W. Royal Stokes’ Roundup of 90 or So Jazz, Blues, Beyond, and Other Books Published in the Past Year or So
December 29th 2014 05:27 pm
Copyright © 2014 W. Royal Stokes
- BIOGRAPHIES, DISCOGRAPHIES, ETC.
- HISTORY, REFERENCE, CRITICISM, ETC.
- COFFEE-TABLE BOOKS
- SCARECROW PRESS
1) BIOGRAPHIES, DISCOGRAPHIES, ETC.
The Ivory Men: Black Bob & Blind John 1932-1942: A Discography (Chris Hillman Books), by Christopher Hillman and Daniel Gugolz with Paolo Fornara, presents pianists Black Bob and Blind John Davis in a variety of combos recorded by Vocalion, Bluebird, and other labels during the period cited. This 78-page thoroughly documented discography can — as do the earlier monographs by former publisher Cygnet — serve as a model for discographical research. Acting as musical archaeologists, the authors have unearthed all available information about the two musicians and their recordings. Highly recommended for both its text and the accompanying CD that repeated listening well rewards. (Order from email@example.com) Photographs, illustrations of record labels, bibliography, index, and a CD of 26 tracks.
In Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press), author Matthew Pratt Guterl “brings out a little known side of the celebrated personality [and] banana-skirted siren of Jazz Age Paris[,] showing how her ambitions of later years were even more daring and subversive than the youthful exploits that made her the first African American superstar. Her performing days numbered, Baker settled down in a sixteenth-century chateau, [adopted] twelve children from around the globe, . . . transformed her estate into a theme park [and] a collective farm [and] attracted an adoring public eager to spend money on a utopian vision and to worship at the feet of Josephine, mother of the world. . . . Guterl concludes that Baker was a serious and determined activist who believed she could make a positive difference by creating a family out of the troublesome material of race.” Photographs, notes, index.
In Softly, With Feeling: Joe Wilder and the Breaking of Barriers in American Music (Temple University Press), Edward Berger, whose other books include Benny Carter: A Life in American Music (co-author) and Bassically Speaking: An Oral History of George Duvivier, “lays out, piece by piece, Joe Wilder’s entire career from start to present in a very entertaining way,” says Jazz Man. Photographs, notes, Discography/Solography, index.
The Original Guitar Hero and the Power of Music: The Legendary Lonnie Johnson, Music, and Civil Rights (University of North Texas Press) by Dean Alger is the first full-length work on this pioneer blues and jazz player. “Though recognized by B. B. King and others for his strong influence, blues- and jazz-guitar pioneer and singer Lonnie Johnson is an underappreciated giant of the music, a precursor not only of King, but also of jazz great Charlie Christian and rockers such as Eric Clapton. In often-minute detail, Alger recounts Johnson’s long—if interrupted—career, from his early solos and duets (with his brother and with guitarist Eddie Lang and blues singer Victoria Spivey) to his accompanying Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington on classic recordings, and into the blues revival of the 1960s. . . . Alger makes a substantial contribution to the history of early jazz, of the guitar’s preeminence in twentieth-century music, and of Johnson’s major, but regrettably forgotten, role.” Mark Levine, Booklist. Photographs, notes, bibliography, discography, song index, subject index.
In her autobiographical ART: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman (Arthur Pepper Music Corporation), Laurie Pepper picks up after her late husband’s 1981 Straight Life: The Story of Art Pepper (Da Capo, 1994, revised edition), which she co-authored with the great saxophonist. “This book has Art Pepper mentioned in it, but it is not about him. It is about Laurie Pepper and what she has to teach us about life on its own terms and that one does not merely wish to endure, but ultimately prevail,” clarifies critic C. Michael Bailey, AllAboutJazz. Photographs, index.
Frank Benjamin Foster III’s A Jazz Master: An Autobiography (PFDGS Media), with Forewords by Sheila Jordan, Cecil Bridgewater, and Charlotte VM Ottley, “was published just as Frank wrote it. In his own words, Frank chose to reveal the complexities both positive and negative that would tell his story. His final request to his beloved wife Cecilia was to make certain that his book was published after his death. Frank’s musical career spanned seven decades with a contribution to the Jazz world that will never be forgotten. He was called a musical genius. As you read this book, you will see a life that reveals the triumphs and struggles of a man who made a major impact as a saxophonist extraordinaire, composer, arranger, educator, conductor of the world famous Count Basie Orchestra, as well as establishing his own 3 bands that became legendary. I second the quote by his publicist, ‘Here’s to Frank, a musical genius for all time…One More Time!’”, says Dana Gillespie, publisher. Photographs.
Benson: The Autobiography (Da Capo Press) by George Benson and Alan Goldsher, with a Foreword by Bill Cosby, “follows George’s remarkable rise from the ghettos of Pittsburgh to the stages of South Africa, and everywhere in between. George Benson is an unparalleled storyteller, and his tales of scuffling on the Chitlin Circuit with jazz legend Brother Jack McDuff, navigating his way through the recording studio with Miles Davis, and performing with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Quincy Jones, Benny Goodman, Rod Stewart, Chaka Khan, Count Basie, and Lou Rawls will enthrall devotees of both music history and pop culture.” Photographs, index.
Bombay-born and New York resident Radhika Philip, in a collection of her wide-ranging and in-depth conversations with 25 jazz musicians Being Here (Radhio.org), demonstrates that she knows what questions to ask and how to listen. “What an amazing book! I’m so impressed with Radhika’s ability to have these intimate discussions with these incredible artists. . . . There is a thread that runs throughout all of these artists. They have humility, drive, and an almost selfless commitment to their craft. . . . . Billy Hart’s conversation was very touching and humble. Brian Blade was absolutely inspiring, Steve Coleman is one of the most fascinating characters you will ever discover too! Every chapter has taught me something about my own musical development,” enthuses drummer Tim Orlieb. Discographies are included.
The Time of My Life: A Righteous Brother’s Memoir (Da Capo Press) by Bill Medley and Mike Marino, with a Foreword by Billy Joel, is “an unvarnished look at Bill Medley’s personal triumphs and tragedies through the filter of five decades of musical, television, motion picture, and live-performance success. Medley opens his head and his heart, sharing his thoughts and feelings about the great African-American music that inspired him, his loving yet tumultuous and complicated relationship with Bobby Hatfield, the murder of his first wife Karen and his struggle to raise their son alone, his close friendship with Elvis and its sad ending, his deep depression over losing his voice (and how he got it back), his smash duet with Jennifer Warnes on “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” for the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, and how he learned to settle down and become a family man and enjoy a nearly thirty-year (and counting) marriage.” Photographs, index.
Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues (Counterpoint) by Joel Selvin “is both a definitive account of the golden age of rhythm and blues of the early ’60s and the harrowing, ultimately tragic story of songwriter and record producer Bert Berns, whose meteoric career was fueled by his pending doom. His heart damaged by rheumatic fever as a youth, Berns was not expected to live to see 21. Although his name is little remembered today, Berns worked alongside all the greats of the era—Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, Burt Bacharach, Phil Spector, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, anyone who was anyone in New York rhythm and blues. In seven quick years, he went from nobody to the top of the pops—producer of monumental r&b classics, songwriter of ‘Twist and Shout,’ ‘My Girl Sloopy,’ ‘Piece of My Heart,’ and others.” Photographs, bibliography, discography, index.
The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob (Simon & Schuster) by David Kinney, “a compelling study of Dylan’s most fervent and studious fans, [presents] sympathetic, respectful portraits of people who were inspired by Dylan to write, read, travel, archive, and rethink their lives.” The Chicago Tribune
Of Eddie Shapiro’s Nothing Like a Dame: Conversations with the Great Women of Musical Theater (Oxford University Press), actor Alan Cumming says, “This book is an encyclopedia of modern musical theatre via a series of tender meetings between a diehard fan and his idols. Because of Eddie Shapiro’s utter guilelessness, these women open up and reveal more than they ever have before, and we get to be the third guest at each encounter.” Photographs, index.
Rush FAQ: All That’s Left To Know About Rock’s Greatest Power Trio by Max Mobley (Backbeat Books) is the latest volume in its publisher’s FAQ Series, “one-stop source[s] of info, history, and minutia on an array of performing arts subjects” that are “[p]acked with a staggering amount of data, rare photographs and period ephemera.” Photographs, bibliography, index.
Simon Critchley’s Bowie (OR Books) is a “slim book, in which no essay takes longer to read than it would take to listen to a David Bowie song, but in which there is a cumulative sense of revelation as regards what makes Bowie special, and why it is that his work seems to yield more, the more time you spend there. The book is delightful, highly readable, with bits of Nietzsche, Ruskin, Roland Barthes and Deleuze rising up like wisps of cloud in its funny, moving and passionate field of inquiry,” opines Rick Moody in Salon. Illustrations by Eric Hanson.
A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, From Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man by Holly George-Warren (Viking). “It’s a credit to Warren’s unflinching tone that the Chilton of Destruction is a charismatic, oft-frustrating man unwilling to kowtow to anything or anyone . . . . You’ll never hear his music the same way again,” says the L. A. Times.
Of Richard Zoglin’s Hope: Entertainer of the Century (Simon & Schuster), Woody Allen enthuses, “A wonderful biography . . . . For me it’s a feast.” Photographs, notes, a “Bob Hopes Major Work” compilation, index.
Mark Whitaker’s Cosby: His Life and Times (Simon & Schuster) is the first major biography of the comedian Bill Cosby. Based on interviews with Cosby and sixty or so of his closest friends and associates, it is a fascinating account of his life and career. Photographs, a “Cosbyography” compilation, notes, index.
Scott Saul’s Becoming Richard Pryor (Harper) “Becoming Richard Pryor is a compulsively readable book that sets a new gold standard for American biography. Scott Scaul’s research is extraordinary; his writing is taut, elegant, and insightful; and he captures both the hilarity and pain that made Richard Pryor such a towering figure,” is the judgment of Debby Applegate, author of Madam: The Notorius Life and Times of Polly Adler. Photographs, notes, index.
2) HISTORY, REFERENCE, CRITICISM, ETC.
Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans (Crown) by Gary Krist is “[A] well-reported and colorful tale of jazz, sex, crime, and corruption. I can attest, as a native of New Orleans, that in Empire of Sin [Krist] has captured the flavors and class nuances of the town. And his interwoven storylines, intentional or note, evoke a piece of jazz,” says Walter Isaacson in The New York Times Book Review. The jazz inclined will find multiple page entries in the index for the likes of Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, and other New Orleans jazz musicians of the early period. This is both a serious historical study and a very entertaining read. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
The beautifully produced French Baroque Music of New Orleans: Spiritual Songs from the Ursuline Convent (1736) (The Historic New Orleans Collection), Molly Reid, editor, with essays by Jean Duron, Jennifer Gipson, Andrew Justice, Alfred E. Lemmon, and Mark McKnight, “features a full-color facsimile of the document known as the Ursuline music manuscript, a four-volume, illustrated collection of baroque songs compiled in 1736 and sent to the Ursuline nuns of New Orleans in 1754. The songs, call contrafacta, could be considered baroque versions of remixes: poets took popular tunes by leading composers, such as Jean-Baptiste Lully and François Couperin, and changed the lyrics from secular to sacred. This practice allowed all listeners–but particularly women, such as the Ursulines and their boarding students–to enjoy popular music of the day without compromising their virtue. Accompanied by four scholarly essays in English and one in French, [the volume] offers a rare look at New Orleans’s earliest days and musical culture.”
A major work of scholarship, Sally Newhart’s The Original Tuxedo Jazz Band: More than a Century of a New Orleans Icon (The History Press) chronicles “The longest continuously performing jazz band in New Orleans and the first jazz band to play the White House, [following] the band from its inception until today. . . . Reading the history of this long-standing jazz band is to understand the beginning and evolution of jazz in New Orleans,” says The Daily Advertiser. “This book is the tale of a jazz band that has not only transcended the stereotypes but has also survived for more than a century (a feat that has never been equaled in jazz history), working its way from the black tenderloin into the homes and hearts of the city’s affluent, white social elite in less than a decade,” writes Bruce Raeburn, author of New Orleans Style and the Writing of American Jazz History (Jazz Perspectives) and Curator of the Hogan Jazz Archives, Tulane University. Photographs, bibliography, discography, index, and a complete (and amazing!) list of the bands’ members since 1910.
Thomas Jacobsen’s The New Orleans Jazz Scene from 1970 to 2000 (Louisiana State University Press) not only renders the musical scene of the period covered in its varietal forms, it renders it as part of a broad canvas that includes essential information on its players, both musicians and support network; the venues that have come and gone, some still active today; the political scene; the journalism and radio outlets that have reviewed and supported the jazz idiom over the years; jazz education, both public school and university; and a number of other facets and circumstances. All of these categories are fleshed out with interesting material on the individuals involved. Jacobsen has lived in New Orleans for much of the period he covers and prior to his residency was a frequent visitor to the city. He has made use of his time there by constant presence on the jazz scene and involvement in its community, collecting his impressions and recording his data whenever he came into contact with that community. Nor does he limit his account to what is, clearly, his first musical love, traditional jazz. His outlook and taste are definitely catholic and his coverage comprehensive. All styles played in the city are given their due in this essential book. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
Lynnell L. Thomas’s Desire and Disaster in New Orleans: Tourism, Race, and Historical Memory (Duke University Press) is “a much-needed critique of how the tourism industry romanticizes the city’s history of slavery and race relations. It is also an important account of how African Americans have struggled to create a place within the industry for themselves and their history,” says Leslie M. Harris, author of In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Crown), by Sheri Fink, is an “elaborately researched chronicle of life, death, and the choices in between at a New Orleans hospital immediately following Hurricane Katrina . . . [and] like all great journalism, a document unto itself, an artifact of what we thought about ‘life and death’ issues in the early twenty-first century,” says Bookforum’s Jeff Sharlet. Not a pretty story but a deeply moving account. Notes, index.
Tom Cooper’s The Marauders: A Novel (Crown) recounts another Louisiana disaster, the aftermath of the BP oil spill. Stephen King calls it “one hell of a novel.”
The Spring 2014 semiannual journal Washington History, titled Jazz in Washington, is a special issue on jazz in D.C., edited by Dr. Maurice Jackson of Georgetown University and Dr. Blair Ruble of the Woodrow Wilson Center. Its articles are: “From the Editors;” “Seventh Street, Black D.C.’s Music Mecca” by Blair Ruble; “Great Black Music and the Desegregation of Washington, D.C.,” by Maurice Jackson; “Washington’s Duke Ellington,” by John Edward Hasse; “Interview with Bill Brower,” by Willard Jenkins; “Jazz Radio in Washington, a Memoir,” by Rusty Hassan; “Legislating Jazz,” by Anna Celenza; “Researching D.C. Jazz,” by Mike Fitzgerald; and “Three poems” by E. Ethelbert Miller. Photographs, illustrations, notes (containing bibliographical references), and “Repositories of Washington Jazz History, an institutional guide.”
In The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture & Style (William Morrow), Nelson George provides “the story of the barrier-breaking and hugely influential television show Soul Train, which for 35 years delivered ‘love, peace, and soul’ to households everywhere in the form of hit songs, innovative dance moves, and ‘freaky, fantastic’ fashions. Inspired by the civil rights movement, Chicago radio reporter turned television trailblazer Don Cornelius, whom George describes as the epitome of cool, boldly carved out the first mass-media space for ‘black dance by black dancers presented by a black producer.’” Photographs.
Michelle Ann Stephens, in her Skin Acts: Race, Psychoanalysis, and the Black Male Performer (Duke University Press), “has taken the most immediate and seemingly obvious site of racialization, the skin, and given it a revelatory new genealogy. She sets the standard for all future engagements with what Frantz Fanon termed ‘epidermalization,’” says Tavia Nyong’o, author of The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
Rick Mitchell’s Jazz in the New Millennium: Live and Well (Dharma Moon) “offers the first comprehensive overview of jazz in the 21st Century, with nearly 60 conversational profiles of major jazz artists, from living masters such as Wayne Shorter to rising stars such as Esperanza Spalding. The artists discuss their lives, their music, and the state of the art form. In his 6000- word introduction, author Rick Mitchell concludes that despite economic struggles, jazz is continuing to thrive creatively 100 years after its birth. In addition to black and white Photographs of each artist, the book includes approximately two dozen color Photographs of the artists in performance at the DaCamera Jazz Series in Houston. The book is intended for musicians and fans, and should be of special interest to jazz studies programs at high schools, colleges and universities.” Photographs, discographies.
About Scott B. Bomar’s Southbound: An Illustrated History of Southern Rock (Backbeat Books), The Macon Telegraph opines, “Imagine if everything ever written about Southern rock was boiled down to its essence — and combined into one big book. . . . Besides the musical significance of Southern rock, Bomar also investigates the cultural impact the genre had across the rest of the country.” Photographs, sources.
Donald L. Miller’s Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America (Simon & Schuster) is “Original in concept, deeply researched, and utterly fascinating [and] transports readers to that time and to the city which outsiders embraced, in E.B. White’s words, ‘with the intense excitement of first love.’ . . . . In four words—‘the capital of everything’—Duke Ellington captured Manhattan during one of the most exciting and celebrated eras in our history: the Jazz Age. Radio, tabloid newspapers, and movies with sound appeared. The silver screen took over Times Square as Broadway became America’s movie mecca. Tremendous new skyscrapers were built in Midtown in one of the greatest building booms in history. [Here] is the story of Manhattan’s growth and transformation in the 1920s and the brilliant people behind it.” Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
The Fender Archives: A Scrapbook of Artifacts, Treasures, and Inside Information (Hal Leonard Books) by Tom Wheeler, former Editor In Chief of Guitar Player magazine, and the author of several other books on the guitar, provides “plenty . . . for the gear-head, player or collector and the casual fan alike [and] deserves a place on your shelf right next to a vintage tweed and Broadcaster,” says AllMusicBooks. Photographs and illustrations.
About Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by Joshua Wolf Shenk, Walter Isaacson says, “We sometimes think of creativity as coming from brilliant loners. In fact, it more often happens when bright people pair up and complement each other. Shenk’s fascinating book shows how to spark the power of this phenomenon.” And David Sheff, author of All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, recalls, “When I spoke with John Lennon in 1980 —the final in-depth interview of his life — he described writing many songs ‘eyeball to eyeball’ with Paul McCartney. Powers of Two conveys the intimacy and complexity of their collaboration — and collaboration in general — with brilliant clarity.” Selected Sources, notes, index.
Todd Decker’s Who Should Sing ‘Ol’ Man River’?: The Lives of an American Song (Oxford University Press) “[charts] the performance history of one of America’s greatest and most controversial songs. Lyrically written and persuasively argued, the book transports the reader through a kaleidoscope of performers from Paul Robeson to Ray Charles, female and male, black and white, who wanted to make the song their own,” says Jordan Goodman, author of Paul Robeson: A Watched Man. Photographs, A Select List of Recorded Versions of ‘Ol’ Man River’, notes, index.
Can’s Tago Mago by Alan Warner, Kevin Young’s The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, Ethan Hayden’s Sigur Rós’s (), Susan Fast’s Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, Alex Niven’s Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, Kirk Walker Graves’s Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Gina Arnold’s Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, Pete Astor’s Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ Blank Generation, Kevin J.H. Dettmar’s Gang of Four’s Entertainment!, Luis Sanchez’s The Beach Boys’ Smile!, are additions to 33 1⁄3/Continuum International Publishing Group’s series of pocket-size paperbacks devoted to analyses of individual albums. Rolling Stone has praised the project as “Ideal for the rock geek who thinks liner notes just aren’t enough.”
Greil Marcus, in pitching his idea for The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs (Yale University Press) to his editor, wondered, “What if it neglected the well-known, iconic moments (the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, Bob Dylan going electric), and centered instead on a small number of songs, each of which in its own unique way embodied rock ’n’ roll?” “Greil Marcus lingers inside a song, following it from the first utterance to the last note, through performances across time, to give us the context, meaning, and interpretation not only of the song but of peoples and nations as well. His is an unconventional, fearless chronicle of the famous and the less well-known, the sacred and the profane, of the limitations and full-blown possibilities,” says Farah Jasmine Griffin, William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University and author of If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday and Clawing At the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever. Notes.
Barry Shank’s The Political Force of Musical Beauty (Duke University Press), in the publisher’s Refiguring American Music series, “addresses the relation of music to politics. In the process, [it] makes a significant contribution to aesthetic theory. It is beautifully written, nuanced yet accessible. Its central theme, on the political agency of music, is refreshing and Shank’s close readings and formal analyses of musical examples are both richly rewarding and entertaining.” Bernard Gendron, author of Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant-Garde. Photographs, notes discography, bibliography, index.
Black Performance Theory (Duke University Press), by Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez, “is a palimpsest of black performance histories, practices, affects, and ideologies. . . . Exceeding iterations of ready-made blackness and overcooked theories of performance, this volume honors the charge to theorize outside the expected and to say something new.” D. Soyini Madison, author of Acts of Activism: Human Rights as Radical Performance.
Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Youth Culture (Pantheon) by Hisham D. Aidi “examines young European and American Muslims and their search for what [Aidi] calls ‘a nonracist utopia.’ Specifically, [he] is concerned with how the so-called American dream exists in Europe’s Muslim ghettos, how young European and American Muslims are drawing on African American history (especially the U.S. civil rights movement) for inspiration, and how American diplomacy is using race and diversity to court Muslims around the world. Aidi touches on many issues in this ambitious and far-reaching book, including the rise of the Far Right; the spread of the war on terror; the mind-boggling cultural fusion going on today (Arabic country music in Alabama, punk rockers in Pakistan); and the power of music to effect social change. Sufi rock, Islam and jazz, Gnawa music, Andalusi music—it’s all covered here. This book will be especially appealing to young people who want to better understand the Muslim perspective on war, prejudice, and national identity.” June Sawyers, author of Bob Dylan: New York and editor of Read the Beatles: Classic and New Writings on the Beatles, Their Legacy, and Why They Still Matter, and Racing in the Street: The Bruce Springsteen Reader. Discography, videography, notes, index.
Decomposition: A Music Manifesto (Pantheon), by Andrew Durkin, “is a bracing, revisionary, and provocative inquiry into music—from Beethoven to Duke Ellington, from Conlon Nancarrow to Evelyn Glennie—as a personal and cultural experience: how it is composed, how it is idiosyncratically perceived by critics and reviewers, and why we listen to it the way we do.” In the index you’ll also find — along with Bach, Wagner, and many others of the classical world — Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Art Pepper, Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Janet Jackson, and others of the jazz and pop worlds. Notes, Works Cited, and index.
Matthew Kennedy’s Roadshow!: The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s (Oxford University Press) “tells the fascinating story of the downfall of the big-screen musical in the late 1960s. It is a tale of revolutionary cultural change, business transformation, and artistic missteps, all of which led to the obsolescence of the roadshow. . . . From Julie Andrews to Barbra Streisand, from Fred Astaire to Rock Hudson, <[it] offers a brilliant, gripping history of film musicals and their changing place in our culture. Photographs, References, bibliography, index.
Then there is Richard Barrios’ Dangerous Rhythm: Why Movie Musicals Matter (Oxford University Press), which “ explores movie musicals from those first hits, The Jazz Singer and Broadway Melody, to present-day Oscar winners Chicago and Les Misérables. History, film analysis, and a touch of backstage gossip combine to make [it] a compelling look at musicals and the powerful, complex bond they forge with their audiences. Going behind the scenes, Barrios uncovers the rocky relationship between Broadway and Hollywood, the unpublicized off-camera struggles of directors, stars, and producers, and all the various ways by which some films became our most indelible cultural touchstones — and others ended up as train wrecks.” Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
Stephen Nachmanovitch’s 1991 Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art (Tarcher/Putnam/Penguin Group) has been made available in a Kindle Edition. The author “tells it like it is in the most important book on improvisation I’ve yet seen,” says Keith Jarrett. Photographs, illustrations, notes, bibliography.
3) COFFEE TABLE BOOKS
Creole World: Photographs of New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean Sphere (The Historic New Orleans Collection) by photographer Ken Richard Sexton, Molly Reid and Sarah R. Doerries, editors, Alison Cody, illustrator, with essays by Jay D. Edwards and John H. Lawrence, deserves first place here for several reasons. It is not only a perfectly gorgeous publication in the finest tradition of photography collections, it provides a wealth of insight into the Creole culture of New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean. Familiarity with that world is fundamental to an understanding of the roots of jazz. As Jelly Roll Morton said, “if you can’t manage to put tinges of Spanish in your tunes, you will never be able to get the right seasoning . . . for jazz.”
Ken Franckling’s JAZZ IN THE KEY OF LIGHT – Eighty of our Finest Jazz Musicians Speak for Themselves (Key of Light Press), with Foreword by George Wein, combines photographic art and brief quotations for a sublime volume that deserves a place on the coffee table of not only those who love jazz but of anyone who appreciates portrait photography at its best. The work of all of the great jazz photographers has come across my desk the past four decades and it seems perfectly obvious that Ken Franckling’s name now belongs in that pantheon. Along with legends such as Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Horn, Les Paul, Dorothy Donegan, Phil Woods, Don Cherry, Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz, Benny Carter, and Marian McPartland, Ken has captured rising stars of today like Ingrid Jensen, Gregory Porter, Nicki Parrott, Cyrus Chestnut, Danilo Perez, James Carter, Tierney Sutton, Terri Lyne Carrington, Diana Krall, and Miguel Zenón. The quotation included with two shots of Dizzy says it all: “Every generation has its own thing. It has to.”
The dictionary definitions of “Rube Goldberg” as an adjective are along the lines of “accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply.” The Art of Rube Goldberg (Harry N. Abrams), selected by Jennifer George (Goldberg’s granddaughter), with Introduction by Adam Gopnik, is a lavishly pictorial coffee table collection of the work of one of the most popular American cartoonists of his time (he was active from the early years of the twentieth century until his death in 1970). It contains not only illustrations of many of his weird inventions and bizarre contraptions but examples of his first published drawings in his high school newspaper and college yearbook, comic strips, political cartoons, and advertising work. There are also essays by comics historians, letters, memorabilia, patents, and photographs of his sculptures. The sequential-panel-action front-cover cartoon is of steps A-H of a “Simple way to get fresh orange juice upon awakening,” i.e., as a person slumbers in bed beneath covers, the rising sun at the window shines through a magnifying glass affixed to the top of the bed’s headboard and burns a small hole in a suspended hot-water bottle, which drips on the nose of a dog below causing him to wag his tail, which is tied to a rope that through a pulley above raises the lid of a jack-in-box below, out of which a tiny orchestra leader rises and waves a baton at a seated clown, who crashes two cymbals above his head against a halved orange dangling on a rope above a glass on the clown’s head, and the cymbals meet at the two sides of the orange and squeeze its juice into the glass. There is a pull-tab so that “the reader can add his or her own personal touch by moving the tab at a variable rate — slowing down momentarily to enhance the more subtle movement, or speeding up for dramatic effect.” Gopnik, in his introductory essay, places Goldberg in the company of Marcel Duchamp, the Dadaists, surrealists, and other practitioners of “anti-art,” for his “mock-machine[s]” were also “meant to mock the elaborate world of machinery [that] as often as not . . . add[s] complexity to life despite its promise to simplify it.” There is a bibliography of Goldberg’s daily and Sunday comic strips and his cartoons, articles, short fiction, and books and a timeline of his life. Jennifer George has done her grandfather proud with her The Art of Rube Goldberg, which is surely the definitive representation of his art. Not only that, it is a vastly entertaining volume that appeals to all ages. I plan to spend many an hour re-examining Rube’s mock machines with my grandchildren Coen and Maya, neither of whom is yet of reading age.
Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia (The University of North Carolina Press) by Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr is lavish in chronicling and depicting how in “the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a steady stream of Scots [who] migrated to Ulster and eventually onward across the Atlantic to resettle in the United States made their way into the mountains of the southern Appalachian region,” bringing “a wealth of traditional ballads and tunes from the British Isles and Ireland, a carrying stream that merged with sounds and songs of English, German, Welsh, African American, French, and Cherokee origin[, an] enduring legacy of music [that] flows today from Appalachia back to Ireland and Scotland and around the globe. Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr guide readers on a musical voyage across oceans, linking people and songs through centuries of adaptation and change.” Photographs, illustrations, notes, discography, bibliography, index, and “a CD featuring 20 songs by musicians profiled in the book, including Dolly Parton, Dougie MacLean, Cara Dillon, John Doyle, Pete Seeger, Sheila Kay Adams, Jean Ritchie, Doc Watson, David Holt, Anais Mitchell, Al Petteway, and Amy White.”
Hollywood Frame by Frame: The Unseen Silver Screen in Contact Sheets, 1951-1997 (Princeton Architectural Press) was compiled by Karina Longworth, who has authored books about George Lucas, Al Pacino, and Meryl Streep. It “recounts the history of a long-gone aspect of Hollywood film-making. Until the late 1990s, professional photographers were employed by movie studios to shoot ‘candids’ of cast and crews on movie sets and in behind-the-scenes settings. From the resulting contact sheets, studios would choose the best shots for release to fan magazines,” explains Michael OConnor, a Top 500 reviewer at Amazon.com. Photographs, notes, index.
4) SCARECROW PRESS and ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD
Just as the Library of America aims to keep classics of America’s literary heritage in print and Mosaic Records has returned to availability more than 200 long out-of-print classic jazz sessions, so has Scarecrow Press established itself as a leading loci of scholarly biographies, histories, and discographies in the fields of jazz, blues, rock, pop, and film studies. The past year or so has seen publication of a number of splendid titles under Scarecrow’s imprimatur.
Steve Sullivan’s Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings (Scarecrow Press), in two volumes, “covers the vast scope of its subject with virtually unprecedented breadth and depth. Approximately 1,000 key song recordings from 1889 to the present are explored in full, unveiling the stories behind the songs, the recordings, the performers, and the songwriters. Beginning the journey in the era of Victorian parlor balladry, brass bands, and ragtime with the advent of the record industry, readers witness the birth of the blues and the dawn of jazz in the 1910s and the emergence of country music on record and the shift from acoustic to electrical recording in the 1920s. The odyssey continues through the Swing Era of the 1930s; rhythm & blues, bluegrass, and bebop in the 1940s; the rock & roll revolution of the 1950s; modern soul, the British invasion, and the folk-rock movement of the 1960s; and finally into the modern era through the musical streams of disco, punk, grunge, hip-hop, and contemporary dance-pop. Sullivan, however, also takes critical detours by extending the coverage to genres neglected in pop music histories, from ethnic and world music, the gospel recording of both black and white artists, and lesser-known traditional folk tunes that reach back hundreds of years. This book is ideal for anyone who truly loves popular music in all of its glorious variety, and anyone wishing to learn more about the roots of virtually all the music we hear today. Popular music fans, as well as scholars of recording history and technology and students of the intersections between music and cultural history will all find this book to be informative and interesting.” Photographs, bibliography, title index, subject and name index
Experiencing Jazz: A Listener’s Companion (Scarecrow Press), by Michael Stephans, “offers a much-needed survey in the art of listening to and enjoying this dynamic, ever-changing art form. More than mere entertainment, jazz provides a pleasurable and sometimes dizzying listening experience with an extensive range in structure and form, from the syncopated swing of big bands to the musical experimentalism of small combos[,] offering not only brief portraits of key musicians . . . but also their own commentaries on how best to experience their music. [It] encourages further reading, listening, and viewing, helping potential listeners cultivate an understanding and appreciation of the jazz art.” Photographs, glossary, “Surfing the Jazz Net,” “CDs and DVDs,” “Works Cited,” “Other Sources,” name index, title index, recording index.
The Jerome Kern Encyclopedia (Scarecrow Press), by Thomas S. Hischak, “consists of entries on people, theatre and film musicals, songs, subjects, and themes related to the composer. Not only are all of Kern’s stage and screen projects from 1904 to 1946 covered, but there are also entries on all the major librettists and lyricists with whom he worked, as well as producers, directors, actors, and other individuals who figured prominently in his career. Approximately 100 of Kern’s most important songs are discussed, and other entries address awards, collaborations, working methods, song styles, and other related subjects. The encyclopedia also includes a brief biography of Kern, a chronology of his life and work, and appendices on recordings, interpolations, revivals, and remakes. The most complete work on one of America’s greatest composers, this fascinating, readable, and extensive look at Kern will appeal to theatregoers, movie musical fans, students, teachers, and professionals in musical theatre.” Photographs, bibliography, index.
Ellen Johnson’s Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers) is the seventieth volume of the Studies in Jazz Series of Rutgers University’s Institute of Jazz. In the first (and authorized, with the full cooperation of the artist) biography of the remarkable singer Sheila Jordan, Ellen Johnson “reveals the challenges [Jordan] confronted, from her growing up poor in a Pennsylvania coal mining town to her rise as a bebop singer in Detroit and New York City during the 1950s to her work as a recording artist and performer under the influence of and in performance with such jazz luminaries as Charlie Parker, George Russell, Lennie Tristano, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk. Jordan’s views as a woman living the jazz life in an era of racial and gender discrimination while surrounded by those often struggling with the twin evils of alcohol and drug abuse are skillfully woven into the tapestry of the tale she tells.” Photographs, notes, bibliography, discography, index.
David King Dunaway’s definitive A Pete Seeger Discography: Seventy Years of Recordings, in the American Folk Music and Musicians Series (Scarecrow Press), “is a comprehensive listing of the 45s, 78s, LPs, and CDs recorded by Seeger in his various incarnations: with the Almanac Singers, with the Weavers, as a solo artist, and with other musicians and contributors. . . [and] tells us not just the story of his career but the story of our culture and its political and social history.” Illustrations of album covers, “easy to use cross-references, on rare recordings and archival collections,” song title index, album index, collaborating artist index.
Sing Us a Song, Piano Woman: Female Fans and the Music of Tori Amos, by Adrienne Trier-Bieniek (Scarecrow Press), “explores the many-layered relationships female fans build with feminist musicians in general and with Tori Amos, in particular. Using original interview research with more than forty fans of Tori Amos, multiple observations at Amos’s concerts and an analysis of Amos’s lyrics, [it] employs a combination of gender, emotions, music, and activism to unravel the typecasts plaguing female fans [and] examines the wide range of stories, exploring how Amos’s female fans are unique because Amos places the experiences of women at the center of her songwriting and musical composition.” Notes, bibliography, index.
Bon Jovi: America’s Ultimate Band (Scarecrow Press), by Margaret Olson, “chronicles the history and music of the band from its inception to present day[, closely examining its] musical and social relevance to listeners past and present, exploring the remarkable ways the band has emerged as the expression and product of deep cultural needs and how, within a few years of commercial success, it has made a lasting impact on Generation X, the music business, and American culture.” Photographs, notes, works cited, album list, index.
Hitchcock’s Villains: Murderers, Maniacs, and Mother Issues (Scarecrow Press), by Eric San Juan and Jim McDevitt, “explore[s] a number of themes that form the foundation of villainy in Hitchcock’s long and acclaimed career[,] provide[s] a detailed look at some of the director’s most noteworthy villains and examine how these characters were often central to the enjoyment of Hitchcock’s best films.” Photographs, bibliography, index.
Examining Lois Lane: The Scoop on Superman’s Sweetheart (Scarecrow Press), by Nadine Farghaly, “is the first anthology to explore the many incarnations of this empowering American icon. Chapters analyze the character of Lois Lane in various media through the perspectives of feminism, gender studies, cultural studies, and more. In some discussions she is compared to mythological heroines, while others explain her importance in popular culture. This wide-ranging collection looks at previously neglected aspects of Lois and offers new insights into the evolution of her character. Seventy-five years after Lois Lane’s first appearance, this book creates a fascinating picture of the obstacles and decisions faced by her character, whose challenges and accomplishments often reflected those of women over the course of the past century.” Notes, bibliographies, index.
In The ABC Movie of the Week: Big Movies for the Small Screen (Scarecrow Press), Michael McKenna “examines this programming experiment that transformed the television landscape and became a staple of broadcast programming for several years. The author looks at how the revolving films showcased the right mixture of romantic comedy, action, horror, and social relevance to keep viewers interested week after week.” Photographs, filmography, plot summaries, chronology, bibliography, appendix of available sources of the films, index.
I had read John Updike’s Couples decades ago and some of his short stories in the New Yorker but had not gotten around to his Rabbitt tetralogy, considered by many to be his masterwork. When he died in 2009 I decided it was time to check it out. Written across the decades in which the four-volume epic unfolds, it is truly a panorama of small-town and suburban America from the 1950s to the ’80s. “We must write where we stand; wherever we do stand, there is life; and in imitation of the life we know, however narrow, is our only ground,” John Updike said in a mid-1970s lecture, “Why Write?” To become acquainted with the life that provided the materials and inspiration for this major American writer’s works (sixty or so books, hundreds of short stories, poems, essays, magazine articles, and book reviews), there can be no better source than Adam Begley’s masterful biography Updike (Harper). Photographs, notes, index.
Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel: A Graphic Novel (Penguin Books) by Anya Ulinich is a gas, both for its story and pictorially. It “works as something of a confessional, a series of notebooks that excavate its protagonist’s life and psyche from the inside. . . . This is the power of the graphic novel, that it not only tells but also shows us, that by integrating images into the narrative, it draws us into Lena’s experience with the force of memory. Ulinich means—not unlike Pekar in American Splendor or Karl Ove Knausgaard in My Struggle—to set aside literature with a capital L (whatever that is) in favor of the epic textures of the day-to-day,” says David Ulin in the Los Angeles Times.
One of the rewards I took away from Harold Holzer’s Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion (Simon & Schuster) was the prescience of our sixteenth president. Here are some observations made by Lincoln and quoted by Holzer. “Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can charge public opinion, can change the government. . . . . [P]ublic sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.” “[P]rinting came. It gave ten thousand copies of any written matter, quite as cheaply as ten were given before; and consequently a thousand minds were brought into the field where there was but one before.” Of course, the Great Emancipator was far ahead of his time in too man ways to cite here. This is an absorbing account of how he made use of the press to his great advantage. In an age when presidential contenders did not campaign in person, he recognized, as the book’s title indicates, the power of the press. “At no time in our history did newspapers wield more political influence than during the Civil War era, and no political figure was more aware of this influence than Abraham Lincoln. Harold Holzer’s compelling narrative of the intertwined world of politics and journalism demonstrates Lincoln’s canny skill in using the press to advance his own career as well as the cause of Union and freedom. A tour de force,” says Civil War authority and author James M. McPherson. Photographs, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
I found The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World (Other Press) by George Prochnik one of the most deeply moving biographies I have ever read. Nor is that a hyperbolic judgment, for Stefan Zweig suffered not only as a persecuted European Jew, but as an artist who was not granted the fullest opportunity to realize his artistic destiny. Not that this Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist, and biographer was denied publication. Indeed, he became, early in his life, one of the most read writers on the Continent. It could be said without exaggeration that, in his thirties and forties, he was one of the most popular writers in the world. But he was forced to depart his beloved Vienna and its coffee houses and its literary salons, which were actually often one and the same. He departed Austria in 1934, his exile taking him to London, New York City, Ossining, New York, Rio de Janeiro, and Petrópolis, Brazil. Haunted, increasingly, by the conviction that the future for humanity was hopeless and, in his final months, by “the sense that he no longer belonged anywhere,” he committed suicide at the age of sixty in February 1942. One of the aspects of this book that makes it so affecting is that its author comes from a family whose names (his grandparents’) “were on a Gestapo list to be rounded up” on the morrow, in 1938, but Gentile friends hid them for several days and they escaped to Switzerland and then to America. “The experiences of exile and refuge undergone by my father, Martin Prochnik, made the writing of this book imperative,” says George Prochnik, whose research was nothing short of exhaustive, the chapter-by-chapter Notes citing multiple sources here and abroad. Anyone interested in European literature and its arts, German history, and the origins of World War Two will find this a fascinating account of a very sensitive humanist who lived during and deeply felt the pain of that period. Photographs, notes.
How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City (Bloomsbury) by Joan DeJean “demonstrates that the Parisian model for urban space was in fact invented two centuries earlier, when the first complete design for the French capital was drawn up and implemented. As a result, Paris saw many changes. It became the first city to tear down its fortifications, inviting people in rather than keeping them out. Parisian urban planning showcased new kinds of streets, including the original boulevard, as well as public parks and the earliest sidewalks and bridges without houses. Venues opened for urban entertainment of all kinds, from opera and ballet to a pastime invented in Paris, recreational shopping. Parisians enjoyed the earliest public transportation and street lighting, and Paris became Europe’s first great walking city.” Photographs, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
The Hotel on Place Vendome: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris (Harper Collins) by Tilar J. Mazzeo elicitis this from Booklist’s Annie Bostrom: “Mazzeo’s latest threads a great many strands—stories of a war, a people, a city, a time and place—through a single bead: Paris’ Hotel Ritz. In a narrative style, Mazzeo holds a dizzying cast of persons of interest under glass as they sleep and work, meet and seek refuge in the then-Swiss-owned hotel, beginning with its grand Belle Epoque opening and focusing mainly on WWII and Paris’ German occupation. Truly, fiction could not write betrayal, resistance, collaboration, or celebration with more robustness or with a more alluring who’s-who of writers, artists, and military powers than history did in this single hotel. Amid chilling tales of the terrible ambiguities of war and the treatment and purging of enemies on all sides, Mazzeo offers lightness in her biography of an inarguably dark time through obvious care for her subjects. Friends and lovers abound, and all but the worst villains are showed multidimensionally, as Mazzeo contemplates the Ritz, Paris, and Europe in flux.” Photographs, notes, bibliography.
The pocket-size Old-Fashioned Corners of Paris (Little Bookroom) by Christophe Destournelles with Photographs by Christophe Lefébure is “portable, cute and filled with fanciful Photographs of old-timey Paris and suggestions for where to find, say, puppet theaters or a philately shop,” says the New York Times. Carry it along with your Baedeker on your next trip to the City of Light. Photographs, illustrations, table of contents.
Of Garrison Keillor’s The Keillor Reader (Viking), the New York Times says, “Our bard of small-town melancholy and nostalgia . . . Keillor is terrific, as always, at describing man’s ability to wince in the face of hardship or boredom. Also winning in this book are the behind-the-scenes glimpses that Keillor gives us of ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ . . . one is moved to beam back at Keillor the amount of charity he has beamed at all his characters.” Photographs.
A Most Imperfect Union: A Contrarian History of the United States (Basic Books) by Ilan Stavans and illustrated by Lalo Alcaraz “is more evocative of a grand political cartoon than a comic book,” says the New York Times Book Review and its “tales of the dispossessed . . . are painted with compelling humanity” is the judgment of the Washington Post. Noam Chomsky opines, in a jacket blurb, that the book indeed depicts “a most imperfect union [and is] thought provoking as well.” Harvard professor and author Henry Louis Gates’ endorses the volume for presenting “too easily missed truths of our American story.” I go along with all these observations. Turn to page 3 and be advised, “It’s not always the stars who write the story. Often, it’s the extras . . . who makes things happen.” In the bottom left corner the balloon of a canine urges, “Could we also have a history of the dogs, by the dogs, and for the dogs?”) Concision is the name of the game. For example, pages 198-99 cover Woodstock, Stonewall, the launch of PBS, the first Earth Day, and the debut of All In the Family, each taking place 1969-71. It’s a fun book, but at the same time utterly serious. There is a useful index.
Max Brooks’ graphic novel (illustrated by Caanan White) The Harlem Hellfighters (Broadway Books) is a “fictionalized account of the famous all-black 369th Infantry . . . and the whole thing comes off as resolutely Tarantinoesque,” says Booklist’s Daniel Kraus.
Gregg Herken’s absorbing The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington (Knopf) also rings bells for me since I was in my twenties, thirties, and forties during its time span and was avidly, as now, following politics as a leftist liberal. Thus I was reading many of the newspaper and magazine articles cited in its notes. “It’s the great gossip text and comedy of manners anatomizing the darkest of Cold War intrigue. Noel Coward meets John le Carre and Graham Greene, cross-bred with Robert Ludlum. A triumph!” says crime fiction writer and essayist James Ellroy. Photographs, notes, index.
Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (Simon & Schuster) is “A Rosetta stone for reading America and its politics today. . . a book that is both enjoyable as kaleidoscopic popular history and telling about our own historical moment . . . Epic work,” says Frank Rich in The New York Times Book Review. It is a sort of sequel to, and equally as absorbing as, the author’s 2009 Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. Photographs, notes, index.
Fire Shut Up in My Bones: A Memoir (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by Charles M. Blow, “is a luminous memoir that digs deep into territory I’ve longed to read about in black men’s writing: into the horror of being submerged in a vast drowning swirl of racial, spiritual, and sexual complexity, only to somehow find one’s self afloat, though gasping for breath, and then, at long last and at great cost, swimming. I believe both Ancestors and Descendants will cheer,” says author Alice Walker.
On The Wire (Spin Offs), by Linda Williams (Duke University Press), is an in-depth examination of what many consider to be the best television series to ever grace the small screen. Williams, a film scholar and authority on the connections between film and issues of race, argues that, while the series powerfully explores the dysfunction of institutions, it is not Greek tragedy, as some claim. Its narrative strengths are grounded in observation of Baltimore’s people and institutions, i.e., police and criminals, schools and blue-collar labor, local government and local journalism. The Wire highlights the good and evil of its characters in the contexts of public and private-sector institutions. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century (The New Press) is a collection of essays by Eric Hobsbawm, who died in 2012 and had, along with his vast knowledge of history, a love for and keen insight into jazz. In addition to his roles as Cambridge don, social critic, communist theorist, and prolific author of historical works, Hobsbawm for many years wrote a regular jazz column for the New Statesman (these and other articles on jazz are collected in his book The Jazz Scene). For his jazz=writer byline, he used the pseudonym Francis Newton, which was inspired by Billie Holiday’s trumpet player Frankie Newton, who held communist sympathies. Both jazz and popular music are touched upon here and there in Fractured Times. “It is a treasure to have the last essays from that great historian Eric Hobsbawm. It’s sad to think that there will be no more but here he is in all his strength, his extraordinary range, his ability to write with great perception on a variety of subjects, most frequently here dealing with aspects of art and culture in Europe and elsewhere. Writing with insight about art, he is also keenly aware of its limitations and failures in contributing to making a better world. He is particularly enlightening on those on the left such as J.D. Bernal and Joseph Needham. He concludes with a bravura essay on the American cowboy and the promise that America represented in the past. In a sense in this final essay he circles back to his own childhood, and his love of Karl May, the German writer of cowboy stories. Reading these wonderful pieces reminded me how lucky I was to be one of his students,” says Peter Stansky, Frances and Charles Field Professor of History, emeritus, Stanford University.
I found the subject matter, expressed in poetic prose, and the selection of photographs in Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press) deeply moving. So, evidently, did Publishers Weekly: “Accounts of racially charged interactions, insidious and flagrant, transpiring in private and in the public eye, distill the immediate emotional intensity of individual experience with tremendous precision while allowing ambiguity, ambivalence, contradiction, and exhaustion to remain in all their fraught complexity. . . . Once again Rankine inspires sympathy and outrage, but most of all a will to take a deep look at ourselves and our society.” Photographs, illustrations, bibliography.
I included Geoff Dyer’s Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews (Graywolf Press) in an earlier roundup, commending it for its insightful and knowledgeable observations about jazz and other subjects. The same publisher has now given us The Colour of Memory: A Novel and The Search: A Novel, the former a reprint of a work that first saw print a quarter of a century ago. Credited by the New Statesman as having “a poet’s gift with metaphor” and “an almost magical randomness into what ought to be the most conventional of tales” by The Spectator, Dyer combines experimental fiction, realism, and Surrealism.
Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Leanne Shapton, Leanne Shapton, and 639 Others “is essentially a conversation among hundreds of women of all nationalities—famous, anonymous, religious, secular, married, single, young, old—on the subject of clothing, and how the garments we put on every day define and shape our lives.” “[T]he prose is spliced with striking visuals . . . [and the book is a] provocative time capsule of contemporary womanhood,” says Publishers Weekly.
If asked what is the major theme of Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl: A Novel (Harper), I would have to say, Music. There are other motifs in this coming-of-age story about a British teenager who becomes a rock critic — e.g., sex, drugs, and family relations — but music is the thread throughout. “The working classes do it differently,” says the protagonist. “We power popular culture.” As the publisher’s synopsis tells us, she “decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde—fast-talking, hard-drinking Gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer—like Jo in Little Women, or the Bröntes—but without the dying young bit. By sixteen, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk and working for a music paper. . . . But what happens when Johanna realizes she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks, enough to build a girl after all?” I found the book hard to put down.
Is Iain Sinclair, author of American Smoke: Journeys to the End of the Light (Faber & Faber), “A literary mud-larker and tip-picker? A Travelodge tramp (his phrase)? A middle-class dropout with a gift for bullshit (also his phrase)? A toxicologist of the twenty-first-century landscape? A historian of countercultures and occulted pasts? . . . A psycho-geographer (from which term Sinclair has been rowing away ever since he helped launch it into the mainstream)?” asks Robert Macfarlane in The Guardian, and concludes that he is “all of these, and more.” Photographs.
Jeffery Renard Allen’s novel Song of the Shank (Graywolf Press) tells the story of Thomas Greene Wiggins, a nineteenth-century slave and musical genius who performed under the name Blind Tom. “Apparently an autistic savant, Tom exhibits both giftedness and odd behavior, which unnerves and enthralls those around him. Allen uses Tom as the central figure as the novel explores complex relationships and the interior lives of black and white folks. . . . Told from various perspectives, . . . Allen’s tour de force sweeps from the rural South to New York City and between lonely apartments and raucous refugee camps, encompassing the strife of war and the draft riots. . . . A brilliant book, with echoes of Ralph Ellison and William Faulkner,” says Vanessa Bush, Booklist.
I much enjoyed Hal Howland’s new story collection Cities & Women (The New Atlantian Library). He is the author of other works of fiction, including After Jerusalem: A Story and Two Novellas and Landini Cadence and Other Stories and a memoir, The Human Drummer: Thoughts on the Life Percussive. The recipient of the 2012 Eric Hoffer Award for excellence in independent publishing, Howland has also released several jazz recordings. Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Virginia, Europe, and the Middle East, he now lives in Key West. His Web site is at www.halhowland.com.
And All That Motive: A Casey McKie Mystery (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform) is the fifth of Joan Merrill’s Casey McKie detective novels. “When America’s number one male jazz singer, Sid Satin, is found dead in his dressing room at the Pacific Coast Jazz Festival, police set their sights on Dee Jefferson. She’d had a blow-up with Satin that afternoon and they believe her gun is the murder weapon. To remove suspicion from her singer friend, San Francisco PI Casey McKie sets out to find the killer.” Well, this is right up my alley! For one thing, S.F. is one of my favorite cities, although I’ve never lived there, only visited a couple of times. I renewed the love of a good mystery that drove my pre-teen years of reading, between the age of 10 and 12 (jazz took over then), amassing a collection of 100 or so of the early 1940s 25¢ Pocketbooks (Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Dorothy L. Sayers, et alii) and keeping by my bedside The Complete Sherlock Holmes. When I commenced high school, I went on to Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, John Dos Passos, and other American novelists and didn’t read any detective stories for the next six decades, until a review copy of one of Julie Smith’s novels, featuring New Orleans female cop Skip Langdon, arrived in the mail. It started me on a decade of searching out more of Skip and more of the same, reading in the oeuvres of authors whose sleuths were women. Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, Sara Paretsky’s V I Warshawski, and a dozen or so more here and abroad. And now P.I. Casey McKie. Then there’s the jazz setting of Joan Merrill’s detective fiction. For the scoop on this very talented writer and the plucky Casey, go to www.joanmerrill.com.
Scott Shachter’s Outside In: A Novel (StarBeat Press) is summed up by Nat Hentoff as “indeed a jazz novel–continually swinging with surprises and insights into human exceptionalism, both inspiring and desperate. It got so inside me I had to go back and read it again for more kicks.”
Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community (Oxford University Press), edited by Laura Erickson-Schroth, is “a hefty new resource . . . written by scores of transgender contributors, that encompasses social history, gender politics and wide-ranging advice on health, law, relationships and many other matters. Encyclopedic in scope, conversational in tone, and candid about complex sexual issues[, it is] a deliberate echo of a pioneering feminist health-resource book, Our Bodies, Ourselves that appeared more than 40 years ago,” says the Associated Press. Photographs, glossary, bibliographies, index.
In How About Never–Is Never Good for You?: My Life in Cartoons (Henry Holt and Co.), Bob Mankoff, the longtime cartoon editor of The New Yorker, with the help of myriad images and his funniest, most beloved cartoons, traces his love of the craft all the way back to his childhood, when he started doing funny drawings at the age of eight. “Great fun. A delightful, funny memoir of how and why he became a cartoonist,” says Shiny, an Amazon.com reviewer.
One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry when reading Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir (Bloomsbury), which inspires this critique from Booklist’s Francisca Goldsmith: “New Yorker cartoonist and prolific author Chast (What I Hate from A to Z) writes a bravely honest memoir of watching her parents decline, become too frail to stay in the Brooklyn apartment they called home for five decades, suffer dementia and physical depletion, and die in their nineties in a hospice-care facility. Unlike many recent parent-focused cartoon memoirs, such as Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? and Nicole J. George’s Calling Dr. Laura in which the story is as much about the cartoonist’s current work and family life as it is about his or her parents, Chast keeps her narrative tightly focused on her mother and father and her own problematic—though not uncommon—guilt-provoking relationships with them. Chast’s hallmark quirky sketches are complemented by annotated photographs from her own and her parents’ childhoods. Occasionally, her hand-printed text will take up more than a full page, but it’s neatly wound into accompanying panels or episodes. An unflinching look at the struggles facing adult children of aging parents.”
Julie Schumacher’s delightful parody of academe Dear Committee Members: A Novel (Doubleday) in the guise of letters and memos (à la Nabokov) seemed all too real to this former professor at four universities in the 1960s. “A smart-as-hell, fun-as-heck novel composed entirely of recommendation letters . . . . Beyond the moribund state of academia, Schumacher touches on more universal themes about growing old and facing failure: not necessarily the dramatic failure of a batter striking out with two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth, but the quieter failure that accrues over time, until we are finally forced to admit that we are not who we wanted to become,” says Alexander Nazaryan in Newsweek.
W. Royal Stokes, Ph.D (wroyalstokes.com) was the 2014 recipient of the Jazz Journalists Association’s Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism Award. He has been observing the jazz, blues, and popular music worlds since the early 1940s. He is author of The Jazz Scene: An Informal History from New Orleans to 1990, Swing Era New York: The Jazz Photographs of Charles Peterson, Living the Jazz Life: Conversations with Forty Musicians about Their Careers in Jazz, and Growing Up With Jazz: Twenty-Four Musicians Talk About Their Lives and Careers. His trilogy of novels Backwards Over will see publication in the winter and spring of 2015 and he is currently at work on a memoir and A W. Royal Stokes Jazz, Blues & Beyond Reader. A founding member of the Jazz Journalists Association, Royal pays tribute to the JJA in “The Jazz Journalists Association: A 25-Year Retrospective” at http://news.jazzjournalists.org/2013/06/the-jazz-journalists-association-a-25-year-retrospective/.