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March 2001

Anthony Barnett
Black Gypsy: The Recordings of Eddie South

Anthony Barnett is a champion of jazz violin whose previous projects include two excellent books about Stuff Smith and the notes to the Mosaic set of Smith’s Verve recordings. He also publishes a journal called Fable Bulletin: Violin Improvisation Studies. Eddie South is a perfect subject for Barnett’s specialized focus: he is a minor figure in jazz history but quite an important one for his instrument. His classical background was apparent on his recordings. Indeed his detractors conclude that South was happier playing bits of Paganini or politely syncopated Gypsy fare than he was with real jazz. It’s customary to report that South’s ambitions for a career in classical music were frustrated by the color line, which certainly made such aspirations all but impossible, but while his technique was dazzling, this was also true of thousands of forgotten white violinists. In assessing South’s legacy, we should leave aside considerations of what he might have been if he had been either a classical performer or a 100% hot jazzer. His best work ranks him easily with Smith, Venuti, Grappelli and Asmussen among the greatest jazz fiddlers and of these only Smith had a thoroughly jazz-based approach.

Black Gypsy is a meticulously researched discography that includes dozens of great photos, articles that outline various aspects of South’s career and transcriptions of several compositions, including the original performance of “Eddie’s Blues,” recorded with Django Reinhardt in 1937. South was a teenager when he appeared with Wade’s Moulin Rouge Orchestra in 1923. By ’27 he was leading his own group, and most of the entries through the ’30s and ’40s are under his own name, except for a sizable number of appearances with country singers like Elton Britt in the mid-’40s (!). There is a lot of information about early sessions not covered in the Rust discography, mostly involving radio airchecks and transcriptions. No fan of the violinist would want to be without this fine volume, especially as it comes with a cassette that includes many previously unreleased items.

The book Black Gypsy is distributed in the U.S. by Cadence.

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