Learn How

Help improve All About Jazz

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz needs your help and we have a deal. For $20, we'll hide those pesky Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

89

Stardust Melody: The Life and Times of Hoagy Carmichael

By

Sign in to view read count


Stardust Melody
Richard M. Sudhalter
Oxford Univ Press
ISBN 0195131207

I approached Stardust Melody skeptically. With two Carmichael autobiographies recently re-released, did we really need this biography? Could Sudhalter, so steeped in Hoagy Carmichael's music as a trumpteter/bandleader, be objective about the composer's music?

Would the author of the 1999 tome Lost Chords overoad us with detail?

All my doubts were unfounded. Sudhalter's work is balanced and insightful. At 432 pages, there's plenty of detail but rarely too much. Given the length and breadth of Carmichael's life as a pianist, composer, sometime lyricist and actor, the treatment is rather concise. Musical illustrations and analyses are plentiful but brief. Sudhalter includes the best aspects of the autobiographies, in which Hoagy conveyed so well the excitement he and his peers felt at the emergence of "hot" music. More than many musical biographers, Sudhalter includes context, whether it's developments in jazz or the world at large.

The unique quality of much of Carmichael's music is a point well made here. Regarding Hong Kong Blues, written in 1929: "it sounds like nothing else in popular music". Or the bridge to Skylark (1941): "Not a phrase, not a moment, in which it resembles the bridge of any other popular song." But Sudhalter doesn't hold back from calling other songs "mediocre" or "little short of embarassing".

Make no mistake, though Carmichael attained fame in the pop and movie music arenas, his roots were in jazz, particularly from the early '20's to early '30's. As he said in 1948, "None of my songs could have been written without I'd had (sic) a jazz background". Ample space is devoted to the seminal influence on Carmichael of Bix Beiderbecke, but numerous others are credited, including Louis Armstrong and Indianapolis pianist Reg DuValle. Sudhalter also dug deep into primary sources, including 91 year old Bud Dant.

In 1979, New York Times reporter Tom Buckley wrote of Hoagy Carmichael that "at least 20 of his 250 or so published compositions are among the brightest diamonds in the nation's musical treasury".

While Hoagy certainly hasn't been overlooked, Sudhalter's biography should help bring the added attention he deserves.

My one disappointment with Stardust Melody is that its author didn't devote more attention to the song Star Dust, reputed to be the first or second most recorded song ever, with about 1,500 in at least 40 languages.


Shop

More Articles

Read Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge Book Reviews Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: January 21, 2017
Read Paul Morley: The Age of Bowie Book Reviews Paul Morley: The Age of Bowie
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: December 25, 2016
Read Charles Lloyd: A Wild, Blatant Truth Book Reviews Charles Lloyd: A Wild, Blatant Truth
by Ian Patterson
Published: December 25, 2016
Read Man Of The Light: The Life And Work Of Zbigniew Seifert Book Reviews Man Of The Light: The Life And Work Of Zbigniew Seifert
by Ian Patterson
Published: December 11, 2016
Read Stan Levey: Jazz Heavyweight Book Reviews Stan Levey: Jazz Heavyweight
by Chuck Koton
Published: December 4, 2016
Read "Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge" Book Reviews Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: January 21, 2017
Read "Stan Levey: Jazz Heavyweight" Book Reviews Stan Levey: Jazz Heavyweight
by David A. Orthmann
Published: April 24, 2016
Read "Kickback City: Deluxe Edition" Book Reviews Kickback City: Deluxe Edition
by Doug Collette
Published: July 24, 2016
Read "The Band Photographs 1968-1969" Book Reviews The Band Photographs 1968-1969
by Doug Collette
Published: March 26, 2016
Read "Charles Lloyd: A Wild, Blatant Truth" Book Reviews Charles Lloyd: A Wild, Blatant Truth
by Ian Patterson
Published: December 25, 2016
Read "Jazz Festival: Jim Marshall" Book Reviews Jazz Festival: Jim Marshall
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: September 11, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Get Jazz Near You via email!

Enjoy the convenience of receiving a comprehensive listing of jazz events in your area every Thursday. It's free!