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Summer Jazz Reading

A survey of jazz-related books recently released and expected to be released

John Abbott, Sonny Rollins, 1995
Nina Simone
Lena Horne, New York 1994

Summer’s here and the time is right for reading, not fighting, in the streets, boy. For many of us it’s a time in which we finally get around to starting those monumental or important books we always meant to read, like Moby Dick or Gravity’s Rainbow, but then soon find ourselves engulfed in the latest trashy biography or detective novel. At least we can impress our friends with the pile of books on the coffee table, even though the stack more likely represents aspirations rather than accomplishments. It’s the night table that more accurately portrays the reader’s true inclinations.

For jazz fans, there are plenty of recent books to stack up on the night table. In the realm of biographies, we can start with one that now seems particularly timely: James Gavin’s Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne, which has just been issued in paperback. In the wake of Horne’s death, the book provides thorough context for the outline of her life and accomplishments. Gavin, author of the noted Chet Baker biography, Deep In a Dream, always does incredible amounts of research but always presents the material in a lucid and occasionally lurid narrative, with an emphasis on the unexpected revelation. The writing is never, or at least rarely, dry. And you are guaranteed to learn a ton about the subject you never learned before. I won’t spoil the revelations in Stormy Weather, but suffice to say, all was not light and happiness in Ms. Horne’s life.

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