LOST CHORDS by Richard M. Sudhalter


White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945
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A meticulously researched volume on an underexamined field of music history. Musician and historian Sudhalter (Bix: Man and Legend, 1974) begins his study with a look at early jazz’s twin cities, New Orleans and Chicago, and then he follows the major figures from these cities as they migrate to the coasts and elsewhere. Among the more prominent careers he covers along the way are those of Louis Prima, Bix Beiderbecke (a constant presence in the book), and Ben Pollack. The last three sections of the book look individually at major figures such as Pee Wee Russell, Artie Shaw, and Benny Goodman (with whom Sudhalter conducted a revealing Q&A). Of course, since these figures are quite well known, few of the titular “chords” Sudhalter covers have ever been “lost” in the first place. A more serious problem is the lack of structured organization in the narrative. Sudhalter himself is a trumpeter, and much of the book is concerned with analysis of the artists’ recordings; for the nonmusician, this material is far too technical and even Sudhalter claims that these sections may be skipped without missing the important historical material; but he never makes clear where the analytical sections begin and end. Still, Sudhalter makes a very strong point on the important contributions of white musicians to the formation of jazz. His cultural analysis of the racial melting pot of New Orleans informs much of his theory of jazz’s creation, and he is able to see the underlying class issues that perhaps more directly affected the course of jazz history. This will be an indispensable volume for musicians and music historians, as well as an important addition to white cultural studies (30 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-19-505585-3
Page count: 1072pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1999