Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World by John Szwed

Review of new biography on noted folklorist and musicologist

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

At first glance, Sun Ra biographer John Szwed might seem an unusual choice to chronicle the life of Alan Lomax (1915-2002), arguably the twentieth century’s most important scholar of folk music. But Szwed’s Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World presents a man who may have started out capturing songs like a lepidopterist trapping butterflies, but who eventually came to see music as a progressive continuum, binding people across oceans and generations.

Lomax’s career as a folklorist began almost as a lark, when he decided to spend a summer on the road gathering music with his father John, himself a prominent folk-song collector. The life that ensued took Lomax from the yards of Parchman Farm to the concert stage at Carnegie Hall. Not too shabby for a man with an ambivalent-at-best formal education whose financial situation could usually be charitably characterized as precarious.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published