JAZZ MASTERS OF THE THIRTIES by Rex W. Stewart

JAZZ MASTERS OF THE THIRTIES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Festive memories of jazz greats by Stewart who replaced Louis Armstrong on the horn with the Fletcher Henderson band and went on to play with Ellington: ""At various times I have been his barber, chef, valet, third trumpet man in his orchestra and his poker opponent."" Despite Stewart's inside knowledge of how the music was made and who influenced whom, he spends little time on musicology preferring to concentrate on the personalities of the stars. ""Smack"" Henderson is improbably characterized as the ""Mahatma Gandhi of the jazz age""; Ellington's pre-mod clothing is credited with a ""profound influence on men's fashions""; and the poker playing abilities of his musical cronies are assessed with affectionate elan. Stewart is sensitive to the middle-class orientation of the big band sound even among black musicians (Ellington and Henderson both came from black bourgeois families) and he has a large stock of amusing recollections on the free-wheeling recording sessions of the '20's and '30's -- ""in those days most people felt that a musician played with more native abandon when he was full of alcohol."" Gossipy and anecdotal, he captures the easy flow of the music and the musicians' frenetic life-style. Although the nonchalance was more apparent than real and most of the big band leaders were in fact master chess players manipulating musical pawns. Happily he neither sentimentalizes nor canonizes the virtuosos -- even Armstrong's ebullient cheeriness and demi-god status in the jazz world doesn't stop Stewart from noting his ""antebellum Uncle Tomism."" Less saccharine and more entertaining than George Simon's Simon Says (p. 862) this is still of, by, and for the jazz buff who prefers the good old days.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1971
Publisher: Macmillan