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Jazz St. Louis Book Club

Jazz St. Louis is proud to be able to continue its book club for the upcoming 2020-21 Jazz St. Louis season. This year’s club will focus on eight amazing books, ranging from histories and biographies to autobiographies and novels. Each book has been carefully selected by the book club’s facilitator, Dr. Gerald Early, Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters, Professor of English and of African and Afro-American Studies, Director of the Center for Humanities, and Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences at Washington University.

The rules are simple. The club is free and open to anyone willing to read the month’s book, show up, participate, and have a good time! Light refreshments will be provided at the conclusion of each book club meeting. While we encourage everyone to participate each month, there is no requirement that you commit to read each book and attend all the club meetings.
Questions can be emailed to [email protected].

The Books

While the books can be purchased anywhere, the official retail partner of the book club is Left Bank Books (LBB). The books will be offered at a 20% discount through LBB the month before and the month of the meeting, unless otherwise noted. All books can be purchased at their Central West End Location or on the LBB website.

The Cry of Jazz directed by Edward Bland

Discussion on January 12, 2020 at 7:00pm CST

Black and white still from the movie, The Cry of Jazz. A black man sits arms crossed looking forward, paying attention to something. A white woman sits beside him to his right facing forward yet casting a furtive glance towards him.
The Cry of Jazz directed by Edward Bland

Edward O. Bland’s dramatic filmmaking may be unusually crude, but his documentary-based insights into the art and politics of jazz—as seen in this short work of philosophical agitprop, from 1959—are profound. His film opens with a party at which white jazz enthusiasts ask questions about the music that their black friends answer. This framework gives way to the director’s essay-like narration, in which he defines jazz in terms of African-American experience; relates its form and sound—and the existential edge of black musicians’ performances­—to politics; explains the music as a variety of oral history; and, remarkably, predicts both the aesthetic of free jazz and the music’s role in the civil-rights movement. Filmed performances of the Chicago-based visionary Sun Ra and his band (highlighting the great saxophonist John Gilmore) illustrate Bland’s theses and spark the director’s keenest visual engagement. Bland’s ideas are provocative and stimulating; the movie, which is as heartfelt as it is analytical, suggests a new dimension in music criticism. — The New Yorker

Available to watch for free via YouTube from the Library of Congress

Art: Why I stuck with a Junkie Jazzman by Laurie Pepper

Discussion on February 9, 2021 at 7:00pm CST

Book cover for Art: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman. Black and white image of a white male looking into the camera with his arms around a white woman with short hair who smiling, looks off to the side.

Art Pepper told his sexy, sordid, and exciting true adventure stories to his lover, Laurie, who put them in a book. She quizzed him (and those who knew him) unrelentingly over seven years, editing and structuring a narrative to which she dedicated all her energy. Straight Life by Art and Laurie Pepper (Da Capo) was published in 1979. It was critical success and remains a classic of its kind, the subject of college literary and music studies. Laurie went on to marry Art and manage his resurgent career, touring the world with his band.

“Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman” was the headline some editor gave a newspaper interview Laurie did while the band was in Australia in 1981, and she’s now stolen that “that perfect title” for her memoir. ART: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman (APMCorp), describes her marriage to the deeply troubled, drug-addicted, madly gifted artist. “That marriage was the making of me,” says Laurie. “Some people go to grad school or join the Marines. I married a genius who valued and inspired me and challenged me to use MY gifts. We had a difficult, powerful partnership. I had to tell that story.” She says she also needs to set the record straight and clarify her role: “People think I was some kind of little wifey-saint who rescued him. And Art encouraged them in that. But he knew how truly crazy I could be. We rescued each other.”

About the Author

Laurie Pepper was born in 1940 in Los Angeles to a family of radicals and artists. She grew up in New York and Los Angeles, attended U.C. Berkeley, and was photographer for the legendary L.A. Free Press during the 1960s but went astray and wound up in rehab where she met Art Pepper. Since Art’s death in 1982, she has continued to produce and promote his music. Her very small label, Widow’s Taste, has released a new album of previously unreleased Art Pepper performances every year since 2006.

Music: A Subversive History by Ted Gioia

Discussion on March 9, 2021 at 7:00pm CST

Book cover for Music: A Subversive History with brightly stylized and brilliant colored illustrations of instruments and objects of art.

“A dauntingly ambitious, obsessively researched” (Los Angeles Times) global history of music reveals how songs have shifted societies and sparked revolutions.

Histories of music overwhelmingly suppress stories of the outsiders and rebels who created musical revolutions and instead celebrate the mainstream assimilators who borrowed innovations, diluted their impact, and disguised their sources. In Music: A Subversive History, Ted Gioia reclaims the story of music for the riffraff, insurgents, and provocateurs.

Gioia tells a four-thousand-year history of music as a global source of power, change, and upheaval. He shows how outcasts, immigrants, slaves, and others at the margins of society have repeatedly served as trailblazers of musical expression, reinventing our most cherished songs from ancient times all the way to the jazz, reggae, and hip-hop sounds of the current day.

Music: A Subversive History is essential reading for anyone interested in the meaning of music, from Sappho to the Sex Pistols to Spotify.

About the Author

Ted Gioia is a music historian and the author of eleven books, including How to Listen to Jazz. His three previous books on the social history of music-Work Songs, Healing Songs, and Love Songs-have each been honored with the ASCAP Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Award. Gioia’s wide-ranging activities as a critic, scholar, performer, and educator have established him as a leading global guide to music past, present, and future.


Clifford’s Blues by John A. Williams

Discussion on April 13, 2020 at 7:00pm CST

Inspired by a little-known fact about WWII, Williams (Captain Blackman) creates a chillingly lifelike account of the treatment of black people by the Nazis. In the parlance of the time, Williams’s protagonist refers to himself as a gay Negro; he’s a jazz pianist in 1930s Berlin who runs afoul of the ascendant Nazis and is imprisoned for 12 years in Dachau. “My name’s Clifford Pepperidge and I am in trouble,” the narrator announces on May 28, 1933, in the first page of his diary, which ends inconclusively on April 28, 1945, as the Americans liberate Dachau. Clifford’s journal is framed by letters dated 1986 that trace how the diary was passed along and eventually published. Embroiled in a sexual scandal with a wealthy American embassy attaché, the New Orleans-born Clifford is effectively stripped of his identity and accused of “immorality to the state.” At Dachau, he encounters SS officer Dieter Lange, who once haunted the same jazz and gay clubs as Clifford, and now becomes his protector and lover, using him as a “calfactor” or houseboy, and gaining prominence among the other SS for throwing parties at which Clifford plays the piano. The diary is filled with harrowingly authentic details about the workings of the camp: the ranking among the prisoners by colored triangles, the bargaining for food and sex, the brutality of the guards and increasingly horrific conditions. While Clifford’s own situation is relatively privileged, he often compares the treatment of the other prisoners he observes to slavery in America. Williams’s ear for black dialect, especially musical references, is superb and his knowledge of jazz impressive. Where the early entries lag with the long overture toward war, the later ones increase in tension as Hitler’s aggression unravels. Clifford emerges as a naif, often willfully ignorant but never cruel; his diary, though fictional, is an eloquent testimony to the largely unknown sufferings of blacks, not only African-Americans but “colored men” from all countries, who were incarcerated in WWII concentration camps.

Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.  –Publishers Weekly

About the Author

John was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1925.  He earned a degree in English and Journalism from Syracuse University in 1950 (after service in the navy).  After the publication of The Angry Ones in 1960, when he was 35, John A. Williams went on to have a distinguished literary career, including the publication of his second novel Sissie, and the classic 1967 bestseller, The Man Who Cried I Am.

Williams professional career included teaching at the College of the Virgin Islands, the City College of New York, Sarah Lawrence College and was a professor of English at Rutgers University of the Virgin Islands, the City College of New York, Sarah Lawrence College and he was a professor of English at Rutgers University.

Swing Shift: “All-Girl” Bands of the 1940s by Sherrie Tucker

Discussion on May 11, 2020 at 7:00pm CST

The forgotten history of the “all-girl” big bands of the World War II-era takes center stage in Sherrie Tucker’s Swing Shift. American demand for swing skyrocketed with the onslaught of war as millions-isolated from loved ones-sought diversion, comfort, and social contact through music and dance. Although all-female jazz and dance bands had existed since the 1920s, now hundreds of such groups, both African American and white, barnstormed ballrooms, theaters, dance halls, military installations, and makeshift USO stages on the home front and abroad.

Filled with firsthand accounts of more than a hundred women who performed during this era and complemented by thorough-and eye-opening-archival research, Swing Shift not only offers a history of this significant aspect of American society and culture but also examines how and why whole bands of dedicated and talented women musicians were dropped from-or never inducted into-our national memory. Tucker’s nuanced presentation reveals who these remarkable women were, where and when they began to play music, and how they navigated a sometimes wild and bumpy road-including their experiences with gas and rubber rationing, travel restrictions designed to prioritize transportation for military needs, and Jim Crow laws and other prejudices. She explains how the expanded opportunities brought by the war, along with suddenly increased publicity, created the illusion that all-female musicians-no matter how experienced or talented-were “Swing Shift Maisies,” 1940s slang for the substitutes for the “real” workers (or musicians) who were away in combat. Comparing the working conditions and public representations of women musicians with figures such as Rosie the Riveter, WACs, USO hostesses, pin-ups, and movie stars, Tucker chronicles the careers of such bands as the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Phil Spitalny’s Hours of Charm, The Darlings of Rhythm, and the Sharon Rogers All-Girl Band.

About the Author

Sherrie Tucker is Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. A longtime jazz fan, she has conducted oral histories for the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program, writes a column called “Jazzwomen Jam” for Jazz Now Magazine, and was formerly a jazz radio announcer in San Francisco.

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