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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A welcome addition to the literature on immigration told by an author who understands the issue like few others.

THE UNDOCUMENTED AMERICANS

The debut book from “one of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard.”

In addition to delivering memorable portraits of undocumented immigrants residing precariously on Staten Island and in Miami, Cleveland, Flint, and New Haven, Cornejo Villavicencio, now enrolled in the American Studies doctorate program at Yale, shares her own Ecuadorian family story (she came to the U.S. at age 5) and her anger at the exploitation of hardworking immigrants in the U.S. Because the author fully comprehends the perils of undocumented immigrants speaking to journalist, she wisely built trust slowly with her subjects. Her own undocumented status helped the cause, as did her Spanish fluency. Still, she protects those who talked to her by changing their names and other personal information. Consequently, readers must trust implicitly that the author doesn’t invent or embellish. But as she notes, “this book is not a traditional nonfiction book….I took notes by hand during interviews and after the book was finished, I destroyed those notes.” Recounting her travels to the sites where undocumented women, men, and children struggle to live above the poverty line, she reports her findings in compelling, often heart-wrenching vignettes. Cornejo Villavicencio clearly shows how employers often cheat day laborers out of hard-earned wages, and policymakers and law enforcement agents exist primarily to harm rather than assist immigrants who look and speak differently. Often, cruelty arrives not only in economic terms, but also via verbal slurs and even violence. Throughout the narrative, the author explores her own psychological struggles, including her relationships with her parents, who are considered “illegal” in the nation where they have worked hard and tried to become model residents. In some of the most deeply revealing passages, Cornejo Villavicencio chronicles her struggles reconciling her desire to help undocumented children with the knowledge that she does not want "kids of my own." Ultimately, the author’s candor about herself removes worries about the credibility of her stories.

A welcome addition to the literature on immigration told by an author who understands the issue like few others.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-399-59268-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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