HAROLD ARLEN

RHYTHM, RAINBOWS, AND BLUES

An efficacious reconsideration of a songwriter whose career exemplified the cross-pollination of black and white popular music. Everybody knows Arlen's songs (``Get Happy,'' ``Stormy Weather,'' ``Over the Rainbow''), but heretofore his story has been clumped with those of other show-tune composers. Born Hyman Arluck in 1905 to an Orthodox Jewish couple in Buffalo, New York, his early musical experiences were in the world of his father, a respected cantor. But he was electrified by Tin Pan Alley rags, which led him back to more authentic blues sources like Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong. (A.a nifty passage hints at the correspondences between cantorial music and the aching blue notes in jazz). Arlen's career writing for the Cotton Club revues started when he met lyricist Ted Koehler. Arlen wasn't patrician, and black musicians and dancers liked him. His music was played by the Ellington and Calloway bands, and his songs became street hits. By the mid-'30s, that era ended abruptly, and he turned to Broadway and Hollywood, but mostly the latter, in a Faustian bargain for better pay and concomitant obscurity. His collaborations with Yip Harburg and Johnny Mercer stood out, and by the rock-'n'-roll era, he had made it to grand-old-man status as a composer of unusually winding melodies rooted in the blues. He had also slid into depression with a thunk: His relationship with his wife, Anya, became nearly nonexistent, and she died in 1970 after long suffering from a barely treated neurological illness; Arlen's last two decades were often dark and solitary. Veteran author Jablonski (Alan Jay Lerner, 1996, etc.), who had family cooperation and access to many personal files, reestablishes himself in these tricky passages as a reliable chronicler of American songwriters. Though at times overconsiderate (the subject remains unnecessarily saintly through some questionably racist musicals, dalliances with other women, etc.), this definitive book draws Arlen with complexity and clarity. (illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: June 28, 1996

ISBN: 1-55553-263-2

Page Count: 490

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1996

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

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)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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