1) BIOGRAPHIES, DISCOGRAPHIES, ETC.2) HISTORY, REFERENCE, CRITICISM, ETC. 3) MISCELLANEOUS
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.
3) MISCELLANEOUS 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.
Zachary Leader’s 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.