Given the subject matter and the author, one expects so much more than is delivered.

Santoro (Stir It Up, 1997), who covers jazz and pop music for New York’s Daily News and The Nation, offers the first complete Mingus bio since the jazz legend’s death in 1979.

Mingus was larger than life itself. A big man physically, he was a swaggering tower of musical ingenuity and a mercurial, tempestuous personality. A key figure in post-bop, Mingus was one of the greatest bassists in the history of jazz, a brilliant composer and arranger who built on the innovations of Duke Ellington in his use of large ensembles (and the boppers in his play with form), while investing his music with a theatricality that few other musicians ever even attempt. For a guy who was often regarded as the possessor of a ferocious temper, he also inspired extraordinary loyalty, as Santoro’s book reminds readers. Based on over 100 interviews with friends, family, and colleagues, some of the most telling observations about Mingus come from men like Buddy Collette and Britt Woodman, who knew and loved him from their shared adolescence to his death. Certainly, as Santoro notes at the outset of this volume, Mingus had a “messy, sprawling life,” but a biography shouldn’t recapitulate those qualities and this one, regrettably, does. Santoro seems to think it necessary to recap every meal, every meeting, every rehearsal of Mingus’s life, mistaking exhaustiveness for insight. On the plus side, the author (a skillful music critic and a musician in his own right) is good at putting Mingus’s early years in L.A. in the context of that town’s vibrant, often underrated jazz scene, and its dark history of institutionalized racism. But too much space and time is taken up with canned cultural history that consists of machine-gun torrents of clichés and aperçus, spat out in generalizations that inadvertently obscure the context and chronology of Mingus’s career. And, frankly, there is a lot more of Mingus’s life than of his music in this book, much of it presented with a sort of unhealthy voyeuristic glee.

Given the subject matter and the author, one expects so much more than is delivered.

Pub Date: July 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-19-509733-5

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2000


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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