April 1998

Leslie Gourse
Striders to Beboppers and Beyond: The Art of Jazz Piano
Leslie Gourse
Swingers and Crooners: The Art of Jazz Singing

Leslie Gourse is rapidly becoming the most prolific writer of jazz books. These two are in a series designed for young adults. Well produced, with a good choice of photographs, they should prove attractive invitations to their subjects. The main creative thrust of jazz piano is well outlined, although the author acknowledges that many more pianists might have been included, presumably if space were available. The omission of Jess Stacy, Joe Sullivan, Dick Hyman, Ralph Sutton and Dick Wellstood understates the important role of white artists.

The art of jazz singing is not so well illustrated by some of the “crooners” in the second book, especially since singers like Helen Humes, Jack Teagarden, Lips Page, Jay McShann, George Thomas and Trummy Young don’t get any attention at all. Certainly, there is more of a problem here, and most of the latterday names young people are likely to be familiar with—thanks to the promotions—are included.

Leslie Gourse is also responsible for the biographies of Aretha Franklin and Billie Holiday in the same series. These are a couple of tough stories that run parallel in different fields. Another writer, Carolyn Wyman, did that of Ella Fitzgerald, which is justly sub-titled “Jazz Singer Supreme.”

Turning to the males, there are “B.B. King” by David Shirley, “Duke Ellington” by Eve Stwertica and “Louis Armstrong” by Sandford Brown. All three are surprisingly well-researched and illustrated with good photographs; properly credited sources are followed by a bibliography and index.

Last, but far from least, is “Jazz: The Great American Art” by Gene Seymour, a gallant attempt to tell the history in 176 pages. Besides recommended recordings, this has an innovative video list and a glossary. The modest size and price should encourage young people to investigate this and the other books in the series.

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