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Stir It Up: Musical Stews from Roots to Jazz by Gene Santoro

Gene Santoro is a fine writer who digs deep to demonstrate how artists’ lives and beliefs have shaped their work.

His subjects here range from Haiti’s Voodoo Rock band Boukman Eksperyans and “Afropop Avatar” Manu Dibango through pop/rock names including Paul Simon and Sting to blues and soul icons including Willie Dixon, Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin.

Of greater interest to JazzTimes readers are Santoro’s insightful looks at James Booker, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Abbey Lincoln, Charles Mingus, Ray Drummond, Tom Harrell, Don Pullen, Joe Lovano, Julius Hemphill and Marty Ehrlich.

Some errant hearsay is almost inevitable in a work of this scope. Example: the often-repeated tale starring Juan Tizol in pursuit of Charles Mingus is once again paraphrased from Mingus’ book Beneath the Underdog, though Ellington band members who were there say it never happened.

Multi-reed player and composer Marty Ehrlich is a highly talented if less flamboyant jazz talent. In his 1996 essay, Santoro traces Ehrlich’s career from beginning clarinet at age seven and sax in junior high school band to his accomplishments with Oliver Lake, Lester Bowie, Chico Hamilton, George Russell, Anthony Davis, Leroy Jenkins, John Carter and many more.

Imagine an artist as talented as Ehrlich shopping a self-produced CD master to 15 labels before finding a taker. Such is the business of jazz.

New Orleans legend James Booker is chapter-headed “The Black Liberace” but identified as a giant underground influence on the likes of the Nevilles and Allen Toussaint, as well as Harry Connick, Jr.

Stir It Up also includes “A Survey of Cuban Music” and the final chapter, “A Survey of Hawaiian Music.”

These 32 essays were previously published in some form in The Nation, The Atlantic Monthly, DoubleTake, The Village Voice, Fi and Pulse.

Originally Published