Leslie Gourse, Jazz Author Dies at 65


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Leslie Gourse, 65, who died of a respiratory ailment Dec. 23 at a hospital in New York, was a biographer of jazz greats, including Louis Armstrong, Nat “King" Cole, Art Blakey, Wynton Marsalis, Thelonious Monk, Joe Williams, Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald.

Ms. Gourse, a freelance writer and an author of more than 20 books about jazz, was a heavy-smoking workaholic of myriad interests. Based in New York, she wrote album liner notes and travel stories and contributed to magazines and newspapers, including Downbeat, JazzTimes, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Village Voice. With a straightforward if sometimes plodding style, her jazz books received reviews ranging from total dismissal to high praise.

Although some of her work was assembled hastily, she spent five years writing and trying to persuade publishers to print “Madame Jazz: Contemporary Women Instrumentalists." Oxford University Press released the book in 1995 to wide acclaim. Whereas many earlier books noted the contributions of pianists Mary Lou Williams and Marian McPartland, Ms. Gourse examined the work of female jazz musicians since the late 1970s.

Owen McNally, a Hartford Courant jazz critic, called the book a “groundbreaking study of women's role in jazz today."

Contemporary Authors, a reference book, quoted Ms. Gourse as saying: “I try to explain who jazz musicians are and what they do, whether I am writing for adults or children. I want people to be interested in jazz musicians as creative people and real people who have achieved a high degree of artistry in a very demanding field. And I want people to appreciate the history of the music within the context of American history."

She also wrote The Best Guided Walking Tours to New York City (1989), Pocahontas: Young Peacemaker (1996), Gloria Estefan: Pop Sensation (1999) and Jim Henson: Young Puppeteer (2000).

Roberta Leslie Gourse was a native of Fall River, Mass., and a 1960 creative writing graduate of Columbia University.

She began writing about social trends and the arts and found her work about jazz accepted most readily. It led to book contracts.

In 1991, she received the Deems Taylor Award of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers for a series of seven articles about female jazz musicians in JazzTimes.

Survivors include her mother, Zelda Gourse of Providence, R.I.

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