From the president of the International Society of Jazz Record Collectors: a life of great jazz clarinetist Pee Wee Russell (1909- 69), who cut the figure of a legendary drinker and inspired player but who during his life was at once reviled for incompetence and respected for genius. The recorded works say genius. Born in St. Louis, Charles Ellsworth Russell (who grew into quite a big, lanky man) was cosseted by his parents and given every musical instrument he longed for—violin, piano, drums, sax, and, finally, a top-of-the-line clarinet. At age 12, he began both drinking and playing in bands. Beset by his lack of discipline, his family sent him away to military school, but the school dropped him after one year. Russell's final musical training was a brief course from a clarinetist in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; at age 16, he began a nearly 50-year solo. He was befriended and loved by greats, including bosom buddy Bix Beiderbecke, whose cornet style Russell adapted for a staccato clarinet attack but then gave up for a seemingly groping, hawking, rasping, often dirty personal style. Beiderbecke and Russell dug Stravinsky, Ravel, and the moderns and sought a new style of improvising along chordal rather than melodic lines. Russell kept up-to-date, not wanting to be locked into the past, and even wound up in one Newport concert with Thelonious Monk, where he acquitted himself knowledgeably. Meanwhile, he lived in an alcoholic hell. His long body moved fluidly as he played, but his long-nosed, big-eared basset-hound face bore agony through eyes staring querulously from a mass of hound-deep wrinkles and prison bars of alcohol. He died from brain edema and cirrhosis of the liver. Once underway, tremendously entertaining.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
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)