entries and there are five appendices, including “They Also Played Jazz Guitar” (musicians who mostly play country, etc., but have used their jazz chops on occasion) and “Jazz Guitarists on film.” Highly recommended (as are Yanow’s other books.)
There have been histories, and partial histories, of jazz in Chicago, including William Howland Kenney’s Chicago Jazz: A Cultural History, 1904-1930 and Destination Chicago Jazz by Sandor Demlinger and John Steiner. There are also two basic chapters in Esquire’s 1946 Jazz Book, Paul Eduard Miller, editor. Now we have Paramount Piano, Chicago, Richmond, Grafton 1923-1932: A Discography by Christopher Hillman and Roy Middleton with Paul Swinton (Cygnet Productions), which deals with the “blues artistes accompanied by piano alone or piano abetted by other rhythm instruments” recorded by Paramount and issued in their ‘race’ series” during the period cited. Some of the names will be familiar to those knowledgeable of the era, for example, singers Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, and Alberta Hunter and pianists Lovie Austin, Jimmy Blythe, Meade Lux Lewis, and Tiny Parham. However, others will not ring a bell and that is one of the fascinating aspects of this 123-page thoroughly documented study that can serve as a model for discographical research. Acting as musical “archaeologists,” the authors have seemingly unearthed all available information about the subject of their investigation. Photographs and illustrations of record labels, bibliography, index, and a CD of 26 examples of Paramount’s releases. A highly recommended text and a CD that will provide rewarding repeated listenings. (Order from email@example.com.)
Court Carney’s Cuttin’ Up: How Early Jazz Got America’s Ear (University Press of Kansas) aims, and succeeds splendidly, in clarifying that, while jazz kicked off in New Orleans, it “crossed geographical, cultural, and technological lines.” He describes how the phonograph, radio, and film “accelerated the spread and acceptance of jazz” and “how jazz paralleled and propelled the broader changes taking place in America’s economy, society, politics, and culture.” In tying up these hitherto mostly loose ends of the jazz story, Carney has contributed an important study, one that can stand as a model for future research. A few photos, bibliography of books, articles, recordings, and films, song index, general index.
In Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert (Oxford University Press, in its Studies in Recorded Jazz series), jazz scholar and musician Catherine Tackley “strips back the accumulated layers of interpretation and meaning to assess the performance in its original context, and explore what the material has come to represent in its recorded form. Taking a complete view of the concert, she examines the rich cultural setting in which it took place, and analyzes the compositions, arrangements and performances themselves, before discussing the immediate reception, and lasting legacy and impact of this storied event and album. As the definitive study of one of the most important recordings of the twentieth-century, Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert is a must-read for all serious jazz fans, musicians and scholars.” That jacket summary of is a very fair description of the concert and its recording. As one who continues to listen and thrill to the recorded version of this landmark event, I found this study fascinating. Photos, notes, discography, bibliography, appendices of the Carnegie Hall Program and of the Members of the Orchestra, index.
The Village: 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues, A History of Greenwich Village (Ecco/Harper Collins) by John Strausbaugh “features . . . profiles of many of the people who made Greenwich Village famous, including Thomas Paine, Walt Whitman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mark Twain, Margaret Sanger, Eugene O’Neill, Marcel Duchamp, Upton Sinclair, Willa Cather, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Jackson Pollock, Anais Nin, Edward Albee, Charlie Parker, W. H. Auden, Woody Guthrie, James Baldwin, Maurice Sendak, E. E. Cummings, and Bob Dylan” and “ is packed with outlandish, inspiring and often ghoulish commentary from famous villagers like Dylan . . . , Bodenheim, Hendrix, Ginsberg, Arendt, Kerouac, Amram, Mailer and Monroe, and not so famous: mob insiders, bought cops, private detectives, drag queens,” says Just, a reviewer on Amazon.com, adding, “Many of Strausbaugh’s characters tell their secrets as though they can hardly believe they lived through them. Some didn’t. The Village is history at its best, reality more awe-inspiring, more alluring, more bizarre and breathtaking than any fiction will ever be.” It is indeed a delightfully entertaining and very informative account of this important center of American culture. Photos, notes, bibliography, index.
From its founding in 1884 until its sale in 2011, New York’s Chelsea Hotel was Bohemia headquarters, U.S.A., and home or temporary residence for artists of many genres — including, to name only a handful from hundreds, Mark Twain, O. Henry, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Thomas Wolfe, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, James T. Farrell, Virgil Thomson, Dennis Hopper, Jane Fonda, Robert Mapplethorpe, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Édith Piaf, Joni Mitchell, and Iggy Pop. It is now closed and undergoing renovations. “With its interior gutted . . . the building sits like a corpse in its niche on Twenty-Third Street,” writes Sherill Tippins in the Epilogue to her never-flagging Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York’s Legendary Chelsea Hotel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). An Appendix provides Cost Equivalencies: e.g., the 1884 monthly rent range of $41-$250 would today be $986-$5910; Thomas Wolfe’s 1937 “hoped-for book advance” of $10,000 in today’s dollars comes to $162,000; and Janis Joplin’s “income goal for 1967, $100,000, would today equal $673,000. There are 60 pages of notes, a bibliography, two sections of photos, and an index.
Another landmark — of a different sort but which attracted a large and committed clientele for the four-and-a-half decades (1939-83) of its existence — is given its due in Cary Ginell’s Hot Jazz for Sale: Hollywood’s Jazz Man Record Shop (Lulu.com), a history of the shop and its customers and hangers-on. Geared to the interests and tastes of fans and musicians of early jazz, Jazz Man Record Shop soon established itself as L.A.-area headquarters for any so inclined. Those who dropped by to browse, buy, or schmooze with like-minded friends, acquaintances, or strangers included, in its early days, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Kid Ory, Rex Stewart, Jack Teagarden, Muggsy Spanier, Mel Tormé, Neshui Ertegun, and Orson Wells. Later on, Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts and Woody Allen would drop by when in town. The shop’s Jazz Man record label issued releases by Ory, Bunk Johnson, the Lu Watters band, and others. A CD with tracks by these and a dozen more who recorded on the label can be ordered ($10) from http://originjazz.com/?product=the-jazz-man-records-anthology. Having in my teens in the 1940s bought 78RPMs by the three whom I list above, I was enthralled by this book and I recommend it to jazz aficionados of all stripes. It is chock full of important jazz history. Incidentally, I said “landmark” but, as the appendix “Known Jazz Man Addresses” clarifies, the store had a dozen locations across the decades in Hollywood, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Burbank. Photos, illustrations, Sources (Books, Periodicals, Articles, Correspondence, LP and Compact Discs), Jazz Man Discography, index.
Composer and music theorist John Cage believed that recorded music was antithetical to his work. David Grubbs, in Records Ruin the Landscape: John Cage, the Sixties, and Sound Recording (Duke University Press), follows in Cage’s wake and questions whether the “proudly evanescent performance practices” of Cage’s music and genres such as free jazz, live electronic music, and happenings were adequately represented on 1960s LPs. Coming up in the 1980s in Louisville, Kentucky, Grubbs cut his musical teeth on the records of the Beatles, Stones, Velvet Underground, James Brown, Dylan, punk, John Coltrane, and Sun Ra. Moving to Chicago in the 1990s, he began catching performances of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and of the music of Cage, Morton Feldman, and others of the experimental school. This is a challenging study that will make you think deeply about the difference between the experience of attending a concert or club performance and that of listening to a record or a downloaded number or viewing a video via YouTube. Its final chapter, “Remove the Records from Texas: Online Resources and Impermanent Archives,” carries the story to the present. Photos, source notes, discography, bibliography, and index.
Ernesto Acevo-Muñoz, in his West Side Story as Cinema: The Making and Impact of an American Masterpiece (University Press of Kansas), “argues that [Robert] Wise’s adaptation was a cinematic gift that brought a Broadway hit to a mass audience.” Well, here, arguably, is the definitive account of how that came about. Photos, notes, bibliography, index.
Robert Gordon’s Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (Bloomsbury) is more than the story of a label, for it places that story in the context of the turmoil of the sixties, the civil rights and labor movements, and Memphis, “an explosive city struggling through volatile years.” Gordon knows whereof he writes, having been covering Memphis and its music for three decades. He is the author of It Came from Memphis (Atria Books) and several other books on the subject. Respect Yourself is a far-ranging study that provides a meaty account of the evolution of soul music. It is rich in both social and musical history. Photos, Selected Bibliography, “Turn It Up, Baby: Notes on Sources, Reading, and Listening,” and index.
Southern Soul-Blues (University of Illinois Press) by David G. Whiteis expatiates on a genre that “combines elements of postwar urban blues, 1960s-era deep soul, funk and postfunk as well as R&B, neosoul, rap, and hip-hop [and] shares many characteristics with traditional blues and R&B even as it attempts to update the blues aesthetic.” Two handy appendices provide mini-bios of all the musicians discussed throughout the text, which include Denise LaSalle, T. K. Soul, Bobby Blue Bland, Shirley Brown, Otis Clay, Etta James, and Albert King. Photos, bibliography, notes, index.
Race memory “from the dawn of the modern civil rights era” is the subject of Jonathan Scott Holloway’s Memory & Identity in Black America Since 1940 (University of North Carolina Press). Not at all a dry academic treatise (although the author is a professor of history at Yale), the book draws on, for instance, Holloway’s school experiences, when he found himself straddling two cultures. “It only took being teased once for ‘talking white’ for me to learn how to code switch. . . . I was completely comfortable linguistically moving between my black and white worlds.” The index turns up entries for Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. Finding one of the latter’s page references, I read of his first Kennedy Center performance (as headliner with the Airmen of Note, in the mid-1980s), at the outset of which Dizzy stood silently for a moment, gazing around the hall, and then said, “So this is what this place looks like inside. I thought I’d never see it.” In high school at the time, Holloway recalls being puzzled when “the audience laughed loudly at his mock wonderment.” A discussion of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater contains an excerpt from an interview with Ailey in which he discusses his Texas roots and the blues. Photos, notes, bibliography, and index.
Eight servings of “Johnetta’s Mixed Greens” require “2 smoked ham hocks or smoked turkey wings, or I leg,” plus turnip and mustard greens, granulated garlic, pinch of sugar” — well, you get the point. And that’s only from one of the twenty-two illustrative recipes that spice Adrian Miller’s Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine One Plate at a Time (University of North Carolina Press), which lays out the story of the four-century-long development of this essential part of the American diet that “[fuses] European, Native American, and West African cuisine.” Soul food, which has made its delicious way around the globe, has “connections to identity politics,” Miller explains, as he focuses chapters on, not only the culinary, but the social history of a single dish, e.g., fried chicken, chitlins, yams, and greens. This is an intriguing very non-traditional cook book. Don’t let the greens burn while you sit reading their chapter! Photos, illustrations, bibliography, and index.
Phillip Crandall’s I Get Wet, Marc Weidenbaum’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II, S. Alexander Reed’s and strong>Philip Sandifer’s Flood, Darran Anderson’s Histoire De Melody Nelson, and Jordan Ferguson’s Donuts are additions to 33 1⁄3/Continuum International Publishing Group’s series of pocket-size paperbacks devoted to analyses of individual albums. Rolling Stone has praised the project as “Ideal for the rock geek who thinks liner notes just aren’t enough.” The opening cut of I Get Wet “floods the brain with endorphins . . . and whatever else formulates invincibility” and Selected Ambient Works Volume II provides “a sonic metaphor for our technologically mediated era of countless synchronized nanosecond metronomes” while Flood is “at the geek fringes of culture” and the themes of Histoire De Melody Nelson include “sex, taboo, provocation, humor, exoticism and ultimately tragedy.” Finally, “The songs on Donuts . . . careen and crash into each other, in one moment noisy and abrasive, gorgeous and heartbreaking the next.”
“Punk and Its Afterlives is the subject of Issue 116 of the journal SocialText (Duke University Press), edited by Jayna Brown, Patrick Deer, and Tavia Nyong’o, who also individually contribute several of its eleven articles, which “track punk’s affect and aesthetics across media and geography from the 1970s to the present.” As proof of the continuing respect that the study of popular music genres is accorded in academe, the three editors and seven of the other eight contributors hold professorial posts (the lone ringer is completing his dissertation “about male sentimentality”). “Police and Thieves: Citation as Struggle in the Punk Cover Song” and “Why Be Something You’re Not?: Punk Performance and the Epistemology of Queer Minstrelsy” are among the topics explored. Contributor bios, photos and illustrations, notes.
Here’s one to put under the tree the night before that special morning, Ronald D. Lankford Jr.’s Sleigh Rides Jingle Bells Silent Nights: A Cultural History of American Christmas Songs (University Press of Florida). The author “has the rare ability to reconcile the sacred and the profane . . . that manages both to cherish and illuminate the vast contradictions that adhere to December 25th in the U.S.A.” Photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Paul D. Boyer, in The Rickenbacker Electric Bass: 50 Years as Rock’s Bottom (Hal Leonard Books), tells how this instrument became a phenomenon. It is “the first book to trace the history of the iconic guitar, from its prototypes through its explosion of popularity in such bands as The Beatles, Yes, Deep Purple, and Motorhead, to name but a few. Lavishly illustrated with archival shots, this is a must-have book for not only anyone who plays the Rick, but anyone who plays the bass guitar.” Photos and, along with the history, a plethora of technical information.
In Anything Goes: A History of American Musical Theatre (Oxford University Press), Ethan Mordden “stages a grand revue of the musical from the 1920s through the 1970s” in his “famously witty, scholarly, and conversational style. He peers with us over Stephen Sondheim’s shoulder as he composes at the piano. He places us in a bare rehearsal room as the cast of Oklahoma! changes history by psychoanalyzing the plot in the greatest of the musical’s many Dream Ballets. And he gives us tickets for orchestra seats on opening night, raising the curtain on the pleasures of Victor Herbert’s The Red Mill and the thrill of Porgy and Bess.” This is not only a reference tool in terms of Mordden’s authoritative grasp of the musical’s history, it is a vastly entertaining read as well. Photos, Further Reading, discography, index.
Yes Is The Answer: (And Other Prog-Rock Tales) by Marc Weingarten, Tyson Cornell, Rick Moody, Charles Bock, and others (A Barnacle Book/Rare Bird Books). “Progressive rock is maligned and misunderstood. [Here] is a pointed rebuke to the prog-haters, the first literary anthology devoted to the sub genre. Featuring acclaimed novelists, Rick Moody, Wesley Stace, Seth Greenland, Charles Bock, and Joe Meno, as well as musicians Nathan Larson, and Peter Case, Yes Is The Answer is the first book that dares to thoughtfully reclaim prog-rock as a subject worthy of serious consideration.” A thought-provoking group of essays on the “21st Century Schizoid land of Prog-Lit.”
Elvis Culture: Fans, Faith, and Image (University Press of Kansas) by Erika Lee Doss “examines Elvis’s enduring posthumous presence” and explores “his multifaceted appeal . . . argues convincingly that he crossed more than just musical boundaries, embodying the heady dangers of sexual ambiguity, racial transgression and even tackiness.” Doss, who is director of the University of Colorado’s American Studies Program, offers learned cultural criticism in a very readable style. Photos, notes, index.
Many consider A Love Supreme, recorded in 1964 by his quartet, John Coltrane’s magnum opus and some are convinced that it is one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. In his Beyond A Love Supreme: John Coltrane and the Legacy of an Album (Oxford University Press), Tony Whyton, Professor and Director of the Salford Music Research Centre at England’s University of Salford, “explores both the musical complexities of A Love Supreme and the album’s seminal importance in jazz history.” Photos, notes, bibliography, index.
Guthrie P. Ramsey’s The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop (University of California Press) “takes in bebop—from East to west and back West again—with consideration given to the social, political, and economic contexts of its day, as well as the concept of the free-spirited, convention-defying ‘musical genius’.” Photos, musical scores, bibliography, notes, index.
In People Get Ready: The Future of Jazz Is Now! (Duke University Press, in its Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice series), by Ajay Heble and Rob Wallace, “musicians, scholars, and journalists write about jazz since 1965, the year that Curtis Mayfield composed the famous civil rights anthem that gives this collection its title. The contributors emphasize how the political consciousness that infused jazz in the 1960s and early 1970s has informed jazz in the years since then. They bring nuance to historical accounts of the avant-garde, the New Thing, Free Jazz, ‘non-idiomatic’ improvisation, fusion, and other forms of jazz that have flourished since the 1960s, and they reveal the contemporary relevance of those musical practices.” The stimulating essays are by Douglas Ewart, Vijay Iyer, Nicole Mitchell, Roscoe Mitchell, Famoudou Don Moye, Marc Ribot, Wadada Leo Smith, John Szwed, Greg Tate, Scott Thomson, Corey Wilkes, the two editors, and others. Photos, Works Cited, index.
In last year’s roundup we included That Old Black Magic: Louis Prima, Keely Smith, and the Golden Age of Las Vegas (Chicago Review Press) by Tom Clavin. Now we have the broader view of Bright Light City: Las Vegas in Popular Culture (University Press of Kansas, in its Cultureamerica series) by Larry Gragg, which has quite a few mentions of Prima, along with “gangsters like Bugsy Siegel, Tony Spilotro, and Lefty Rosenthal, as well as Las Vegas’s most popular entertainers: Elvis Presley, Sinatra’s Rat Pack, Liberace, and Wayne Newton, not to mention the Folies Bergere showgirls,” and “identifies changing trends in the city’s portraits” as it “considers how popular culture has depicted the city and its powerful allure over its first century.” A most interesting history of a prominent locale and significant era of American culture. Photos, Biographical Essay, notes, index.
Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire (Vintage), by Andrea Stuart, provides the background to the “epic tale of migration, settlement, survival, slavery and the making of the Americas” that lies at the very foundation of jazz and blues. It is the story of the farming of sugar cane, beginning in the 1600s, in the Caribbean area, an activity that “transformed [it] into an archipelago of riches” with “profoundly less palatable consequences in its precipitation of the enslavement of Africans . . . throughout the American continents.” A gripping volume of history. Photos, notes, bibliography, index.
3) Coffee Table Books
Vanity Fair 100 Years: From the Jazz Age to Our Age (Harry N. Abrams) is a strong candidate for Coffee Table Book of the year, were there such a competition. Weighing in at 8lbs, “Vanity Fair 100 Years showcases a century of personality and power, art and commerce, crisis and culture—both highbrow and low. From its inception in 1913, through the Jazz Age and the Depression, to its reincarnation in the boom-boom Reagan years, to the image-saturated Information Age, Vanity Fair has presented the modern era as it has unfolded, using wit, imagination, peerless literary narrative, and bold, groundbreaking imagery from the greatest photographers, artists, and illustrators of the day.” That’s an accurate description of the 14.4 x 11.5 x 1.5-inches tome compiled by Graydon Carter, who has edited the magazine since 1992. In the volume’s first 19 pages one sees Luis Mora’s 1914 Evening News painting of NYC subway passengers, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley fanning early Vanity Fair editor Frank Crowninshield with a mop and feather duster in 1919, and a film still of Marilyn Monroe lying abed reading an August 1934 Vanity Fair. Fast forward a century to a stunning 2-page spread of veteran interpreter of the American Songbook Tony Bennett backstage at rehearsal, while a half-dozen scantily attired chorus girls stand by, and the volume’s final image, of Tina Fey in Annie Leibovitz’s “red-white-and-blue” portrait, which appeared as Barack Obama was inaugurated as the nation’s 44th president. To give a sense of the variety of life, history, and culture the magazine captured, here are some of the individuals featured in the eight decades in between: Garbo, John Barrymore, Louis Armstrong, FDR (in cartoons), Herbert Hoover, Queen Elizabeth II, Fred Astaire, Ethel Waters, Peter Lorre, Norman Mailer, Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, New York Rangers’ Ivan “Ching” Johnson, Hilary Swank, Chris Rock, Brazilian model Gisell Bündchen (as Lady Godiva), Jon Stewart, and Obama with family. To fill its pages in its early decades, the magazine sought the best of the best, e.g., writers, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, T. S. Eliot, Djuna Barnes, D. H. Lawrence, Colette, P. G. Wodehouse, Walter Lippmann, and Aldous Huxley, artists Matisse and Modigliani, photographers Man Ray, Edward Steichen, and Leibovitz, caricaturists Ralph Barton and Miguel Covarrubias, and editors Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, and Robert Sherwood. Later writers included Saul Bellow, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, V. S. Naipaul, Francine du Plessix Gray, Christopher Hitchens, and Jennifer Beals. So that’s a sampling, textually and visually, of what you have in store for you when you acquire a copy of this treasure house of the first century of one of the world’s great periodicals. There are keys to the many group illustrations and an index.
Rafael Schacter’s The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti (Yale University Press) covers a lot of ground in its handsome volume, verifying that street art has traveled to nearly every corner of the globe, evolving into a highly complex and ornate art form.” Geographic in organization, The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti presents the work of 100 or so of today’s most important artists of this burgeoning art form, for example, Brazil’s Os Gêmeos, New York’s Espo, Shepard Fairey of Los Angeles, and the Parisian Ox, who was one of the founding fathers of street art or, as it is also known, post-graffiti. I could not help but notice that it is overwhelmingly a male art form, for of the 100 artists represented in the volume, only three women practice it as individuals and of the dozen or so collectives only two have female members. Some of these artists travel throughout the U.S. and even around the world to practice their art. The artists are fully profiled alongside examples of their work and the evolution of street art and graffiti within each region is chronicled by foremost authorities on street art and graffiti. This lavish production is truly a “landmark publication [that] provides a nuanced understanding of a widespread contemporary art practice [and] emphasizes urban art’s powerful commitment to a spontaneous creativity that is inherently connected to the architecture of the metropolis.” Foreword by multidisciplinary artist John Fekner, 700 color illustrations, glossary, “Read Up!” (a bibliography), Artist Websites, contributors’ bios, index.
The French-born artist Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, 1908–2001) numbered among his many friends Rainer Maria Rilke, André Gide, Jean Cocteau, Alberto Giacometti, and Albert Camus. Pablo Picasso was an admirer who purchased one of his paintings. Controversial in his early career because of his paintings of pre-pubescent girls, sometimes in provocative poses, most especially an apparent seduction scene of a teenage girl by her female music teacher, a painting that he said he never intended to show in public, Balthus was long both condemned and ignored. It wasn’t until the 1960s that his paintings began to sell abroad and soon they were in both art museums and private collections. As for his other work, most especially the ten paintings he did of Thérèse Blanchard, a neighbor, over the course of several years beginning when she was eleven, Balthus later wondered what all the negative fuss had been about. Responding in 1994, in his mid-80s, to an American journalist who said that critics continued to see in his work “blossoming Lolitas provocatively flaunting their sexual awakening,” Balthus countered, “This reaction is so boring and stupid. It must be a projection of themselves. Childhood is a broken paradise of which we always hold onto several pieces. My young models signify an interior grace and an attempt to recapture a part of their lost paradise. The idea I am trying to get across has to do with religion, not at all with eroticism.” Sabine Rewal (Jacques and Natasha Gelman Curator, Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art) has put together a glorious tribute to Balthus in his Balthus: Cats and Girls (The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale University Press). The more than a hundred illustrations, most in color, are worth the price of the volume. Then there is a running account of the artist’s life and career, excerpts from interviews with his associates and friends, commentary on the individual paintings, a Chronology, notes, Selected Bibliography, and index. Highly recommended for its fascinating text and sublime visual rewards.
Not a coffee table title but here for an obvious reason, Balthus: A Biography (Dalkey Archive Press, in its American Literature Series), by Nicholas Weber, is a reprint of the edition first published in 1999, with a new preface by the author, a cultural historian and the Executive Director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. “The first full-scale biography of one of the most elusive and enigmatic painters of our time — the self-proclaimed Count Balthus Klossowski de Rola — whose brilliant, markedly sexualized portraits, especially of young girls, are among the most memorable images in contemporary art. The artist’s complexities are clarified and his genius understood in a book that derives its immediacy from the author’s long and intense conversations with Balthus himself — who never previously consented to discuss his life and work with a biographer — as well as Weber’s interviews with the painter’s closest associates,” reads the jacket blurb. Again we come up against the conundrum of whether Balthus’ paintings of pre-teenage girls were consciously erotic or not. Critic Peggy Moorman’s take on this issue: “In the end, [biographer Nicholas Weber] achieves remarkable, sensitive insights into the nature of Balthus’s character and subjects. He patiently builds a case for the theory that even the artist’s female adolescent models reflect his secret selves and fantasies, developed in reaction to many kinds of childhood pain and confusion.” I like the Wall Street Journal’s Hilton Kramer’s observation that Balthus “reads like an update of one of those late novels of Henry James — as adapted by, say, Vladimir Nabokov.” In his 2013 Preface, author Nicholas Weber says, “Nothing else I have written to date has brought such a polarity, and caused such controversy, as this biography of Balthus.” Photos, notes, bibliography, index.
David S. Shields’ Still: American Silent Motion Picture Photography (University Of Chicago Press) “amounts to one of the most radical reappreciations of the origins of film we have ever had. For what starts as a collector’s rapture turns into a surprising and creative evocation of what silent movies looked and felt like. This is a piece of history, lavishly illustrated, but it is a serious contribution toward the history of film, too,” says David Thomson, author of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film. That’s a very accurate assessment of this extraordinary book. I knew that many silent films have not survived but that 80% perished came as a shock. Had it not been for the black and white publicity photos that the studios generated we would not have a clue as to what many of the genre’s stars and starlets looked like. University of South Carolina Professor Shields has packed stills shot by more than sixty of these film industry photographers into this volume, creating a stunning display of the actors and actresses who posed for them between 1908 and 1928. The text provides both incisive commentary on the photos and engrossing information on the historical context in which they came into being. Still is a gem. Notes and index.
If I were still offering lecture series on Jazz Appreciation — as I did at the Smithsonian, YWCA, Mt. Vernon College, and other D.C. venues from the 1970s through the ’80s — I would put at the top of my Recommended Reading list Mervyn Cooke’s The Chronicle of Jazz (Oxford University Press), for its title splendidly indicates both its design and its achievement. (In second place on my list would be the excellent Jazz (W. W. Norton & Company, 2009) by Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux, “The story of jazz for the general reader as it has never been told before, from the inside out: a comprehensive, eloquent, scrupulously researched page-turner.”) Beginning with a section on “Origins, 1895-1916” (Ragtime, New Orleans, Blues), Mervyn Cooke’s The Chronicle of Jazz provides a year-by-year account of styles, development, significant individuals and musical units, and important events (with sidebars summarizing the historical context) until — highlighted on its final page of text — the release in 2010 by HBO of its post-Katrina series Treme, which depicts, largely in musical terms and employing jazz as a magnificent metaphor, the struggle by New Orleans to recover from the devastating storm. Biographical Index of Musicians, Glossary of Musical Terms, International Jazz Festivals: A Select List, Recommended Listening, Suggested Further Reading, List of Illustrations (300 or so, by my estimation), and Index. This is an invaluable reference tool and a pure joy to browse in.
Back in the day I read a number of underground newspapers and magazines and now derive much enjoyment recapturing that time with Geoff Kaplan’s Power to the People: The Graphic Design of the Radical Press and the Rise of the Counter-Culture, 1964-1974 (University Of Chicago Press). Truly a compendious production, the 264-page volume lavishly reproduces hundreds of newspaper and magazine covers, articles, and illustrations from the likes of Paul Krassner’s The Realist, Black Panther Party Paper, International Times (London), San Francisco Oracle (Haight-Ashbury), and many more. Contributing writers provide accounts of “Design as a Social Movement,” “The Underground Press: A History,” and “Bohemian Technocracy & the Countercultural Press.” Ken Wachsberger, editor of the Voices from the Underground series, opines, “The production methods of the Vietnam era underground press seem crude compared to today’s digital technology, but they freed non-corporate journalists, artists, designers, and political activists to publish stunning layout and radical writing cheaply, easily, and in huge quantities, enough to create a worldwide revolution whose effects are still being felt today.” In addition to being a classic collection of the graphic design of the underground press of the 1960s ’70s, this is a hefty contribution to the cultural and political history of those times.
For his Harlem: The Unmaking of a Ghetto (University Of Chicago Press, in its Historical Studies of Urban America series), Camilo José Vergara has brought together photographs of a project he initiated more than forty years ago, that is, documenting, at first, the gradual collapse of Harlem’s community. What surprised him was that the folks who lived there “taught him that the destiny of depopulated, decaying neighborhoods is not simply a story of continuous decline, culminating in a return to nature.” Luxury condos, new stores, and office buildings began to replace the razed crack houses, deserted projects, and abandoned tenements, standing now on what were, previously, junkyards and garbage heaps. Harlem: The Unmaking of a Ghetto provides, pictorially and in detailed explanatory text, the results of Vergara’s “EXPLORING HARLEM THROUGH TIME-LAPSE PHOTOGRAPHY,” as he titles a section of his book’s Introduction. I’ve read a number of books on Harlem and on the Harlem Renaissance, as well as some of the works of the great novelists and short story writers who came out of that cultural and artistic phenomenon, and in last year’s roundup I included one of the most perceptive, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts’ Harlem Is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America (Little, Brown and Company), which was in the New York Times Book Review’s “100 Notable Books of 2011.” In Harlem: The Unmaking of a Ghetto, Camilo José Vergara brings it all together, providing its reader and surveyor a masterful visual record and, through its deeply informed text, a more complete understanding of “The Capital of Black American,” as Harlem was dubbed in the 1920s. Vergara’s hundreds of color images are simply stunning, whether of a wasted lot strewn with trash, a lively street scene, or a modern structure. Foreword by Loyola University professor of American urban and social history Timothy J. Gilfoyle, notes, and bibliography.
Again, not a coffee table volume but placed here to draw attention to it following the above, Carla Kaplan’s Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance (Harper Collins) fills in the gaps one finds in some histories of the Harlem Renaissance. “Frustrated by the lack of information about the strong-minded white women who played intriguing, often vexing roles in the Harlem Renaissance and who were known collectively as ‘Miss Anne,’ Kaplan ([author of] Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters) took up the challenge and through arduous research reclaimed astonishing and provocative lives. She presents six indelible portraits of taboo-breakers who were reviled as ‘either monstrous or insane’ for their involvement in African American culture. Each biography is shaped by Kaplan’s vivid scene-setting, historical perspective, psychological sensitivity, narrative panache, and frank analysis of the virulent sexism and racism of 1920s America and the confluence in Harlem of grim social conundrums and a spectacular creative flowering. Kaplan’s audacious, contrary and tragic subjects include Texan Josephine Cogdell Schuyler, a spitfire journalist who married the controversial African American newspaper editor and writer, George Schuyler; Charlotte Osgood Mason, who established herself as a meddlesome patron of Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Alain Locke, ‘one of the chief architects of the Harlem Renaissance’; and scandalous steamship heiress Nancy Cunard, who, to the surprise of nearly everyone, edited the era’s ‘most comprehensive anthology of black life’.” This is essential reading for anyone who wants to achieve in-depth knowledge of the Harlem Renaissance. Photos, notes, bibliography, index.
The subtitle of Richard Havers’ Verve: The Sound of America (Thames & Hudson/W. W. Norton) is not hyperbolic, for those who recorded on the label during its two decades, the 1950s and 1960s, represent a pantheon of the nation’s greatest jazz artists, e.g., Art Tatum, Nat King Cole, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Krupa, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bill Evans, Lester Young, Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz, Billie Holiday, Anita O’Day, Roy Eldridge, Buddy Rich, Ben Webster, Nina Simone, Diana Krall — and that’s a mere sampling of the greats whose images and/or names turn up in the hundreds of photos and illustrations of posters, news clips, contracts, and label faces, and throughout the text of this glorious volume commemorating one of the premier record companies of jazz from its founding by the one of the great impresarios of jazz, Norman Granz, to its sale in 1961 to MGM. (In the 1970s Verve was subsumed by the PolyGram group and in the 1980s its back catalogue began to be reissued). Further Reading and index.
I spent the better part of a decade in Seattle and so David Keller’s The Blue Note (Our House Publishing) resonates with me, for the period it covers, the 1880s to the mid-1950s, terminates about half-way through the seven years I resided in the city and became familiar with its then active jazz scene. Keller aims his focus on Seattle’s black American Federation of Musicians’ Local 493 and explores its history with a view on such factors as race, gender, and union culture, mostly in the
context of jazz. In doing so, he illuminates an unduly ignored aspect of jazz history, one that could well be more fully examined in other locales throughout the nation and, for that matter, abroad. Thus his book stands proudly as a model of research in its thoroughness and interpretive depth. For example, writing in his Preface of the first attempts by black musicians in Seattle to organize, in the 1920s, Keller notes, “It was an era when blacks were not on a level playing field with whites,” but by the 1950s, their union hall hosted “swinging jam sessions with famous out of town ringers.” He has also uncovered, and provided photos of, visiting musicians on gigs with local groups, e.g., Rex Stewart with Al Hickey’s Jive Bombers in 1946, and there is a splendid image of Fats Waller in concert in 1941 at the Moore Theater. In fact the city was no stranger to jazz luminaries, Keller points out, citing, for the period 1942-46, appearances by Coleman Hawkins, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the bands of Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Lucky Millinder, and Earl Hines, Eddie Durham and his All Girl Orchestra, and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. Says Quincy Jones (who lived in Seattle for a decade from the age of ten until he went on the road with Lionel Hampton), “The Blue Note takes me home to the heady days of Seattle’s jazz scene. It’s a fine blend of rare photographs, first person accounts and solid scholarship. It also shines light on the path-breaking union musicians who played Seattle and ultimately brought about the merging of the black and white unions.” The book’s format is of incisive one-page biographical profiles of musicians that, in the aggregate, provide a timeline to, as the author points out “a story about the hopes and dreams of a small group of African American men and women” who “ran their own union in Seattle beginning in the early 1900s.” And a very well told story it is in its telling by David Keller. An Appendix of “the only known list of the members of the Musicians Association Local 493,” notes, bibliography, index.
In Deborah Nadoolman Landis’ Hollywood Costume (Harry N. Abrams) you’ll find “the most beloved costume designs from the past 100 years of Hollywood films,” honoring “for the very first time, the costume designer’s contribution to the telling of the cinematic story.” This sumptuous volume was produced in conjunction with an exhibition launched at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London that the New York Times called “extraordinary.” Major designers from the silent film era to the present day are showcased, including Adrian, Edith Head, Sandy Powell, and many others. There are essays by leading scholars, archivists, private collectors, contemporary costume designers, actors, and directors, who “take a close look at the conventions of what is considered ‘costume’ and the role of the designer in creating a film’s characters and helping to shape its narrative.” The hundreds of photos of wardrobe examples are drawn from such classic films as The Tramp, Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Pirates of the Caribbean, Ocean’s Eleven, Sherlock Holmes, Avatar, and many more. Notes, Further Reading, filmography, index.
The massive volume Garry Winogrand (Yale University Press, in its San Francisco Museum of Modern Art series), devoted to the work of “one of the most important photographers of the 20th century” and put together by the prominent American photographer and essayist Leo Rubinfien, is one of the most impressive collections of images I have had the pleasure of spending time with. It encourages me to renew my belief that the black-and-white photograph is truly the art medium. In the crisp, sharp, sometimes severe, photos of Garry Winogrand one comes to terms with his art, and it is simply overwhelming in its ability to capture the moment of truth. A great deal of Winogrand’s work was shot in Manhattan during that tumultuous decade, the 1960s, and some of his images have become very famous. He also roamed around, photographing in most regions of the nation. He was a street photographer, some of those he caught aware, some unaware that they were being captured by his camera. If you want to see America, here is the place. Some of his photos “went viral,” as the current lingo has it, e.g., girls behind barriers screaming for the Beatles in 1965 and a 1970 peace demonstration in Central Park, but hundreds of others, while deserving of close examination, careful study, and admiration, are simply part of his oeuvre, an astonishing body of work. There are learned, fascinating essays by leading scholars of American photography Sarah Greenough, Erin O’Toole and Tod Papageorge, Chronology and Selected Exhibitions, bibliography, a list of the plates, and an index.
I included in last year’s roundup The Graphic Canon, Volume 1: From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons and The Graphic Canon, Volume 2: From “Kubla Khan” to the Bronte Sisters to The Picture of Dorian Gray (Seven Stories Press), both of them edited by Russ Kick, and I opined that they are “a gas,” adding, “As youngster back in the 1930s, my brothers and I were forbidden, by a book-loving father, to bring comic books into our home, and he was most especially horrified by Classic Comics, which rendered Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, the Bible, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, and other revered works into, as he deemed it, ‘funny papers.’ How ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’!, for the format has transmogrified into a very respectable and much respected genre. ‘We’re living in a golden age of the graphic novel, of comic art and of illustration in general,’ Kick — who introduces each selection with a summary of its plot and its place in the literary canon — explains in his general introduction. ‘Legions of talented artists — who employ every method, style and approach imaginable — are creating such a flood of amazing, gorgeous, entertaining and groundbreaking material that it’s pretty much impossible to keep up with it all. What if a bunch of these artists used as their source material the greatest literature ever written?’” Some of the dozens of artists included in volumes 1 and 2 are Robert Crumb, Will Eisner, Molly Crabapple, Rick Geary, and Seymour Chwast. I grooved on, for example, Alice Duke’s Iliad, Valerie Shragg’s Lysistrata, Seymour Chwast’s Canterbury Tales, Declan Shalvey’s Frankenstein, and Ellen Lindner’s Anna Karenina. Both volumes have appendices of Further Reading, notes on the contributors, and index. Now available, in the same format, The Graphic Canon, Volume 3: From Heart of Darkness to Hemingway to Infinite Jest contains samples from the work of Kate Chopin, Freud, Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Yeats, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Joyce, Langston Hughes, Faulkner, T. S. Eliot, Fitzgerald, Zora Neale Hurston, Sartre, Camus, Steinbeck, Orwell, Pynchon, Beckett, Nabokov, Kerouac, Burroughs, Kesey, Plath, Anaïs Nin, Cormack McCarthy, and thirty or so more. One of my favorites is Lisa Brown’s take on Lady Chatterley’s Lover, in the final panel of which the lady and her paramour lie abed, he discoursing on the evils of Bolshevism, she complaining, “I JUST WISH HE’D SHUT UP!” and adding, “BESIDES, HE’S AN AMAZING LAY!” Besides repeaters Crumb and Crabapple, the artists are Dame Darcy, David Lasky, Chandra Free, Dan Simon, Caroline Picard, Zak Smith, and fifty or so more. These three collections of graphic art will provide the owner with joy and, yes, pace my late father, edification through the years.
4) Scarecrow Press
Just as the Library of America aims to keep classics of America’s literary heritage in print and Mosaic Records has returned to availability more than 200 long out-of-print classic jazz sessions, so have Scarecrow Press’s series Studies in Jazz and Tempo established themselves as the leading loci of scholarly biographies and discographies in the fields of, respectively, jazz studies and rock and pop. The past year or has seen publication of a number of splendid titles in Scarecrow’s Tempo series.
Jim Beviglia’s Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs is among several volumes in Scarecrow Press’s new “Counting Down [,] a unique series of titles designed to select the best songs or musical works from major performance artists and composers in an age of design-your-own playlists. Contributors offer readers the reasons why some works stand out from others. It is the ideal companion for music lovers.” It’s also ideal, in the case of this title, for browsing and reading up on one’s favorite tunes of this major American musician and poet. That Dylan has been accorded the latter distinction seems a foregone conclusion. This is a fun read for anyone who has been enthralled by the work of this popular music icon who has been entertaining global audiences for a half-century and is still going strong. The 100 are ranked in ascending order, beginning with “Roll on John” in last place and honoring “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” as #1. Each song is given two-pages of analysis, commentary, historical background, and justification of occupying a place in this honor role from the singer’s oeuvre. A list of the next 100 finest, a bibliography, and an index conclude the volume. The author “writes for the print and online editions of American Songwriter magazine . . . and maintains a blog (http://countdownkid.wordpress.com/).”
Bob Dylan: American Troubadour by Donald Brown, another title in Scarecrow Press’ Tempo series, explores Dylan’s music through the lens of social and cultural history and “is especially good for younger generations who may want to better understand how a musician in his early seventies can still be so compelling and relevant in twenty-first-century America.” Cultural-events time line, annotated discography, bibliography, index.
Ever wonder why a tune sounds familiar but you can’t identify the earlier version? Well, Bob Leszczak might solve the riddle for you in Who Did It First? Great Rhythm and Blues Cover Songs and Their Original Artists (Scarecrow Press). Tracing the origins of more than 400 songs, Leszczak provides, in half a page, the basic data of both recordings and a several-sentence career history of the original artist. Having interviewed Ramsey Lewis decades ago for one of my books, I learn for the first time that Dobie Gray’s 1965 release of Billy Page’s “The In Crowd” landed in the Top 20 “but was eclipsed . . . by [Lewis’ subsequent] jazzy rendition,” which that same year “penetrated the Top 5 on both the Pop and R&B charts.” Who Did It First? is a solid reference tool as well as a strong candidate for Best Browsing Book of the Year, were there such a competition. Photos, illustrations of record labels, Further Reading, index.
I included Marc Dolan’s Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock ’N’ Roll (W. W. Norton) in last year’s roundup and praised it for how thoroughly it covered both the life and music of this major performing artist who is a “major spokesman for liberalism and the working man and woman.” Now we have Donald L. Deardorff II’s more analytical Bruce Springsteen: American Poet and Prophet (Scarecrow Press), a thought-provoking exploration of why The Boss is “one of the few twentieth-century singer-songwriters to serve as the voice of his generation, a defining artist whose works reflect the values, dreams, and concerns of many Americans.” Further Reading, Further Listening, index.
Jelly Roll Morton insisted that jazz contain some of the “Spanish Tinge.” Well, in Ska: The Rhythm of Liberation (Scarecrow Press), Heather Augustyn makes a similarly strong case for why “without Ska, there would be no reggae or Bob Marley, no British punk and pop blends.” She also explores “the fascinating relationship between indigenous popular music and cultural and political history.” References and Further Reading, Further Listening, index.
In this section you’ll find some non-fiction and fiction that relate only tangentially to jazz, popular musical genres, or popular culture and several that don’t at all, the latter representing books that I have just enjoyed reading this past year.
I’m a sucker for jazz and blues fiction. I’ve avidly read whatever novels, short stories, and the odd play of this genre that come my way, no matter what period of the music is the focus. Of course, having come in on — in my teens in the early 1940s — the New Orleans Revival and blues, I am especially delighted when the scene depicted is The Big Easy or the Delta. So I eagerly dug into — and dug — Nicholas Christopher’s Tiger Rag: A Novel (The Dial Press/Random House), which relates the saga of the famous (and, so far, not unearthed) cylinder recording that jazz founder Buddy Bolden’s band supposedly cut. Fast forward to 2010, when one of the book’s protagonists discovers that her “own shrouded family history is connected to the tantalizing search for Buddy Bolden’s long-lost cylinder.” I’m hoping the novel becomes a movie! I can picture in my mind’s eye that turn-of-the-19th-20th-century recording studio (actually a hotel room on New Orleans’ Oleander Street)!
A couple of years ago I read Donna Tartt’s 1992 blockbusting, and critically well received, The Secret History and her 2002 The Little Friend and much enjoyed both novels. Her third book, The Goldfinch
(Little, Brown and Company), which took her a decade to write, has some mentions of popular music here and there and one of its principal motifs is its sensitivity to art in general, heralded by its title, the 17th Century painting that is an underlying focus of the story. I’m not going to even hint at the progress of the narrative, for I am one who does not wish to know what a work of fiction is about before commencing to read it and I encourage you too to be of that nature. Just know that this story travels here and there around the country and abroad, partakes of different walks of life, and has a truly fascinating cast of characters. It will hold you enthralled. It is, to employ the cliché, a page-turner — for all 771 of them! And Donna Tartt won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for The Goldfinch!
Veteran journalist and prominent jazz writer Doug Ramsey’s 2007 gem of a novel Poodie James (Libros Libertad Publishing Ltd) did not catch up to me until a year ago. I couldn’t agree more with author Terry Teachout’s assessment of Ramsey’s achievement in CommentaryMagazine.com: “I’ll cut to the chase: Poodie James is a very good book. Not only is it handsomely and lyrically written, but Ramsey’s snapshots of small-town life circa 1948 are altogether convincing, and he has even brought off the immensely difficult trick of worming his way into the consciousness of a deaf person without betraying the slightest sense of strain. . . . Ramsey is no less adept at sketching the constant tension between tolerance and suspicion that is part and parcel of the communal life of every small town.” And Ed Stover of the Yakima Herald-Republic wryly observes that Poodie James is “a page-turner that offers up romance, attempted murder, a Snidely Whiplash rascal of a mayor, a Dudley Do-Right police chief, a noble bum, a nosy reporter and a whorehouse.” Poodie James had me enthralled for a long evening until I reached its final page and closed its cover at midnight. Highly recommended. For details about Ramsey’s jazz writings, his other books, and his background, check out his website www.artsjournal.com/rifftides/
Ulli Lust’s two-color (green and black) graphic novel Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life (Fantagraphics), translated from the German by Kim Thompson, is also “graphic” in another sense of the word, for it chronicles — among her many adventures and misadventures as she hitchhikes from Verona to Sicily in 1984 — her teenage sexual exploits. Recalled a quarter of a century after she made the trek with a female “fellow traveler, the gangly, promiscuous devil-may-care Edi,” Lust displays “a perfect memory for both emotional and physical detail with . . . sometimes painful lucidity.” The book has won the 2011 Angouleme Revelation Essential Prize and the 2013 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Graphic Novel. As a resident professor of classics in Naples, Italy, for two years in the 1960s, I traveled widely from tip to toe of the peninsula. Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life rang true for me and held me riveted for all of its 463 pages, both for its story and its captivating art.
I did not know that Woody Guthrie wrote a novel until House of Earth (Harper Perennial) arrived in the mail. Not surprisingly, in view of the life purpose of the great folk singer and advocate for the disadvantaged, it is “a meditation about marginalized people . . . in a corrupt world . . . set in the arid Texas Panhandle during the Great Depression.” It’s a powerful story that can rewardingly be read along with John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Thirty-four-page historical introduction by Douglas Brinkley and Johnny Depp, Selected Bibliography, Selected Discography, Biographical Time Line.
As one who, as a graduate student at Yale University in the early 1960s, chose Homer as his special author (“main man,” we say in the jazz world) and penned his doctoral dissertation on an aspect of his poetic diction, I continue to take an interest in things Homeric, which is why, citing my classics background (http://camws.org/News/newsletter/files/WRSAutobio.pdf), I wrote for a review copy of a new translation of the Iliad(Oxford University Press) by Barry P. Powell, a Homeric scholar of distinction. I recommend Powell’s rendering of the poetry of the great oral poet Homer, for it flows well, retaining the rhythms of the poet’s line and avoiding both clumsy archaisms and inappropriate anachronisms. And the Iliad, of course, constitutes the very foundation of Western Literature.
By the way, Homer, as an oral poet, was winging it, to some degree, just as a jazz musician does. I immediately made this connection, as an undergraduate college student in the mid-1950s, upon reading the 1930s articles of Milman Parry, the Californian and young Harvard professor who, in the early 1930s, made the discovery of Homer’s oral art by observing and making recordings of Yugoslavian oral poets, one of whom, over a two-week period, performed for him a poem the length of the Odyssey. Parry’s field research convinced him that Homer did not recite fixed-language poems to those gathered to hear him sing of Achilles, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Helen, Paris, Hector, Penelope, Telemachus, the ten-year siege of Troy, and Odysseus’ decade-long journey home after the war’s conclusion. He improvised his performances, making use of an age-old artistic modus operandi that is still extant here and there in our world, a poetic language handed down orally across the generations, a compositional system made up of individual words and verse parts that fit neatly, as needed, into the dactylic hexameters in which Homer composed as he performed. It is sad to note that Milman Parry died at the age of thirty-three in December 1935 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, often explained as an accidental death but likely suicide. Parry’s writing were complied by his son Adam Parry in The Making of Homeric Verse: The Collected Papers of Milman Parry (Oxford University Press, 1971).
Incidentally, the formulaic approach to composition has been shown to be a significant element in jazz and blues improvisation. For the application of Parry’s theories to jazz improvisation, see Luke O. Gillespie, “Literacy, Orality, and the Parry-Lord ‘Formula’: Improvisation and the Afro-American Jazz Tradition” (International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, Vol. 22, No. 2 Dec., 1991, pages 147- 164). For the use of formulaic composition in blues, see David Evans, Big Road Blues: Tradition And Creativity In The Folk Blues (Da Capo Press, 1987).
As a supplement to your reading of the Iliad, check out British scholar, popular historian, and TV hostess Bettany Hughes’ 2005 Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore (Knopf), a riveting biography of the beauty, adulteress, and “face that launch’d a thousand ships/And burnt the topless towers of Ilium” (Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus, c.1600). (Vintage published a paperback of the book in 2007, changing the original, and marvelous, title to Helen of Troy: The Story Behind the Most Beautiful Woman in the World.)
Here is a pair of books on Roman history I have enjoyed during the past year or so: Adrian Goldsworthy’s Antony and Cleopatra and Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra. Goldsworthy’s is a dual biography of two of the principal players in the end of the Roman Republic, and has much to say about the two others who helped bring about its destruction and the introduction of the Roman Empire period, Caesar and Octavian (who became Augustus, the first Roman emperor). Schiff’s biography of the queen intertwines her relationship with both Caesar and Antony and carries her story to its end with her death by suicide at 38 in 30 BC. Goldsworthy’s is the more scholarly while Schiff’s is in more of a popular style. Though Schiff does not rank with classicist Goldsworthy in terms of familiarity with the original documents, she has done her homework and brings off a very readable account.
I much enjoyed Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House) by Robert K. Massie. This is not an academic tome — although it is thoroughly researched — and reads like a novel, carrying the empress through her youth and young adulthood and her 34-year reign. It has inspired me to read more about Russian history. (Massie has also authored biographies of Peter the Great and Nicholas and Alexandra and The Romanovs: The Final Chapter). Photos, maps, notes, bibliography, “A Reader’s Guide: A Conversation Between Robert K. Massie and [biographer] David Michaelis”), index.
I also read American history and recently enjoyed and learned much from Brenda Wineapple’s Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877, (Harper Collins), which deals with the years leading up to the Civil War, the conflict itself, and the Reconstruction Period . Truly, “the mid-nineteenth century was an era of vast expectation and expansion” and Professor Wineapple does an estimable job of putting it all together. Notes, Selected Bibliography, index.
Fans of true murder stories and TV court dramas will much enjoy Carole Haber’s The Trails of Laura Fair: Sex, Murder, and Insanity in the Victorian West (University of North Carolina Press). In fact, as the subtitle clarifies, it has something for everyone! Seriously, it is a gripping account of two trials that took place nearly a century-and-a-half ago in San Francisco that “led to a verdict that shocked Americans across the country.” The author “probes changing ideas about morality and immorality, masculinity and femininity, love and marriage, health and disease, and mental illness to show that all these concepts were reinvented in the Victorian West.” Photos and illustrations, notes, bibliography, and index.
Everybody loves a good visual joke and here is a lively and informative account that chronicles the career of one of the genre’s pioneers, Fiona Deans Halloran’s Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Politic Cartoons (University of North Carolina Press). Nast (1840–1902) created the elephant as the symbol of the Republican Party and the modern version of Santa Claus and his images lent strong support to Lincoln and Grant and helped eradicate the corrupt Tweed Ring of New York City. Many illustrations, bibliography, notes, index.
W. Royal Stokes, Ph.D (wroyalstokes.com) has been observing the jazz, blues, and popular music worlds since the early 1940s. He is author of The Jazz Scene: An Informal History from New Orleans to 1990, Swing Era New York: The Jazz Photographs of Charles Peterson, Living the Jazz Life: Conversations with Forty Musicians about Their Careers in Jazz, and Growing Up With Jazz: Twenty-Four Musicians Talk About Their Lives and Careers. His trilogy of novels Backwards Over will see publication in the spring and summer of 2014 and he is currently at work on a memoir and A W. Royal Stokes Jazz, Blues & Beyond Reader. He has been a contributor to Radio Free Jazz, JazzTimes, Jazz Notes, Down Beat, Mississippi Rag, Jazz Line, Jazzhouse.org, JJA News, Unicorn Times, Civilization, Washington Times, Ms, Washington Post, Washington City Paper, Jazz Ambassador Magazine, Planet Jazz, Forecast, Washington/Baltimore Theater Guide, and Washington Review. He was formerly editor of the Jazz Journalist Association (JJA)’s Jazz Notes and of JazzTimes, jazz critic of the Washington Post, book review editor of Jazz Line, host on WGTB-FM and WPFW-FM of “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say. . . “ and Since Minton’s, Program Director of WGTB-FM, and a script writer for NPR’s 1970s Jazz Live! During the 1970s and ’80s Royal taught jazz appreciation courses at the Smithsonian, YWCA, Mt. Vernon College, the National Parks Service, University of Virginia (Arlington), and George Washington University. Royal, a founding member of the JJA, last year wrote “The Jazz Journalists Association: A 25-Year Retrospective” (http://news.jazzjournalists.org/2013/06/the-jazz-journalists-association-a-25-year-retrospective/) for JJA News.
Nota bene: All of my choices are in alphabetical order by artist or name of group and are to be counted equally as to points, rank, etc.
TEN BEST ALBUMS OF 2013
Jane Ira Bloom, Sixteen Sunsets (Outline)
Roberta Donnay & The Prohibition Mob Band, A Little Sugar (Motéma)
Tommy Flanagan and Jaki Byard, The Magic of 2 (Resonance)
Lisa Hilton, Getaway (Lisa Hilton Music/Ruby Slippers Productions)
Vijay Iyer and Mike Ladd, Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project (PI)
Nicole Mitchell’s Ice Crystal, Aquarius (Delmark)
Carline Ray, Carline Ray — Vocal Sides (Carlcat)
Enrico Rava & Parco della Musica Jazz Lab, Rava On the Dance Floor (ECM)
Wadada Leo Smith & Tumo, Occupy The World (TUM)
Tierney Sutton, After Blue (BFM Jazz)
TOP THREE REISSUES
Bunny Berigan, Swingin’ & Jumpin’ (Hep)
Paul Bley Trio, Closer (ESP)
Earl Hines, Classic Earl Hines Sessions 1928-1945 (Mosaic)
BEST VOCAL ALBUM
Carline Ray, Carline Ray — Vocal Sides (Carlcat)
BEST DEBUT ALBUM
Carline Ray, Carline Ray — Vocal Sides (Carlcat)
BEST LATIN JAZZ ALBUM
Luis Muñoz, LUZ (Pelín Music)
BEST BLUES ALBUM
Dayna Kurtz, Secret Canon Vol. 2 (M.C.)
BEST BEYOND ALBUM
Mobtown Moon, Mobtown Moon: Classic Pink Floyd Reimagined in Baltimore (Mobtown Moon)
BEST JAZZ DVDs
Judy Chaikin, The Girls in the Band: The Untold Stories of Female Jazz and Big Band Instrumentalists and their Journeys from the Late 1930’s to the Present Day (Artist Tribe/One Step Productions)
Woody Herman: Blue Flame: Portrait Of A Jazz Legend (Jazzed Media)
The Savoy King: Chick Webb and the Music That Changed America (Floating World Pictures)
BEST JAZZ BOOK OF 2013
Terry Teachout, Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington (Gotham/ Penguin Group)
NOTABLE RELEASES of 2013
NOTABLE INSTRUMENTAL JAZZ CDs OF 2013
John Abercrombie Quartet, 39 Steps (ECM)
Howard Alden/Andy Brown Quartet, Heavy Artillery (Delmark)
The John La Barbera Big Band, Caravan (Jazz Compass)
Geoff Bradfield, Melba! (Origin)
Joshua Breakstone, With The Wind And The Rain (Capri)
Randy Brecker & Włodek Pawlik Trio, Randy Brecker Plays Włodek Pawlik’s Night in Calisia (Summit)
Dewa Budjana, Dawai in Paradise (Moonjune)
Dewa Budjana, Joged Kahyangan (Moonjune)
Francisco Mora Catlett & Afrohorn, Rare Metal (AACE)
Joe Clark Big Band featuring Jeff Hamilton, Lush (Jazzed Media)
The Claudettes, Infernal Piano Plot . . . Hatched! (Yellow Dog)
Cecilia Coleman Big Band, Who Am I? (Pandakat)
Steve Coleman and Five Elements, Functional Arrhythmias (PI)
George Colligan, The Endless Mysteries (Origin)
George Cotsirilos Trio, Variations (OA2)
Davell Crawford, My Gift To You (Basin Street)
Anne Drummond, Revolving (Origin)
Amir ElSaffar, Alchemy (PI)
Kahil El’Zabar Quartet, What It Is! (Delmark)
Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense, Moment and the Message (PI)
The Five Play Jazz Quintet, Five & More (Auraline Music)
Mimi Fox, Standards, Old & New (Origin)
Inbar Fridman, Time Quartet Project (Origin)
Satoko Fujii, Gen Himmel (Libra)
Roby Glod, Op Der Schmelz Live (Nemu)
Andy Goesling & Lindsey Horner, Heyday Maker (Upshot)
Ghost Train Orchestra, Book of Rhapsodies (Accurate)
Brad Goode, Chicago Red (Origin)
Ken Hatfield, For Langston (Ken Hatfield/Arthur Circle Music)
Thomas Heberer & Achim Kaufmann, Knoten (Red Toucan)
Steve Heckman, Born to be Blue (Jazzed Media)
Fred Hersch & Julian Lage, Free Flying (Palmetto)
Marsha Heydt and The Project Of Love, Diggin’ the Day (Blujazz)
Brad Hoyt, Far Away From Everyday (Harp Guitar Music)
Hush Point, Hush Point (Sunnyside)
I Know You Well Miss Clara, Chapter One (Moonjune)
The Kandinsky Effect, Synesthesia (Cuneiform)
Tom Kennedy, Just Play (Capri)
Marty Krystall, Quartet, Moments Magical (K2B2)
B. D. Lenz, Ready or Not (Jade Buddah)
Joe Locke, Lay Down My Heart: Blues & Ballads, Volume 1 (Motéma)
Mike Longo and the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble, Live From New York (Consolidated Artists Productions)
Joe Lovano & The Brussels Jazz Orchestra (Halfnote)
Roberto Magris, Cannonball Funk’n Friends (JMood)
Roberto Magris, One Night In With Hope and More . . . Vol.2 (JMood)
Roberto Magris, Sam Reed Meets Roberto Magris (JMood)
Bob Mazurek Octet, Skull Sessions (Cuneiform)
Brian McCarthy, This Just In (Brian McCarthy)
Tom McDermott, Bamboula (Minky)
Cava Menzies & Nick Phillips, Moment To Moment (Nick Phillips Music)
Pete Mills, Sweet Shadow (Cellar Live)
Dom Minasi & Hans Tammen, Alluvium (Straw To Gold)
Meg Okura and the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble, Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto (Meg Okura)
Nicholas Payton, #BAM Live at Bohemian Caverns (BMF Music)
Ken Peplowski, Maybe September (Capri)
Ivo Perlman, One (Rare Noise)
Frank Potenza, For Joe (Capri)
Noah Preminger, Haymaker (Palmetto)
The Dave Rempis Percussion Quartet, Phalanx (Aerophonic)
The Kim Richmond Concert Jazz Orchestra, A Tribute To Stan Kenton (MAMA)
RJ & The Assignment, The Stroke of Midnight (JK Melody Productions)
Scott Robinson & Frank Kimbrough, Afar (ScienSonic)
Frank Rosaly , Cicada Music (Delmark)
Kermit Ruffins, We Partyin’ Traditional Style (Basin Street)
Ali Ryerson’s Jazz Flute Big Band, Game Changer (Capri)
Wolfgang Schalk, The Second Third Man (Frame Up Music)
Maria Schneider, Winter Morning Walks (ArtistShare)
Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, In the Spirit of Duke (Spartacus)
Mansur Scott’s Harlem Quartet, Sometimes Forgotten, Sometimes Remembered (Blujazz)
Bryan Shaw and the Hot Shots, The Bluebird of Happiness (Arbors)
The Sign of Four, Hammer, Anvil and Stirrup (Jazzman)
Simak Dialog, The 6th Story (Moonjune)
Asaf Sirkis Trio, Shepherd’s Stories (Asaf Sirkis)
Spyro Gyra, The Rhinebeck Sessios (Crosseyed Bear Productions)
Norbert Stein, Pata On the Cadillac (Pata Music)
Steve Swallow Quintet, Into the Woodwork (ECM)
Natsuki Tamura, Dragon Nat (Libra)
3 Cohens, Tightrope (Anzic)
Tiger Hatchery, Sun Worship (ESP)
The Michael Treni Big Band, Pop-Culture Blues (The Bell Production Company)
Fernando Ulibarri, Transform (Fernando Ulibarri)
Hristo Vitchev & Liubomir Krastev, Rhodopa (First Orbit Sounds Music)
The Wammies, The Wammies Play the Music of Steve Lacy Vol. 2 (Driff)
The Wee Trio, Live at the Bistro (Bionic)
Frank Wess, Magic 201 (IPO)
Wheelhouse, Boss of the Plains (Aerophonic)
Matt Wilson Quartet + John Medeski, Gathering Call (Palmetto)
NOTABLE JAZZ VOCAL CDs OF 2013
Clipper Anderson, Ballad of the Sad Young Men (Origin)
Marc Bernstein & Good People, featuring Sinne Eeg, Hymn For Life (Origin)
Kenny Blake featuring Maria Shahee, Go Where the Road Leads (Summit)
Tina Bruhn & Johnny O’Neal, Nearness, (Burner)
Philip Chaffin and others, Noël and Cole: Celebrating the Songs of Coward and Porter (PS Classics)
Philip Chaffin, Somethin’ Real Special: The Songs of Dorothy Fields (PS Classics)
Chicago Jazz Orchestra, featuring Cyrille Aimée, Burstin’ Out! (Origin)
Barbara Levy Daniels, Love Lost and Found (Bldproductions Inc)
Les DeMerle Band, featuring Bonnie Eisele, Feelin’ Good (Origin)
Lisa Engelken, Little Warrior (e13 music/Little Angel)
Nancy Harms, Dreams in Apartments (Gazelle)
Nicole Henry Live, So Good, So Right (Banister)
Jitterbug Vipers, featuring Sarah Sharp, Phoebe’s Dream (Jitterbug Vipers)
Eugenie Jones, Black Lace Blue Tears (Open Mic)
Lisa Kirchner, Umbrellas In Mint (Verdant World)
Annie Kozuch, Mostly Jobim (Annie Kozuch)
Deborah Latz, Fig Tree (June Moon Productions)
Rebecca Luker, I Got Love: Songs of Jerome Kern (PS Classics)
Pete McGuinness, Voice Like A Horn (Summit)
Beata Pater, Red (B&B)
Miki Purnell, Swingin’ To The Sea (Sweet and Lovely Music)
Ed Reed, I’m a Shy Guy: A Tribute to the King Cole Trio & Their Music (Blue Shorts)
Barbara Rosene, Nice and Naughty: Sweet & Saucy Songs From The 1920s & ’30s (Stomp Off)
Cathy Segal-Garcia and The Moment, Live at the Blue Whale (Dash Hoffman)
Gary Smulyan and Dominic Chianese, Bella Napoli (Capri)
Marlene Ver Planck, Ballads . . . mostly (Audiophile)
Judy Wexler, What I See (Jazzed Media)
Nicole Zuraitis, Pariah Anthem (Nicole Zuraitis)
NOTABLE LATIN JAZZ CDs OF 2013
Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet, Cuidad De Los Reyes: Música AfroPeruana Para El Mundo (Saponegro)
Sérgio Galvão, Phantom Fish (Pimenta Music)
David Manson, A Kiss for Rio: O Som Do Jazz (Isospin Labs)
Sofia Rei, De Tierra Y Oro (Lilihouse Music)
Pete Rodriguez, Camunando Con Papi (Destiny)
Michele Rosewoman, New Yor-Uba: A Musical Celebration of Cuba in America (Advance Dance Disques)
Salsa De La Bahia: A Collection of SF Bay Area Salsa and Latin Jazz (Patois)
Manuel Valera & New Cuban Express, Expectativas (Mavo)
Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet, Latin Jazz/Jazz Latin (Patois)
BEST DEBUT JAZZ CDs OF 2013
Gabrielle Agachiko, Yes! (Accurate)
Molly Holm, Permission (Rinny Zin)
Billy Mintz, Mintz Quatet (Thirteenth Note)
Matt Parker, Worlds Put Together (BYNK)
Jussi Reijonen, Un (Unmusic)
Rotem Sivan, Enchanted Sun (SteepleChase)
10³²K, That Which Is Planted: Live in Buffalo and Rochester (Passin’ Thru)
NOTABLE JAZZ REISSUES OF 2013
Ran Blake, Plays Solo Piano (ESP)
Art Hodes, I Remember Bessie (Delmark)
Roscoe Mitchell Quartet, Live At “A” Space 1975 (Sackville/Delmark)
Zoot Siims, Compatibility (Delmark)
Chick Webb & Ella Fitzgerald Decca Sessions 1934-41 (Mosaic)
NOTABLE BLUES & BEYOND CDs OF 2013
Arborea, Fortress of the Sun (ESP)
Sandy Carroll, Unnaturally Blonde (Catfood)
Copernicus, L’Etérnité Immédiate (Moonjune)
Copernicus, Worthless! (Nevermore)
Guy Davis, Juba Dance (M.C.)
Dialeto, The Last Tribe (Moonjune)
Chris Grant, It’s Not About War (359 Music)
Fiction Family, Reunion (Rock Ridge Music)
Tina Thing Helseth, 10 by Tenthing (Warner Classics)
Sara Hickman, Shine (Kirtland)
The Howlin’ Brothers, Howl (Readymade)
Infectious Garage Disease, Igo (Negative Reaction)
Sarah Jarosz, Build Me Up From Bones (Sugar Hill)
Kulcha Shok Muzik, Reggae Kulcha Volume 1 (Kulcha Shok Muzik)
John Lennon McCullagh, North South Divide (359 Music)
Mineral, Plastic Ekphrastic (359 Music)
Angeline Morrison, Are You Ready Cat? (Freestyle)
Mumpbeak, Mumpbeak (RareNoise)
Mark Orton, Music From the Motion Picture Nebraska (Milan)
Johnny Rawls, Remembering O. V. (Catfood)
Soft Machine Legacy, Burden of Proof (Moonjune)
Soul Spectrum, Volume 1: 21 Cuts of Dancefloor Soul, Rare Boogie and Soulful Disco (Jazzman)
Cassie Taylor, Out Of My Mind (Yellow Dog)
Hope Wechkin, Leaning Toward the Fiddler: Music For Voice and Violin (Ravello)
Nicole Willis & The Soul Investigators, Tortured Soul (Timmion)
The Wrong Object, After The Exhibition (Moonjune)
NOTABLE MUSICAL CAST CDs OF 2013
Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, Far From Heaven (PS Classics)
Stephen Sondheim, Passion: New York Cast Recording (PS Classics)
BEST CHRISTMAS JAZZ CDs OF 2013
Jack Furlong & Sean Gough, Charity (Bridge and Tunnel)
Lynne Jackson & Mike Palter, Christmas In Your Heart (Cabaret Consortium)
New York Voices, Let It Snow (Five Cent)
NOTABLE JAZZ AND POPULAR MUSIC DVDs OF 2013
Randy Becker, The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion (includes Live Concert DVD) (Piloo)
The Clash, Judas Priest, Stevie Nicks, and others, ’83 US Festival: Days 1-3 (MVD Visual)
Europe, Live At Sweden Rock: 30th Anniversary Show (MVD Visual)
Iggy & The Stooges + Special Guests, Tribute to Ron Asheton (MVD Visual)
Rob Mazurek and His Exploding Star Electro Acoustic Ensemble, The Space Between (Delmark)
Scissor Sisters, Live In Victoria Park London 2011 (Wienerworld)
W. Royal Stokes has been observing the jazz, blues, and popular music worlds since the early 1940s. He was editor of Jazz Notes (the quarterly journal of the Jazz Journalists Association) from 1992 to 2001 and has participated in the annual Down Beat Critics Poll since the 1980s. He hosted his weekly “I thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say . . . .” and Since Minton’s on public radio in the 1970s and ’80s. He has been the Washington Post’s jazz critic and editor of JazzTimes and is the author of The Jazz Scene: An Informal History from New Orleans to 1990 (Oxford University Press, 1991), Swing Era New York: The Jazz Photographs of Charles Peterson (Temple University Press, 1994), Living the Jazz Life: Conversations with Forty Musicians about Their Careers in Jazz (Oxford University Press, 2000), and Growing Up With Jazz: Twenty-Four Musicians Talk About Their Lives and Careers (Oxford University Press, 2005). His trilogy of novels Backwards Over will see publication in early 2014. He is currently at work on a memoir and A W. Royal Stokes Jazz, Blues & Beyond Reader.