Book Beat and Drum Beatings: March, 2011
In between snow storms and my contributions to Modern Drummer, Jazz Times, Fresh Sound Records and JazzLegends.com, I’ve spent a good part of the winter reading just about every new celebrity biography and autobiography published in recent months.
It is heartening to realize that, despite reports to the contrary and the problem with the Borders book chain, that the publishing business is alive and well, though I continue to register disappointment that Gunter Schuller’s follow-up to The Swing Era, Gary Giddins’ Bing Crosby Volume Two, and an in-print version of The Encyclopedia of Jazz have yet to see the light of day.
Jazz-wise, as always, the pickings have been rather slim book-wise. Last year, there was an under-publicized, semi-privately published work on Maynard Ferguson that almost no one heard of. This season, there is yet another work—and it’s superb– on the still-controversial Stan Kenton; a very disappointing tome on Louis Prima and Keely Smith that relies mainly on previously published material; a landmark “encyclopedia” on jazz and pop singers written by the prolific Will Friedwald; and a hilarious and informative autobio by percussion industry giant Lennie DiMuzio.
In the celebrity sector, it appears that anyone who is—or was—anyone, has written a book or has had a book written about them. Some of those names include Gypsy Rose Lee, Dionne Warwick, Michael Caine, Karen Carpenter, Willie Mays, Roger Maris, Kitty (“The Parasite”) Kelly’s expected hatchet job on Oprah Winfrey, Sal Mineo, Natalie Cole, Pat Cooper (!), Marlo Thomas, Dick Cavett, and two, absolutely ridiculous works on Humphrey Bogart and Merv Griffin that focus more on the principals’ genital size than fact.
I probably missed a few, but I always maintained that the publishing business would enter the realm of the certifiable absurdity when John (“Roland”) Zacherly, Soupy Sales and Joey Bishop had books written about them. Well, check Amazon.com. Zacherly, Sales and Bishop, as well as such luminaries as Arthur Godfrey and Jack Webb all have books in release with their names on the cover. At least Webb was a big jazz fan. Actually, so was Soupy, rest his soul.
The legendary Lennie Tristano wrote a letter to Down Beat magazine in the late 1960s, saying, in effect, that he thought Diana Ross was the greatest jazz singer who ever lived. Presumably, he was quite taken with her vocalizing in the ludicrous film based on the life of Billie Holiday, titled “Lady Sings the Blues.” Whatever Tristano played and/or said should never be taken lightly, though it’s sad that Ross never realized her potential as a jazz singer.
To these ears, another vocalist who, tragically, never got the chance to realize her potential was the late Karen Carpenter, subject of one of this year’s most incisive bios. Carpenter, I believe, had it all, and had she lived and gotten away from recording the bubble gum dreck that made her famous, I think she could have been one of the great ones. After all, if Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand have recorded what the press describes as “jazz albums,” there’s no reason why Carpenter could not have as well.
There is also yet another bio out on one Frank Sinatra. I’ve only read bits and pieces of it and some reviews. But according to those who have read it, there’s really nothing new to be learned about the man. I don’t know what kinds of dirt these folks are after. It’s all been said before, anyway. As Mr. S. himself once said, “Hell hath no fury like a hustler with a literary agent.
The problem with the Borders book chain is unfortunate but not unexpected. Like Tower Records and several video chains that appear to be on the way out, storefront retails just can’t compete with an internet giant like Amazon.com. It’s a matter of retail space. Borders, Tower or Blockbuster cannot stock thousands and thousands of new and used titles. Amazon has, with rare exception, what appears to be virtually every book written in the past 25 years, and practically every CD ever recorded. And the products are delivered to the customers’ door within days. Believe me, Amazon’s shipping charge is much less than what we’re being asked to pay for gas these days.
Certainly, browsing at the book store, record store or video store was and in some cases still is a pleasant pastime, and nothing compares to being able to actually hold the product before it’s purchased. But look how we get a good deal of our information today and look how we communicate with each other today. It is no longer 1995 out there, and it is all together fitting and proper that the way we buy almost everything these days has also changed.
While Amazon’s selection of jazz materials is admirable—and potential buyers often have the opportunity to get a used copy of a book, DVD or CD at a reduced price—few internet retailers can beat the inventory carried by EJazzLines.com. I’ve mentioned them before, but what they have available, whether books, orchestrations, instructional materials, CDs and DVDs is just remarkable. And if you’re seeking stellar, first-class reissues of the great jazz recordings of the 1950s and 1960s, on labels ranging from Verve to Contemporary, a visit to FreshSound.com is a must.
In another media event, it has been impossible to ignore the hype surrounding the fact that this is talk show host Oprah Winfrey’s final season. Of course, she won’t be off the scene at all, and has recently launched her own cable television network.
What Winfrey has done for broadcasting, for women and for all types of charitable causes has been nothing short of remarkable. And the skewering she received from author Kitty Kelly is unforgivable. In that realm, at least Winfrey is in good company.
However, those of us in the jazz community would be remiss if we didn’t comment on Winfrey’s relationship to jazz. There is none.
Fawning over Streisand and a bunch of other popsters is great, but couldn’t Winfrey spare a couple of minutes to Wynton Marsalis or any one of thousands of lesser known jazz artists? The only guest on Winfrey’s program through the years who was even remotely associated with jazz was Quincy Jones, and he abandoned his jazz roots years ago.
Incidentally, if Oprah Winfrey has played host to jazz musicians through the years, I must have missed those programs and I stand respectfully corrected. If anyone has such a list, you know how to contact me.
Talk shows haven’t been particularly kind to jazz though the years—let’s face it, jazz has rarely been a television ratings bonanza—but even hosts like Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Dick Cavett, David Frost, Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson and Mike Douglas regularly booked jazz musicians as guests. Some of those players, through the years, included names like Miles Davis, Buddy Rich, Joe Williams, Gene Krupa, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Max Roach Louie Bellson, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Benny Goodman and many more. Bill Cosby regularly had jazz musicians as guests on his various programs.
Maybe we need an organization today akin to the famed, “Jazz and the People’s Movement,” founded decades ago by the likes of Roland Kirk and Charles Mingus. Remember when they stormed various talk shows—and even The Ed Sullivan Show—demanding exposure for jazz?
I cannot tell you how pleased I am to be associated with Modern Drummer, albeit on a limited basis right now. I think I’m one of the few writers who have contributed to MD since its inception, in my case, from their second issue. Look for my pieces this spring and summer on drumming legends Rufus Jones and Nick Fatool, among others.
Andy Kahn has been a producer and composer of hit records—remember “Hot Shot” from 1978?– recording studio owner and engineer, discoverer of new talent, entrepreneur, philanthropist, recording artist and first-rate jazz pianist, among other things. Above all, we have been friends for close to 50 years. Andy has been working on his memoirs this winter, and it hasn’t surprised me that he’s also quite the writer. I am touched and honored that he has asked me to contribute some of my editing talents to this work. Though still not totally complete—watch this space for updates—I can tell you first-hand that this book will be, like it’s subject, a remarkable work and will be a must-read for anyone interested in the entertainment business and the human spirit.
As always, I invite you to contact me directly at DrumAlive@aol.com. Thank you for your continued support, encouraging words and understanding. Above all, keep swingin! — Bruce Klauber