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May 2001

Floyd Levin
Classic Jazz: A Personal View of the Music and the Musicians

For over 50 years, Floyd Levin has played an active role in supporting and advancing the cause of the music he loves. He has written hundreds, if not thousands, of articles over those years and has been published in Melody Maker, Down Beat, The Mississippi Rag, The American Rag and scores of other specialist periodicals. Although not a critic, per se, Levin’s tastes are evident in the subjects he has written about so lovingly, and these parallel the growth of jazz from its nineteenth century origins to the widespread revival of interest in classic jazz that began to burgeon in the early 1940s. Judging by the contents of this book, which include previously published as well as newly written pieces, Levin apparently has little use for any kind of jazz that developed in the wake of bop. And that is very much to the good, for it lends a unifying consistency to the work as a whole that is frequently lacking in more eclectic anthologies.

In the course of his many activities as a record collector, interviewer, research historian, jazz radio host and concert producer, Levin had come to know many legendary jazzmen personally, and it is from his mountainous archives of interviews that much of the book’s material comes. For students of early New Orleans jazz and its attendant revival period, this work is invaluable, while for those of broader tastes it will serve to introduce many musicians who have seldom even been mentioned in general interest jazz periodicals. The book is arranged in eight sections: “Kid Ory and the Revival Era,” in which Levin discusses both the Ory band’s 1922 recording date (the first for black New Orleans jazzmen) and some of the seminal trombonist’s outstanding sidemen; two chapters keyed to the book’s subtitle, which include fascinating material on Jim Europe, the tune “Sister Kate,” Muggsy Spanier, arranger Spud Murphy, Jack Teagarden and the Jump label, Ellington’s 1970 “Sacred Music Concert,” Benny Carter, James P. Johnson, Jelly Roll Morton, Eubie Blake, Jess Stacy, Eddie Miller, Barney Bigard, Rosy McHargue, The World’s Greatest Jazz Band and much more; “The Influence of New Orleans Musicians on Classic Jazz”; “The Great Louis Armstrong”; “Jazz on the West Coast”; “Unsung Heroes”; and, lastly, a chapter on the seven-year-long travails attending the completion of the Louis Armstrong statue in New Orleans. From the above, it should be clear that there is far too much absorbing matter in these pages to even mention, much less comment upon in detail.

It would be absurd to say that this book is for everyone, but for those who share Levin’s lifelong love for homespun, unpretentious jazz of the New Orleans variety, it will prove a worthy companion to the music itself.

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