TRUMPET BLUES

THE LIFE OF HARRY JAMES

Leading jazz publicist Levinson makes his literary debut with this biography of the late bandleader, who in the ’40s and ’40s established himself as a rival to Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, among others. James’s early years were particularly formative, as he was born to parents who devoted much of their lives to performing for the circus. “Young Harry first met his public at the age of 11 days, when his parents introduced him to the circus audience,” Levinson writes. With his look at the life of circus entertainers in the early part of the century, Levinson hooks the reader immediately. He makes James’s progression from childhood circus performer to budding musician at age 12” when he was “the youngest circus bandleader in the world”—a seamless evolution. By the early 1930s, when James was struggling to succeed as a trumpet player, the reader has a strong sense of his musical growth. It wasn’t until December 1936, when Goodman—who would stay friends with James throughout their lifetimes, despite their competition for bookings—invited him to join his band, that the trumpeter became a star. Levinson captures the era well, citing the impact of WWII on popular music, telling stories of the biggest stars of the time (including Goodman, Dorsey, James’s hero Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, and Frank Sinatra, whom James helped discover by giving the “kid” his first recording gig) and the bigotry integrated big bands faced on the road. To his credit, Levinson, while hardly ignoring James’s legendary womanizing, gambling, and drinking, as well as his lengthy marriage to pinup queen Betty Grable—ultimately victimized by all of James’s vices—avoids turning the bandleader’s life into a melodramatic soap opera. Instead, he concentrates on the music. Impressive, and a fascinating read not only for fans of jazz, but for students of 20th-century history, Hollywood, and the music business.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-19-511030-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1999

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

NIGHT

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

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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