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Book Reviews


By Published: March 3, 2006
For the jazz fan, there are many felicitous moments, things that people might not have said in fact, but should have. Early on Chet grouses that the problem with Dizzy Gillespie's soloing is that he insists on being eloquent even when he has nothing to say: how succinct, how apposite! Chet's life-long obsession with Miles Davis, is there, in the background, throughout. And there are drugs, of course, Herculean quantities; Jean- Louis Chautemps, the musician and writer whose words in the novel are genuinely his (Gerber interviews him in the middle of the book), tells us baldly that "the question of drug addiction is completely unavoidable." Indeed, the book begins with the awful 1966 assault ordered by a dealer that hadn't been paid. For years, Chet simply could not play, but he doggedly worked to get his chops back. Looking back on the episode, Gerber's Chet says ruefully, "To play the trumpet, you need mysteries, fears, illusions. Also, you need your teeth...." The contrast between Chet's gee-whiz pragmatism and the details of his increasingly sordid existence is the crux of Gerber's portrait, the source of the tenderness that endeared him to so many people he knew, and that informed his musical conception as well.

Gerber's novel is not a novelisation, it's a novel: there are all kinds of plot elements that please devotées of novels, including several denouements near the end of Chet's life. One, involving a Los Angeles judge on the stage of a dive on the Lower East Side, redeems the otherwise clumsy elaboration of the character (who furthermore has links to the tough who beats up Chet in 1966—the interconnections are a tad too Robert Altman-esque among this subset of characters.)

Since Chet, Gerber has produced two further novels in the same format: one on Charlie Parker (2004) and one on Billie Holiday (2005). You can listen to his moving radio program, Le jazz est un roman, on France-Musique.

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