Bob Porter on Books

By Porter, Bob | IAJRC Journal, September 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Bob Porter on Books


Porter, Bob, IAJRC Journal


Eckstine, Herbie, Son & Blues

MR. B: The Music & Life of Billy Eckstine by Cary Ginell (Hal Leonard Books) is a well researched piece of work. The early years and the family life of Eckstine are covered very well and you get plenty of information on his time with Earl Hines. When it comes to his own band however some errors creep in: He gets a couple of facts wrong about Charlie Parker; mis-identifies the tenor solo on "Last Night" (it is Dexter) and suggests that "Eckstine's musicians were ashamed to play the blues". That would come as a surprise to most of them.

The MGM period is covered in great detail. When Eckstine signed in 1947 he was at the top of his game. He was promised film roles that never happened and clearly were a source of frustration. The label was not able to come up with a plan to maintain his popularity and when he left the label at the end of 1955 he was yesterday's news, year-long contract with RCA was a disaster but relationships with Mercury and Roulette were artistic successes if not huge commercial hits. After many years of attempts, he made one more album masterpiece: 1984's I Am A Singer.

There is plenty about the marriages, IRS problems and shady business dealings that were a part of the game for any traveling entertainer during the 40s-70s. An album discography would have been welcome since Eckstine made so many but there are plenty of great photos to compensate.

Walk Tall: The Music & Life of Julian "Cannonball" Adderley was reviewed in the last issue of the Journal but it is the third of the Cary Ginell books for Hal Leonard that is the best. It is The Evolution Of Mann: Herbie Mann And The Flute In Jazz. Mann died in 2003 and death has not been kind to his music. While alive, he was a bestselling, poll-winning headliner but just a few years later he is virtually forgotten.

But Herbie Mann, a musician of modest talent, got the absolute maximum out of his career. A curious listener, he absorbed influences from seemingly everywhere and the result took him a long way from the bebop he started out with. He had the ability to find a place for himself in almost any musical setting. He had big hit albums during a twenty-five year stay at Atlantic Records.

He started out a flute-doubling tenor player from Brooklyn and there are plenty of examples of his work on both instruments in the 1950s but by the end of the decade he had become enamored of Afro-Cuban music with its emphasis on percussion. The combination of flute, vibes and Latin percussion was his sound for many years. Apart from his success as a bandleader, he was a genuinely witty man and a very good businessman.

Ginell was able to interview Mann and delves deeply into his music, his family, his romances and seemingly everything else of interest. There is a selected discography of his albums as well as a separate section for his sideman appearances. Lots of photos as well.

The life of Son House is the stuff legends are made of. At various times, a preacher and a murderer he was also the greatest slide guitar player of his time and one of the most compelling blues performers of all time. Preaching The Blues: The Life and Times of Son House by Daniel Beaumont (Oxford University Press, 2011) tells the story with a text that runs less than 180 pages but manages to get everything knowable into that space. There are wide gaps in what we know about House.

He was recorded by Paramount in 1930 and by the Library of Congress in 1941 and 42. The latter stayed in the LOC archives until 1964, the year of his rediscovery. Of all the country bluesmen resuscitated in the early and mid-60s, House is the most important and there is considerable discussion of the circuitous route it took to find him. …

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