by Dunstan Prial
published by Farrar Straus Giroux
© 2006 by Dunstan Prial
Click on image to purchase
From Publishers Weekly
Built upon interviews with musicians, family and colleagues, this admiring
biography delivers a solid portrait of the famed 20th-century critic,
journalist and producer. Known for his square crew cut, protuberant
eyes and toothy grin, the sometimes arrogant, blues-loving Vanderbilt
heir "seemed to know what America wanted to hear before America
knew it," writes first-time author Prial. Besides recording Bessie
Smith's last studio sessions and Billie Holiday's first, Hammond is
the nudge that gets Count Basie to leave Kansas City and the driving
force behind Benny Goodman's decision to integrate his band by adding
black vibraphonist Lionel Hampton -- all this roughly two decades before
he signs Bob Dylan to Columbia Records. Prial's sedulous work pays off
in the consistency of his narrative. His even-toned, chronological book
is light on anecdotes, but his smart use of music histories, jazz autobiographies
and Hammond's own Downbeat and Melody Maker writings results in an impressive
and authoritative text. Moreover, Prial's insights into Hammond's youth
and two marriages transform his work from the tale of a jazz buff with
money into an engaging study of a man with two obsessions -- "making
music and promoting social reform."
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