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A dense and closely argued piece of work. Since van de Leur often proceeds by feel—many original scores are lost—his...

Jazz musician and historian van de Leur subjects Billy Strayhorn’s musical arrangements to deep scrutiny and credibly finds them original, undervalued, frequently misattributed, and tasting of the sublime.

There isn’t much music in van de Leur's prose, but there is a real intellectual hunger in this exploration to identify the unique glory and lasting contribution Strayhorn (1915–67) made to the art of jazz and to give credit to Strayhorn where credit is due. Readers unaccustomed to the patter of musical composition—“characterized by an ascending B[sharp] Aeolian minor scale that surprisingly leads to the major seventh, underscrored by a third inversion B[sharp]mi6”—will find themselves briskly and repeatedly treading water, but van de Leur is equally capable of conveying Strayhorn’s magic in less idiosyncratic language. The main concern here is to situate Strayhorn as he relates to Duke Ellington, with whom he worked for most of his professional life and by whom van de Leur feels Strayhorn is overshadowed. While the author wouldn’t deny the enormous influence Ellington had on the younger Strayhorn, nor their shared “fascination for orchestral sonority, harmonic richness, and formal balance,” he can find evidence of original Strayhorn fingerprints all over the work Ellington and his band played. They’re in his “temporary modulations,” his specific dissonance, choral choices, rhythmic figures. It might well be that Strayhorn and Ellington worked so well together because they were complementary: Strayhorn the tight-knit, Ellington the streetwise and striding. Along the way, van de Leur sticks it to a whole company of critics he feels have given Strayhorn a bum rap, perhaps because of homophobia, perhaps because they simply never appreciated the breadth of jazz that Strayhorn pioneered, such as subdued bebop.

A dense and closely argued piece of work. Since van de Leur often proceeds by feel—many original scores are lost—his attributions will doubtless be richly provocative to jazz fans. (Inventory of scores, compositions, and works on record)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-19-512448-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2001

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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