The biography of a little-known jazz mover and shaker who, in his own quiet way, moved and shook the entire jazz world.
In order for jazz to survive and thrive over the past century-plus, it has needed its fair share of international mouthpieces, true believers who spread the gospel throughout the world. Willis Conover was one such man. Best known as the jazz radio voice of Voice of America, Conover was a selfless champion of the genre, helping organize huge festivals, emceeing concerts featuring everybody from Duke Ellington to Dizzy Gillespie and traveling throughout Europe and the former Soviet Republic in order to raise jazz awareness. Conover never enjoyed the visibility of such jazz impresarios as Norman Granz (founder of Verve Records) and Alfred Lion (co-founder of Blue Note Records), but the musicians and the true fans knew all about him. With the arrival of this earnest biography, readers will too. A former professor at jazz-centric William Paterson University, Ripmaster (Mel Bay Bucky Pizzarelli: A Life in Music, 1998) discovered and became enamored with Conover in 1996, the year the venerable broadcaster passed away, and his respect for his subject shines through on every well-researched page. But given that Conover is, in essence, a cult figure, is he a worthy candidate for a full-length biography? He certainly led an interesting life, and left his mark on the international jazz scene, but there are dozens of jazz musicians (Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Kenny Dorham come to mind) whose stories have yet to be told in book form. Readers may or may not agree with Ripmaster’s anointment of Conover, but all will agree that the tale was as well told as possible.
An inviting, heartfelt look at a behind-the-scenes jazz guru.