1) BIOGRAPHIES, DISCOGRAPHIES, ETC.2) HISTORY, REFERENCE, CRITICISM, ETC. 3) COFFEE-TABLE BOOKS 4) SCARECROW PRESS 5) MISCELLANEOUS
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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.