REMEMBERING SONG: Encounters with the New Orleans Jazz Tradition by Frederick Turner

REMEMBERING SONG: Encounters with the New Orleans Jazz Tradition

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Many readers won't get past the pompous, off-putting introduction to this slight, impressionistic book: Turner (Beyond Geography) verbosely outlines his method (""an emphasis on life histories securely merged with their cultural and historical backgrounds""); he scorns other jazz historians (""the music still awaits its first major writer, its first historical treatment""); he makes foolish generalizations about rock and pop music. But those who keep reading will find, along with a great many sentimental clichÉs of jazz history, a few richly evocative glimpses of the milieu from which New Orleans jazz came. Turner traces it back to Sunday-afternoon slave dances in Congo Square--communal music in the West African mode: jazz is ""the memory of Africa, of the sundered past, and of that deathless drive to recover that past."" (No news to jazz readers.) Somewhat fresher: 19th-century New Orleans as a generally ""music-mad"" city; the problematic musical position of Creoles. And Turner focuses on an idiosyncratic handful of ""symbolic figures."" The legendary Buddy Belden is a hero of non-assimilation: he ""accepts the terms of life as he finds it, but . . . also attempts to improvise a creative and radically different way of living with those terms."" Bolden's cornet heir-apparent, fierce Bunk Johnson, unable to compromise and adapt like Armstrong or Oliver, is followed into obscurity: ""no teeth, no horn, no hopes. But once. . . ."" Turner also talks directly with old, ill Bill Russell, pioneer preserver of jazz history and mastermind of Bunk's aged comeback. He visits ancient Louis Keppard, musician-brother of the late, great Freddie: ""the musicians' musician, Jelly Roll's favorite, everybody's all-star."" And he tries to obtain a tape-recorded autobiography of trombonist Jim Robinson (saved from periodic neglect and late-career adulation by inner dedication), a project which ends prematurely--with Robinson's funeral. (""In the warm and humming room images of Jim and moments with him came unbidden and heedless of their chronology as I gazed at that estranged face or turned away to watch the plaster scallops climbing the heavily painted walls."") Few new insights, many pretentious or maudlin moments--and, ironically, the lack of musical expertise sometimes seems demeaning (would other kinds of great music be seriously interpreted with so little reference to musicology?); but, for those who can supply their own context: some valuable wisps of cultural history.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1982
Publisher: Viking