Review: William Howland Kenney, Jazz on the River
"The romance, the misery and the music of migration are all captured in William Howland Kenney’s Jazz on the River, a book that narrates a history that couldn’t be captured merely by doting on scratchy records, tattered scores and old reviews. It was commonly known that jazz was born in New Orleans and made its way up the Mississippi, but until Kenney no one had investigated the makers of the boats and the conditions of the musicians who worked on them. And no study before this one ever charted that northern migration so that we can appreciate the artists and how their musical communities were formed, giving us new ways to appreciate the Pittsburgh of Billy Strayhorn, Art Blakey, and Mary Lou Williams, the St. Louis of Miles Davis…. [U]ntil Kenney’s book we never got to feel what…the riverboat gig was actually like. What we get in this book, with lucid prose and meticulous research, is a geographical and cultural context for the figures who would eventually become canonical, providing a vital new backdrop for music and anecdotes that had seemed well trodden…. As for actually placing jazz in its historical and cultural context in America, Kenney is among the scholars who have…with a scholar’s mission to bring the music into a geographical, economic and social investigation of what was going on around it…."—David Yaffe, The Nation. Read the review.
Read an excerpt.