Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

685

Lost Chords : White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945

By

Sign in to view read count
Lost Chords Lost Chords
Richard M. Sudhalter
Oxford Univ Press
ISBN: 019514838X

Richard Sudhalter, it might be said, has white jazz on the brain. Over the years, he's amassed a fantastic amount of knowledge and understanding of the white jazzmen who performed prior to World War II. He combined this research with his personal skills as a jazz trumpeter to author Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945. The book's publication in 1999, as well as a related essay he penned for the New York Times at the time, set off a firestorm in the jazz community. With the paperback's recent release, it's a good time to reassess the criticisms against Sudhalter's thesis, that jazz was a field "black and white once worked side by side, often defying the racial and social norms of their time to create a music whose graces reflected the combined effort."

Lost Chords is a daunting read. Physically, the book has the heft of an unabridged dictionary. A full seven hundred and fifty pages are dedicated to jazz history, musicology, and biography, not including notes and indices. Stylistically, Sudhalter's prose is consistent and well-executed, a sustained marathon of writing. Sometimes he drops into mawkishness (such as his valediction for Bud Freeman) but only in short bursts, keeping the meat of the book uncluttered. Occasionally the narrative bogs down in detail; in early chapters, when musicians are moving between bands and subbing in the studios, it feels a little like reading a phone book framed as a story. (Later, when dominant personalities emerge, the problem disappears.) For documentation Sudhalter mines everything: recordings, demos, radio air checks, magazines, newspapers, his own interviews, even musician union rosters. Regardless of the question of race, it's a colossal work of scholarship resting by and large on first-hand information. He even drops music transcriptions into the narration to buttress a point. While musicians might run off to the piano to reproduce a classic Frank Teschemacher solo, the rest of us have to take Sudhalter's word for it.

The controversy, of course, is not over a wrongly transcribed eighth note. Most reviews of the hardbound edition were conditionally positive; musicians' reactions were routinely negative. Branford Marsalis reportedly stated "It does not deserve the dignity of a response. It's not an argument I'm prepared to devote five minutes to." Gerald Early, writing in the companion book to Ken Burns' Jazz series, wrote of Lost Chords as "a long mess of a book that is neither serviceable nor kind to its reader." Some have called Sudhalter the Patrick Buchanan of jazz.

Unfair? For the most part, yes. Sudhalter goes out of his way countless times to stress blacks' importance in jazz history. However, in a matter of this sensitivity lip service is not sufficient. Blacks' due must be given, and here is where he falls short at times. For example, the book does not start in New Orleans, as expected, but Chicago. Sudhalter dismisses the traditional jazz genesis story of Buddy Bolden swinging and stomping in the dance halls around the French Quarter and Storyville. (In fact, he points to the lake resorts outside of town and the competing bands that played there as a more likely origin.) But this is all backstory in Sudhalter's narrative; white jazz, in his mind, begins in Chicago with Tom Brown's "Band from Dixieland" and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (the quintet who cut the first jazz record, now seen as a historical fluke). He misses a golden opportunity to develop the book's central thesis, a chance to explore (or prove) black and white bands coexisting in the pre-World War I years and fusing their styles together. As it stands, Sudhalter's compliments to black players ring a tad hollow without paying the ultimate praise of creation or exploring jazz's parentage between the races. It's not that Sudhalter's a racist, or even a Pat Buchanan revisionist. For a book this fully furnished, it simply starts at too convenient a moment in time.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Shop Music & Tickets

Click any of the store links below and you'll support All About Jazz in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles

Read Leaps & Sounds: 12 Contemporary Etudes for Jazz Saxophone Book Reviews
Leaps & Sounds: 12 Contemporary Etudes for Jazz...
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: December 6, 2018
Read Roger Daltrey: Thanks A Lot Mr Kibblewhite - My Story Book Reviews
Roger Daltrey: Thanks A Lot Mr Kibblewhite - My Story
by Doug Collette
Published: December 2, 2018
Read Hearing Beethoven: A Story of Musical Loss and Discovery by Robin Wallace Book Reviews
Hearing Beethoven: A Story of Musical Loss and Discovery by...
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: November 24, 2018
Read More Than A Jazz Legend: Dexter Gordon and His Search For Personal Integrity Book Reviews
More Than A Jazz Legend: Dexter Gordon and His Search For...
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: November 1, 2018
Read Alligator founder provides blues fans insider look at running of label Book Reviews
Alligator founder provides blues fans insider look at...
by Jim Trageser
Published: October 30, 2018
Read Johnny Cash: The Life and Legacy of the Man in Black Book Reviews
Johnny Cash: The Life and Legacy of the Man in Black
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: October 27, 2018
Read "The Other Night at Quinn's" Book Reviews The Other Night at Quinn's
by David A. Orthmann
Published: August 17, 2018
Read "The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums" Book Reviews The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums
by Roger Crane
Published: December 19, 2017
Read "Listening For The Secret: The Grateful Dead And The Politics Of Improvisation" Book Reviews Listening For The Secret: The Grateful Dead And The...
by Ian Patterson
Published: December 10, 2017