Floyd Levin, an award-winning jazz writer, has personally known many of the jazz greats who contributed to the music's colorful history. In this collection of his articles, published mostly in jazz magazines over a fifty-year period, Levin takes us into the nightclubs, the recording studios, the record companies, and, most compellingly, into the lives of the musicians who made the great moments of the traditional jazz and swing eras. Brilliantly weaving anecdotal material, primary research, and music analysis into every chapter, Classic Jazz: A Personal View of the Music and the Musicians is a gold mine of information on a rich segment of American popular music.
This collection of articles begins with Levin's first published piece and includes several new articles that were inspired by his work on this compilation. The articles are organized thematically, beginning with a piece on Kid Ory's early recordings and ending with a newly written article about the campaign to put up a monument to Louis Armstrong in New Orleans. Along the way, Levin gives in-depth profiles of many well-known jazz legends, such as Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong, and many lesser-known figures who contributed greatly to the development of jazz.
Extensively illustrated with previously unpublished photographs from Levin's personal collection, this wonderfully readable and extremely personal book is full of information that is not available elsewhere. Classic Jazz: A Personal View of the Music and the Musicians will be celebrated by jazz scholars and fans everywhere for the overview it provides of the music's evolution, and for the love of jazz it inspires on every page.
Floyd Levin has been published in many magazines, including Down Beat, Jazz Journal International,and American Rag. He has received several awards for his work, most recently the Leonard Feather Communicator Award given annually by the Los Angeles Jazz Society. He was voted Number One Jazz Journalist in a recent readers' poll in the Mississippi Rag.
"Floyd Levin's half-century collection of reportage, reviews and recollections are an irreplaceable and totally enjoyable trove of writing about the vibrancy, past and still-present, of traditional American jazz."—Charles Champlin, author of Back There Where the Past Was
"I've known Floyd and his wife Lucille for more than fifty years. Floyd's book is a colorful, intimate account of his lifelong love affair with jazz. I'm especially fascinated when he writes about his personal encounters with some of the jazz legends of the Century. This book is essential reading for anyone concerned about jazz - its present, its past, and his evolution."—Milt Hinton
"Floyd Levin's dedicated and unselfish life-long work for the cause of jazz has illuminated many a corner that would otherwise have remained in the dark. All who care about the music are in his debt. Classic Jazz, like Floyd himself, is a classic."—Dan Morgenstern, Director, Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University
"What a rich, passionate and human book this is! Drawing on fifty years of devotion to classic, New Orleans jazz and the artists who performed it, Floyd Levin brilliantly weaves anecdotal material, primary research, intimate personal observations, and analyses to create an historical goldmine of the music's evolution in New Orleans and on the West Coast. In rendering portraits of legendary musicians in such a beautifully moving, honest way, he offers not just standard history, but a strong sense of the emotional core of the music as well."—Steve Isoardi, co-author of Central Avenue Sounds
An 86-year-old charmer, Eubie Blake, recalled an era when ragtime was the vogue. After shocking his southern audience with a few irreverent bars of "Marching Through Georgia," the composer-pianist exchanged some ad-lib remarks with Willis Conover before striding into his "Charleston Rag." He paid tribute to his contemporary C. Luckey Roberts with the latter's "Spanish Venus," followed by a most stirring ragtime version of Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever." The Blake-Razaf classic "Memories of You" received an ovation from the appreciative audience responding warmly to Eubie Blake's youthful ebullience.After the concert, I noticed the pianist standing alone in a quiet corridor backstage. I complimented him on his excellent performance and requested permission to take his picture. He graciously agreed and posed with bassist Milt Hinton, who approached at that moment. When I offered to send him a copy of the picture, he scoffed and quipped: "You guys have been takin' my pictures for seventy years--and I've never seen one of them!" I promised to send the photo and asked for his address. He opened a small silver case and handed me a business card engraved with the words:
Eubie BlakeThat was three decades ago. The card, with my scrawled notation "SEND PIC," is still in my Eubie Blake file. Within a week, I sent him the photo. In a few days, I received the first of many handwritten letters he sent to me over the years. His attractive letterhead, emblazoned with the ASCAP insignia, listed, on the left margin, names of his Broadway shows and titles of his song hits. He wrote:
Composer of Shuffle Along
I'm Just Wild About Harry
Lou Leslie's Blackbirds
Hello there, friend,Then, switching to red ink, he added,
And I do mean friend.Then, alternating ink colors on each line, he continued:
Like Geo. M. Cohan used to say--
My Mother thanks you [green ink]In 1995, when his image appeared on a thirty-two-cent stamp, my photo of Eubie and Milt Hinton was printed on the first-day-of-issue cachet, mailed during the annual jazz festival at Monterey, California. Blake was born in 1883 in Baltimore, Maryland; his parents were both freed slaves. He began playing the piano at age four, getting his first lessons on a battered old parlor upright. His mother disapproved of all secular music, but Eubie loved ragtime. He was sixteen years old when he wrote "Sounds of Africa" (later titled "Charleston Rag") in 1899--the same year Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" was published. "I didn't write åCharleston Rag' then," he said. "I composed it. I learned to write about fifteen years later."
My Father thanks you [blue ink]
My Sister thanks you [red ink]
My Marion (my wife) thanks you [black ink]
And I thank you! [blue ink] Sincerely, Your friend
P.S. I love the picture with Milt Hinton. I'll have it blown up and hang it in my gallery of great artists.
His name was Willie Joseph. His mother worked for some rich white people who recognized his talent and sent him to the Boston Conservatory. He was the first Negro to graduate as a classical pianist. He lost a leg in a skating accident in 1900. In those days, Negros weren't supposed to read music. We pretended we couldn't read and people would marvel at the way we could play show music and rags--they thought by ear. The only arrangement I ever copied was Willie's "Stars and Stripes Forever"--I still play it.In December 1979, the Huntington Hartford Theater in Hollywood hosted the West Coast premiere of Blake's Broadway show, "Eubie!" Lucille and I sat with Eubie and Marion in the front row. The gleam of a pinpoint spotlight hung like a halo over Eubie's bald head during the entire first act. After the final curtain calls, an on-stage ceremony honoring him featured surprise appearances from members of the show's New York cast, including Maurice and Gregory Hines. The after-show reception glittered with Hollywood stars, musicians, and fans.