Book Review: Classic Jazz; A Personal View of the Music and the Musicians
Author: Floyd Levin
University of California Press, 2000
337 pp.
Reviewed by Peter Vacher in Jazzwise Magazine, London, England

By Peter Vacher

(Note: This book contains much material of interest to ragtimers. There are fascinating sections on James P. Johnson, Dink Johnson, Jelly Roll Morton, Brun Campbell, James Reese Europe, and Pat Gogerty. I highly recommend this book. —Bill Mitchell)

This is an old fashioned jazz book. No pages of annotated sources or references, no in-depth analysis or musicological explanation - just a series of recollections of past encounters with jazz musicians and their associates from the traditional revival period.

Levin is a businessman who conceived an admiration for New Orleans jazz which led him to a parallel life as a reporter, entrepreneur, and jazz activist. Along the way, he founded the Southern California Hot Jazz Society, headed up a project to place a statue of Louis Armstrong in his home town of New Orleans, and devised a touring jazz show "A Night in New Orleans."

The author also became the intimate friend of a whole host of displaced New Orleanians who had located in Los Angeles and was on hand to act as principal cheer leader of Kid Ory and company when the revival hit town in the mid-1940s. He amassed a treasure trove of information, a stockpile of artifacts, and a treasure chest of memories, much of it now mined for this collection of his journalistic pieces. Levin has been Jazz Journal International's U.S. correspondent for the past four or more decades and publishes often in that venerable English magazine.

His writing is always affectionate and invariably well informed. After all, he has had access to some pretty vital primary sources. If you want to know the ins and outs of pioneer bassist Ed "Montudi" Garland's life and more about James P. Johnson or Jelly Roll Morton's wife Anita Gonzalez, then this is a book you will want. Elegantly produced, flecked with fine pictures, this book is a pleasure-evoking account of one man's love affair with jazz and its practitioners.

Levin is generous to others (he was unstinting in his help to me with my book about Joe Darensbourg) and clearly his many musical friends rated him pretty high too.

(Editor's Note: Peter Vacher's book, Jazz Odyssey, The Autobiography of Joe Darensbourg is published by Louisiana State University Press.)


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