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Originally published in a limited edition in England in 1982, this is an interesting history of early jazz in San Francisco, written by a buff whose previous book was a well-regarded biography of New Orleans jazz pioneer Pops Foster. (In fact, Stoddard’s Foster biography won an award from ASCAP in 1972.) At the turn of the century, San Francisco was, as they say, a wide-open town, nowhere more so than in its notorious Barbary Coast district. The Coast was a slender strip of whorehouses, bars, opium dens, and other dives that included among its more sinister attractions an assortment of live music. It was there, Stoddard contends, that jazz had its first flowering on the West Coast, an efflorescence as worthy of recollection as the more famous birth pangs in New Orleans (another wide-open coastal city). Fueled by migrants from the Crescent City, the San Francisco music scene evolved in the first two decades of this century; Stoddard preserves herein the memories of several participants, most notably pianist and bandleader Sid LeProtti and sax player Reb Spikes. LeProtti, who played on the Coast from 1906 until it was cleaned up in 1921, was a delightfully colorful talker whose story is sprinkled with fisticuffs, shootings, and other amusing sidelights from this lost era. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to gauge the accuracy of Stoddard’s claims for the musicians he profiles here; there’s little analytical talk of the music itself in either the oral histories that make up most of the volume or the historical chapters with which the author closes. Moreover, recordings of these men are few in number and hard to find. As a collection of evocative anecdotes, an often pleasant read, but as music history, this is at best tantalizingly suggestive but hardly informative. (30 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: July 15th, 1998
ISBN: 0-890771-04-X
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Heyday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1998