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Jazz in New Orleans: The Postwar Years Through 1970 by Charles Suhor

Considering the lack of information to the contrary, it’s not surprising that there remains the impression that in New

Orleans jazz practically jumped from traditional styles directly to the emergence of Wynton Marsalis. Granted, modern jazz’s early stirrings, in the late ’40s and through the ’50s, weren’t easily found among the city’s clubs or given any due in the press during this era. Many nightspots were enjoying the revival of classic jazz and the rise of rhythm and blues. At times, the most likely place to hear modern jazz artists like pianist Ellis Marsalis was at a strip club on Bourbon Street.

Author Charles Suhor was on the scene after WWII and through Vietnam, first as a young jazz fanatic whose favorites included Sharkey Bonano and Bunk Johnson. Influenced by his older brother, clarinetist Don, Suhor took up drums and later championed jazz as a journalist for Down Beat and New Orleans Magazine. Articles from those and other publications are compiled here along with companion essays that set the stage and time. He fills in many a blank and tells his story with an understanding of New Orleans’ quirky nature as only one who’s lived here could. For instance, while Suhor digs for facts about the disappearance of the funds from an early jazz institution, the New Orleans Jazz Foundation, he enjoys the feasibility of a caper rumored to involve a journalist, a stripper and money. “As a researcher, I acknowledge a lack of data on the matter,” writes Suhor, “but as an Orleanian, I find the fly-by-night scenario irresistible.”

Insider’s insights prevail throughout the book as Suhor blasts the establishment and the press-both in his past articles and today’s looking-back essays-for their mutual neglect and ignorance of the city’s jazz scene. The three timecharts that he includes highlight important events in jazz’s development and its increased presence that receive elaboration throughout the text.

Importantly, Suhor’s work beefs up often-sketchy information with facts embellished with eyewitness accounts. In debunking the myth that this city’s first major jazz festival was the 1970 debut of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the author sets the record straight: He includes a vividly detailed and lengthy review of the 1968 New Orleans International Jazz Festival.

In Jazz in New Orleans: The Postwar Years through 1970, Suhor offers an opinionated view of the music and how it was affected by a myriad of prevailing attitudes. While biases may exist, Suhor’s words nonetheless ring true. Being active on so many jazz fronts allows Suhor a unique perspective.

Originally Published