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Swinger! A Jazz Girl’s Adventures from Hollywood to Harlem by Judy Carmichael

Review of memoir by celebrated pianist and radio series host

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Cover of Judy Carmichael's book Swinger!
Cover of Judy Carmichael’s book Swinger!

Bright, breezy, intelligent, assured: hallmark adjectives of Judy Carmichael’s celebrated dual careers as one of the foremost stride pianists of the past half-century and host of the long-running radio series, Jazz Inspired. Also apt descriptors for Carmichael’s recently published memoir, a delightful, circuitously episodic exploration of her life in and out of jazz.

Carmichael claims her earliest musical memories were in utero, listening to her mother play piano. She later discovered much to her surprise that “Night and Day” and other standards that filled her childhood were not her mom’s compositions. She was a child of California, born Judy Hohenstein in 1957 and raised in the slightly seedy L.A. suburb of Pico Rivero. She fit the SoCal stereotype: blonde, athletic, and fun-loving, an eager participant in and frequent winner of beauty pageants. But growing up wasn’t all Beach Boys tunes and ponytails. Product of a kind but passive, alcoholic father and a bright but distant mother she describes as a bundle of “narcissism, neuroses [and] irrational behavior,” she learned early on to be independent, a trait that has served her well ever since. Still, her parents could be strongly encouraging, instilling the belief that “you’re smart, you’re talented, you’re pretty; you can do anything.”

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