Sunday, May 12, 2024

Larry Tye's "The Jazzmen"

Larry Tye is the New York Times bestselling author of Bobby Kennedy and Satchel, as well as Demagogue, Superman, The Father of Spin, Home Lands, and Rising from the Rails, and coauthor, with Kitty Dukakis, of Shock. Previously an award-winning reporter at the Boston Globe and a Nieman fellow at Harvard University, he now runs the Boston-based Health Coverage Fellowship. He lives on Cape Cod.

Tye applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Jazzmen: How Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie Transformed America and reported the following:
Here’s a slightly abridged version of what is on page 99:
With most jazz kingpins, it was difficult to be sure when they were swinging at full throttle. With Bill Basie, the tell was his ten toes.

Those calloused and curled digits, planted squarely under his piano seat, foretold whether a song had the vital elixir, the rhythmic perfection, the sheer it. His bandmates watched for a hopeful nod of his close-cropped head, a flicker of his bushy brows, or perhaps a doubling of his fists. But they knew the true proof lay in any movement of his toes. Would it be enough to lift both feet? Would they thump or just flutter? Some musicians actually suspected he had radar hidden in his shoes...

Now that he was on center stage, the Count’s weren’t the only toes that counted. Everyone listening – dresses and pants, moldy figs and beboppers – had to be bobbing theirs. Then moving to the dance floor. Once they got there, the rest was a gut reaction – stomping, swaying, and swiveling with the Jump King of Swing.

“If you have a Count Basie record playing and your left foot isn’t tapping,” said jazz radio host and scholar Dick Golden, “you better go see your doctor because something must be wrong with your circulation.” Critic Gary Giddins concurred, saying, “Basie knew if he had your foot, your heart and mind would follow.”
That selection gives a flavor of my three-in-one biography, and of why Basie – like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington – warrants his place on the Mount Rushmore of jazz greats. But it misses the bigger point: that this book is mainly about these maestros’ lives off their bandstands, and the hidden history of their writing the soundtrack for the civil rights revolution.

Duke, Satchmo, and the Count set the table for racial insurrection by opening white America’s ears and souls to the grace of their music and their personalities, demonstrating the virtues of Black artistry and Black humanity. They toppled color barriers on radio and TV; in jukeboxes, films, newspapers, and newsmagazines; and in the White House, concert halls, and living rooms from the Midwest and both coasts to the Heart of Dixie. But they did it carefully, knowing that to do otherwise in their Jim Crow era would have been suicidal. The sound of their evolving jazz dialect formed a cultural fulcrum that no outraged protestor or government-issued desegregation order could begin to achieve.
Visit Larry Tye's website.

The Page 99 Test: Demagogue.

My Book, The Movie: Demagogue.

--Marshal Zeringue