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Jazz Gentry: Aristocrats of the Music World by Warren W. Vaché, Sr.

Written between 1974 and 1995, the 40 pieces collected here have seen prior publication in Jersey Jazz, the organ of the New Jersey Jazz Society, for which Vaché served as editor for 18 years; The Mississippi Rag, which granted permission for the reprinting of half of the contents; and various other periodicals, including The International Musician and Jazz Journal International. To contemporary followers of the idiom, veteran bassist, record collector, and jazz scholar Vaché is perhaps best known as the father of trumpeter Warren, Jr., and clarinetist Allen, both among the leading players of mainstream jazz. However, Warren, Sr. also has devoted his entire life to this music and has known and worked with the majority of the musicians he has so artfully profiled in these essays. As a writer, he also has earned critical respect for his biographies of trumpeter Pee Wee Erwin (This Horn for Hire), drummer Johnny Blowers (Back Beats and Rim Shots), and pianist Claude Hopkins (Crazy Fingers).

For the most part, Vaché serves as an unobtrusive interviewer, who later places into perspective the autobiographical reminiscences of his subjects, frequently by sketching in aspects of historical background left unremarked upon during conversations or in written correspondence. At other times, he adopts the role of research historian, a responsibility somewhat compromised by his tendency to indulge in first-person narrative or reflection, a stylistic gambit at once humanizing and off-putting in its subjectivity. This inconsistency of style and unevenness of structure is, of course, easily explained by the very nature of the book’s composition. These pieces were never designed to be read as chapters in a book dealing with a unified theme. Rather, they were written, not only for different readerships in some cases, but also over a long period of time, all of which goes to suggest that the act of assembling contents is not the same as judicious self-editing.

Admittedly, not all of the musicians Vaché pays tribute to in these pages will be familiar to most readers, but this certainly does not mean that they should be dismissed simply because they are not associated with modern jazz. The most renowned jazzmen whom Vaché treats are Pee Wee Russell, Joe Venuti, Doc Cheatham, Wild Bill Davison, Johnny Mince, Vic Dickenson, Pee Wee Erwin, Chris Griffin, Johnny Best, George Masso, Dick Wellstood, Johnny Varro, Wayne Wright, Major Holley, Sonny Igoe, and Jackie Williams.while some of the less well known are Jane Jarvis, Tony Spargo, Bill Jones, Fred Norman, Danny Alvin, Charlie Queener, Bill Challis, Ray Noble, Chuck Folds, Lou Carter, Chauncey Morehouse, and others.

Originally Published