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Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa Andrea Davis Pinkney Brian Pinkney (Ill) Hyperion Press ISBN 0786805684
Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney, who previously collaborated on the children's picture book "Duke Ellington", have now brought us Ella's story, from teenage street-corner dancing to international fame. It's all narrated, over four "tracks", by Scat Cat Monroe, the world's coolest feline, complete with sharp suits and spats. Scat Cat's got the bona fides, 'cause he was there for every step of Ella's career, swinging with Chick Webb, dancing at the Savoy and playing sax with Dizzy.
Andrea Pinkney is a gifted wordsmith. Consider the following: "Singing so supreme, Music's velvet-ribbon dream", or "Crowd got hotter than bootleg Tabasco." Some of this will be over the heads of the five-nine year olds the publisher tells us this book is for, but just as in jazz, some things are just fine being felt and not necessarily "understood". She also uses some more modern phraseology, like "slammin'" and "threw down".
Illustrator Brian Pinkney makes the story even more exciting with bold colors, imagery and movement. When Chick Webb's band swings... well, you need to see the image. When lindy hoppers throw their partners in the air, some fly right off the page! Pinkney acknowledges debts to Harlem Renaissance artists, but with a winged Chick Webb, folks flying through the air, and an upside-down Dizzy Gillespie, I think he should have added Marc Chagall's influence.
The author has appended a very comprehensive one-page biography. I was glad to see that it included Jazz at the Philharmonic's role in helping to break down segregation. Short bibliography, videography and selected discography follow. Curiously, there is no mention in the biography of Ella having had an adopted son and the discography includes no recordings by Chick Webb. Despite these omissions I highly recommend this delightful book, which I also think will be appropriate for many children beyond age nine.
Bob Jacobson is a free lance writer, jazz musician and school social worker in Baltimore, Md.