“The piano ain’t got no wrong notes!” So ranted Thelonious Sphere Monk, who proved his point every time he sat down at the keyboard. His angular melodies and dissonant harmonies shook the jazz world to its foundations, ushering in the birth of “bebop” and establishing Monk as one of America’s greatest composers. Yet throughout much of his life, his musical contribution took a backseat to tales of his reputed behavior. Writers tended to obsess over Monk’s hats or his proclivity to dance on stage. To his fans, he was the ultimate hipster; to his detractors, he was temperamental, eccentric, taciturn, or childlike. But these labels tell us little about the man or his music. […] Continue reading »
Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond is the story of a jazz artist who transcended genres to establish one of the most immediately recognizable sounds in all of music. Long before his success as the alto saxophonist with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, decades before he wrote “Take Five ,” Desmond determined that he would be himself, never a disciple or an imitator, whatever the cost. […] Continue reading »
Clad in white tie and tails, dancing and scatting his way through the “Hi-de-ho” chorus of “Minnie the Moocher,” Cab Calloway exuded a sly charm and sophistication that endeared him to legions of fans.
In Hi-de-ho, author Alyn Shipton offers the first full-length biography of Cab Calloway, whose vocal theatrics and flamboyant stage presence made him one of the highest-earning African American bandleaders. Shipton sheds new light on Calloway’s life and career, explaining how he traversed racial and social boundaries to become one of the country’s most beloved entertainers.
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Drawing on a wealth of unmined material and hundreds of interviews one of them with Lena Horne herself critically acclaimed author James Gavin gives us a deftly researched (The Boston Globe) and authoritative portrait of the American icon. Horne broke down racial barriers in the entertainment industry in the 1940s and 50s even as she was limited mostly to guest singing appearances in splashy Hollywood musicals. Incorporating insights from the likes of Ruby Dee, Tony Bennett, Diahann Carroll, and Bobby Short, Stormy Weather reveals the many faces of this luminous, complex, strong-willed, passionate, even tragic woman a stunning talent who inspired such giants as Barbra Streisand, Eartha Kitt, and Aretha Franklin.# […] Continue reading »
Before there was Elvis, there was W.C. Handy, the man who made the blues. Here is the first major biography in decades of the man who gave us such iconic songs as St. Louis Blues, The Memphis Blues, and Beale Street Blues, and who was responsible, more than any other musician, for bringing the blues into the American mainstream.
David Robertson charts W.C. Handys rise from a rural Alabama childhood in the last decades of the nineteenth century to become one of the most celebrated songwriters of the twentieth century. The child of former slaves, Handy was first inspired by spirituals and folk songs, and his passion for music pushed him to leave home as a teenager, despite opposition from his preacher father. […] Continue reading »
Leroy Satchel Paige was the most sensational pitcher ever to throw a baseball. During his years in the Negro Leagues he fine-tuned a pitch so scorching that catchers tried to soften the sting by cushioning their gloves with beefsteaks. His career stats 2,000 wins, 250 shutouts, three victories on the same day are so eye-popping they seem like misprints. But bigotry kept big league teams from signing him until he was forty-two, at which point he helped propel the Cleveland Indians to the World Series. Over a career that spanned four decades, Satchel pitched more baseballs, for more fans, in more ballparks, for more teams, than any player in history. […] Continue reading »
Upon being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1969, Curt Flood, an All-Star center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, wanted nothing more than to stay with St. Louis. But his only options were to report to Philadelphia or retire. Instead, Flood sued Major League Baseball for his freedom, hoping to invalidate the reserve clause in his contract, which bound a player to his team for life. […] Continue reading »
What was the essence of John Coltranes achievement that makes him so prized forty years after his death? What was it about his improvising, his bands, his compositions, his place within his era of jazz that left so many musicians and listeners so powerfully drawn to him? What would a John Coltrane look like now — or are we looking for the wrong signs?
The acclaimed jazz writer Ben Ratliff addresses these questions in Coltrane. First Ratliff tells the story of Coltranes development, from his first recordings as a no-name navy bandsman to his last recordings as a near-saint, paying special attention to the last ten years of his life, which contained a remarkable series of breakthroughs in a nearly religious search for deeper expression. […] Continue reading »
John Hammond is one of the most charismatic figures in American music, a man who put on record much of the music we cherish today. A pioneering producer and talent spotter, Hammond discovered and championed some of the most gifted musicians of early jazz — Billie Holliday, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Benny Goodman — and staged the legendary “From Spirituals to Swing” concert at Carnegie Hall in 1939, which established jazz as America’s indigenous music. Then as jazz gave way to pop and rock Hammond repeated the trick, discovering Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Ray Vaughan in his life’s extraordinary second act. […] Continue reading »
While many think of Elvis Presley as rock n rolls driving force, the truth is that Fats Domino, whose records have sold more than 100 million copies, was the first to put it on the map with such hits as Aint That a Shame and Blueberry Hill.
In Blue Monday, acclaimed R&B scholar Rick Coleman draws on a multitude of new interviews with Fats Domino and many other early musical legends to create a definitive biography of not just an extraordinary man but also a unique time and place: New Orleans at the birth of rock n roll.
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