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High Hat, Trumpet and Rhythm Mark Miller Softcover; 187 pages ISBN: 1-55128-127-9 The Mercury Press 2007
Ever wonder why so many jazz biographies differ when it comes to hard facts? From Mark Miller's biography of Valaida Snow, it appears that inflation and exaggeration play a major role. The artist doesn't want someone to know her real age and wants audiences to believe that she has accomplished more and has experienced newsworthy events. With his story of the life of a child star turned singer, dancer and trumpeter, Miller relies on personal interviews and extensive research to set the facts straight.
Snow (1904-1956) began as a young child star in her family's vaudeville troupe, performing song and dance numbers to ragtime music. At age 15, she got married and her career with revues such as The Chocolate Dandies, Rhapsody in Black and Holiday for Dixieland became the staple. She had a serious affair with bandleader Earl Hines and married six times. At one point, she was sued for bigamy and forced to pay a $100 fine. All for publicity? Well, yes, it would have served her in that capacity.
There were events in her career that would lend themselves to exaggeration. While performing in Shanghai in 1927, the show was interrupted briefly when the city was overrun by Chiang Kei-sheck's Nationalists. In 1936 she fell from a horse, broke her shoulder and eventually became addicted to painkillers. She and her fifth husband were still living in Denmark when Germany invaded in 1940. The following spring, two Danish policemen accompanied her to Gothenburg, Sweden where she would be able to sail to the US. There was always room for mystery and intrigue.
Pianist Billy Taylor served as Snow's accompanist in 1943. He and several others who knew Snow make the book factual, to the point and incisive. Also included is a full discography from 1933-1953, extensive endnotes, a selected bibliography and three black and white photos of Snow in professional poses.
I love jazz because it mixes intellect and emotion in a very spontaneous way.
I was first exposed to jazz by liberating a Coltrane and a Pharoah Sanders record from a friend in NYC and listening to them over and over until I got it.
My advice to new listeners is you have to take the time to listen to some jazz tunes a number of times until it starts to make sense.