JAM: a Novel

Kyle Simpler BY

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Alan Goldsher
The Permanent Press
ISBN: 0786884967

Frank Craft grew up as a self-proclaimed “jazz geek,” totally clueless about rock music. While his schoolmates were listening to Madonna and U2, Frank immersed himself in John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Oddly enough, a few years after he graduated from high school, Frank found himself playing drums in a band with a hit single. Such is the nature of Alan Goldsher’s intelligent and insightful novel, Jam.

Goldsher, a professional bassist, has worked with artists ranging from Janet Jackson and Cypress Hill to Clark Terry and Kenny Garrett. With Jam, he shows that he is equally adept at writing as he is on the fretboard. Here, Goldsher presents an very accurate look at the behind-the-scenes world of music. Anyone who has had any experience in the music business will easily recognize some of the characters here.

Characterization is one of Goldsher’s strong suits; his ensemble is completely believable. In keeping with literary tradition, Jam’s cast exhibits mixed character traits. Any one of them is just as capable of being a jerk as a saint. For example, Frank, the narrator of the story, can be a sympathetic, typical “nice guy” one minute and a relentless perfectionist another. This perfectionism pays off when he forms a jazz group called Hovercraft with his best friend, James.

James Justus is one of those guys who seems to have it all. He can play any instrument that interests him and get any girl he wants. He also has an ego to match his talent. Frank, on the other hand, has his hands full mastering one instrument and getting one girl to go out with him. Nevertheless, Hovercraft develops a small following in their hometown of Chicago.

James, however, has bigger goals in mind. After convincing Frank to apply jazz techniques to rock music, Hovercraft’s popularity skyrockets. They land a record deal with a major label, who changes their name to Jam, and gets ready to make them the next big thing. Unfortunately, though, the name isn’t the only thing that changes; their priorities and musical integrity face compromises as well. Make no mistake, though, this isn’t some sort of heavy-handed rock and roll soap opera. While Goldsher does address serious topics, humor provides the key signature for his Jam.

This excellent first novel, offers a wild ride through the world of music. Goldsher delivers a well-paced and entertaining story on the level of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. There’s also a sense of bohemian abandon, comparable to Ed Sanders’ Tales of Beatnik Glory. And on every page, you can practically hear the Max Roach album playing in the background.

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