Pugh gracefully dances the fine line between critic and fan.

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AMERICA DANCING

FROM THE CAKEWALK TO THE MOONWALK

In her debut, a scholar and freelance critic transforms some key people and events into artful coat trees on which to hang the history of American popular dance.

Pugh is offering not a detailed, comprehensive history but a focused, intentionally limited account. Some readers may quibble with her choices—why chapters on Agnes de Mille and Michael Jackson and not Bob Fosse and Gene Kelly?—but as the text unfurls, most readers will be satisfied (Fosse does get significant mention in Jackson’s chapter). The author opens with a startling moment: the 1939 arrest of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in Times Square for loitering while contemplating a neon sign of himself, and Robinson’s influence, as well as the influences of numerous other black dancers, glides through the text. Others meriting considerable attention include Fred Astaire and Paul Taylor, but Pugh is careful to include myriad other important figures, including Hermes Pan (who worked with Astaire) and Cholly Atkins (whose work Jackson studied closely). Some will find surprises here, as well. With his wife, Henry Ford wrote a manual for square dancers (Good Morning, 1926), and Michael Jackson learned the moonwalk from others, practicing for years before he presented it to the public. Although Pugh’s scholarship is considerable, she is writing not for a scholarly but for a general audience. Readers won’t get lost in any forest of arcane vocabulary or be confused by charts and diagrams. Her intent, instead, is to show dance’s sort of mockingbird origins: moves come from earlier moves and moments—evolution, not intelligent design. At times, the author has a dancer’s grace in the flow of her prose. She calls a piece by Paul Taylor “an exercise in delicious contrarianism.” Her tone is relentlessly positive, however, with seldom a discouraging word.

Pugh gracefully dances the fine line between critic and fan.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-300-20131-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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