SWINGIN' THE DREAM

BIG BAND JAZZ AND THE REBIRTH OF AMERICAN CULTURE

Erenberg (History/Loyola Univ.) picks up the history of American popular culture where he left off at the end of his previous book, Steppin’ Out: NY Nightlife and the Transformation of American Culture (not reviewed). From the middle of the 1930s through the early years of the postwar period, the so-called swing era, American popular music was dominated by the sound of the big bands, both jazz bands and “sweet” bands. For the first time in the history of American popular culture, African-American forms came to the fore, and the success of big-band jazz made it possible, albeit with considerable difficulty, for some musicians to push a pioneering racial integration on the bandstand and even in the audience. At the same time, Erenberg argues, swing helped revive a potentially moribund youth culture, verdant in the ’20s but battered by the economic realities of the Depression. A combination of forces, particularly the repeal of Prohibition and the rise of radio, made the brief triumph of swing possible. And a brief triumph it was—the war and the social forces it unleashed, the Red scare of the post—WW II era and a series of rapid socioeconomic changes doomed the big bands. This story has been told many times before, and Erenberg does make some significant contributions to enriching the picture, most notably in his occasional focus on audience reaction and participation. But overall this is a disconnected and often repetitive collection of essays. Moreover, the book is marred by numerous errors, such as attributing “Bidin’ My Time” to Hoagy Carmichael. The most egregious error, however, points up the major source of its failure. Erenberg repeats the tale that Bessie Smith “died as a result of segregation in medical facilities.” Recent scholarship has disproved this version. A perusal of his footnotes reveals that while Erenberg is knowledgeable in his own academic field, he has failed to keep up with the literature of jazz. A disappointing and, frankly, rather dully written effort. (32 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-226-21516-4

Page Count: 293

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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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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