A fine 14th book from Balliett (Bradley, Barney and Max, 1989, etc.)—taken, like many others, from his New Yorker jazz column- -that is, he suggests, his farewell jazz hard-cover. And the pages overflow with goodbyes to great jazzmen who have died, many in the past decade, with genial elegies for Duke Ellington, Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, Benny Goodman, Thelonius Monk, Count Basie, Earl Hines, Sarah Vaughan, and Bill Evans. Balliett also reviews Gunther Schuller's The Swing Era and James Lincoln Collier's Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong bios. Collier does not get high marks for either of his books; the Armstrong bio is faulted for not covering Pops's big-band Decca years and for not breathing life into him through lively interviews on hand from his friends and sidemen, and the Ellington bio for dismissing the Duke's later concert pieces. Balliett thinks that ``It is unlikely that anyone will write a good biography of Duke Ellington.'' Nicely handled here is electrifying trumpeter Bunny Berrigan, whose virtuosic agility has never been more aptly limned in words. Also well examined are hornplayers Warren Vache, Rex Stewart, Jabbo Smith, Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Coleman, Cootie Williams, and Wynton Marsalis. Miles Davis is given a stiff rap on the forebrain for hiding in heavy metal and forgoing his genius. Ol' Blue Eyes's package of 83 songs recorded with the Dorsey band is called largely inert, with only a handful of livelier, more choice ballads singled out for praise. Love for swing drummers Big Sid Catlett and Buddy Rich sings off the page, with their every rim shot, press roll, cymbal smash, or snare whisper itemized and weighed for color. If this is it, Balliett leaves in top form and we are all in his debt.
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)