Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Jazz Notes" by Sanford Josephson

The 197 pages of Sanford Josephson's Jazz Notes: Interviews Across the Generations (Praeger) go quickly when you are reading. Admittedly it is a short book. It consists of twenty principal interviews conducted years ago by the author, then supplementary follow-up interviews of artists who either played with the person originally interviewed, or who are admirers of that person. So we have for example an interview with Duke sideman Norris Turney, then supplementary interviews with Art Baron, Joe Temperley, Virginia Mayhew, and Norman Simmons. There may also be an authorial postscript to bring the reader up-to-date on what has happened to the artist since the original interview. In some cases, such as with Fats Waller, the artist was long gone by the time of the initial article, and so the author puts together his own narrative and those who have an affinity with Fats do the subsequent speaking.

This is by no means a seminal contribution to the history of jazz. It is rather an informal, anecdotal, entertaining series of light interviews. It covers artists that may not get a lot of attention these days, such as Joe Venuti, Jonah Jones, Arvell Shaw, and Helen Humes, and surely that is a good thing.

My only serious beef with the book is occasionally the follow-up interviewees seem more concerned with talking about themselves and what they are doing rather than sticking to the artist who is supposed to be the subject of the chapter.

But it is quite amusing and interesting to read candid comments from the participants. For example one reads that Benny Goodman was motivated as much as anything to a return to performing by the fact that others were being applauded in Goodman tribute shows and not Benny himself.

The book also has a serious side. There is some attention to the perils of being black and on the road in the Jim Crow days.

It is on the whole an entertaining read and that's what it is supposed to be.

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