A comprehensive study of the first seven years of songwriting (ending with his first Broadway musical) from one of America's most popular songwriters. Hamm (Music in the New World, 1983, etc.) presents Berlin as the product of the ``radically multicultural milieu'' of turn-of- the-century New York City, with its range of musical styles, which influenced Berlin's early music. Hamm thus provides background on vaudeville, minstrel shows, ragtime, the ballad, and, of course, Tin Pan Alley. The book is substantiated by informed analysis of musical devices and social trends, and reproductions of sheet music—including both decorative covers and musical notation. Sometimes the attention to detail distracts: Hamm properly devotes an entire chapter to Berlin's 1911 hit ``Alexander's Ragtime Band,'' which Variety called ``the musical sensation of the decade.'' Hamm, professor emeritus of music at Dartmouth, applies rigorous research to determine whether the melody or words were written first, whether the instrumental or vocal version was the first produced, who first performed the song, etc. In the process, he takes on previous Berlin biographers in academic fisticuffs. Hamm seems the better researcher, but perhaps obsessively so. The book is geared to the Berlin scholar or the armchair fan—with some knowledge of music theory—who has already devoured a few biographies and wants to go much deeper. Appendix 3 (compiled by Paul Charosh), for instance, catalogs the songs of the period and notes recording companies, artists, etc., but nowhere lists a recording readily available to the general public. Though Hamm's arguments are well made, his overly academic approach stifles the very exuberance so endemic to the works of this popular songwriter.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)