The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop

The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop

The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop

The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop

Synopsis

Bud Powell was not only one of the greatest bebop pianists of all time, he stands as one of the twentieth century's most dynamic and fiercely adventurous musical minds. His expansive musicianship, riveting performances, and inventive compositions expanded the bebop idiom and pushed jazz musicians of all stripes to higher standards of performance. Yet Powell remains one of American music's most misunderstood figures, and the story of his exceptional talent is often overshadowed by his history of alcohol abuse, mental instability, and brutalization at the hands of white authorities. In this first extended study of the social significance of Powell's place in the American musical landscape, Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr. shows how the pianist expanded his own artistic horizons and moved his chosen idiom into new realms. Illuminating and multi-layered, The Amazing Bud Powell centralizes Powell's contributions as it details the collision of two vibrant political economies: the discourses of art and the practice of blackness.

Excerpt

In August 1966, William Powell, Sr., found himself speaking to the press about times past as he prepared to bury his son, the gifted jazz pianist, Bud Powell. He reminisced about giving a four-year-old Bud his first piano lesson after being cajoled by his wife, Pearl, to provide some instruction to keep the child from banging on the piano, something Bud enjoyed doing. “That started it,” he told the New York Amsterdam News. As he recounted memories for the reporter, William expressed pride in his son’s accomplishments, no doubt to fend off his sense of loss and regret. He ticked off a list of his son’s accomplishments, from his diligent study of classical piano as a child to his years as a teenage titan in jazz. Powell, Sr., wanted the world to see Bud as he himself recalled his son in early life: “We used to call him ‘happy’ because he was always laughing and was a healthy youngster.”

At press time, his son’s remains had been held in New York’s Kings County Morgue for more than forty-eight hours since his passing on July 31. Awaiting legal permission from his next of kin to carry out an autopsy, hospital authorities tried to reach out to his estranged wife, Audrey Hill, then living in California, but their efforts apparently failed, since Bud’s father had to send the morgue a telegram that would allow his body to be released shortly thereafter.

By the time of his death, Powell’s health struggles were well known throughout the international jazz world. Before he had come back to New York in August 1964 (he had lived in Paris since 1959), the press . . .

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