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Book Picks

The Producer
     ---- John Hammond and the Soul of American Music

by Dunstan Prial
published by Farrar Straus Giroux
© 2006 by Dunstan Prial

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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."

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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