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Brandon Burke

Jazz artists mentioned in fiction.

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Was going to post this in "Jazz in Print" but decided it might work better here as most of those discussions concern non-fiction...

Been reading a lot of fiction lately. Mostly Flann O'Brien, Gilbert Sorrentino, and Harry Mathews. (I only discovered them a few months ago.) Sorrentino's Imaginable Qualities of Actual Things references several jazz artists. As I rememember it, guys like Lester Young. The reason why I'm posting this is because I was reading Mathews' The Journalist just now and ran across the following sentence:

When Colette was mentioned, I reminded myself, The woman you long to be with! and felt only an echo of regret, like a regret out of art, like catching one of Monk's long solos through a window in the summer twilight.

Here's another great one, this time from the classical world. In Donald Barthelme's "Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby". It's a bit longer but the Ives fans among us will find it funny:

We asked him what sort of music he would like played at the hanging. He said he'd think about it but it would take him a while to decide. I pointed out that we'd have to know soon, because Howard, who is a conductor, would have to hire and rehearse the musicians and he couldn't begin until he knew what the music was going to be. Colby said he'd always been fond of Ives's Fourth Symphony. Howard said that this was a "delaying tactic" and that everybody knew that the Ives was almost impossible to perform and would involve weeks of rehearsal, and that the size of the orchestra and chorus would put us way over the music budget. "Be reasonable," he said to Colby. Colby said he'd try to think of something a little less exacting. B-)

Curious if others knew of some comparable moments they might share.

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There's a reference to Jimmy Giuffre in Joseph McElroy's A SMUGGLER'S BIBLE, a reference to Albert Ayler in his HIND'S KIDNAP, and Han Bennink makes a cameo in his latest, ACTRESS IN THE HOUSE.

If you're digging Mathews especially -- he has written what is maybe the finest essay on McElroy's work -- you might want to check out McElroy. Presuming you have not.

Edited by Joe

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I can think of a few musician bios that qualify. B-)

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Brandon,

Check out Larry Kart's piece on Kerouac in his new book. Although Kerouac used pseudonymns, the jazz musicians were often based directly on real-life figures.

Been awhile since I read Ellroy's THE BIG NOWHERE, but some of the Central Ave L.A. musicians may have been mentioned in that one. Basie gets mentioned in the work of both David Goodis and Chester Himes... great topic. I've got a Night Lights program slated for this summer that deals with this very subject.

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Re: Gilbert Sorrentino. STEELWORK is indeed an fine novel, as is ABERRATION OF STARLIGHT. SPLENDIDE-HOTEL, too, though it is escape genre; not fiction, not poetry, not essay, not abecedary (though formally it resembles one).

Also, his son Christopher Sorrentino has written a fascinating if at-times overly schematic novel about a fictional rock band, circa 1982, entitled SOUND ON SOUND.

And isn't it Barthelme who in, THE DEAD FATHER, likens listening to Stockhausen to whipping down a water slide lined with razor baldes and landing in a pool of rubbing alcohol?

Finally, members of the AEC -- Lester Bowie and Roscoe Mitchell, IIRC -- appear as "actors" in Rafi Zabor's otherwise entirely fictional THE BEAR COMES HOME.

Edited by Joe

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Doesn't he actually hate jazz? I think I read that somewhere once... I really liked THE BIG NOWHERE and somewhat LA CONFIDENTIAL, but I started WHITE JAZZ three times before I was able to finish it... his post-LA CONF amphetamine style too often turns into "Jack be nimble..." or "See Spot run..." cadences. Thought he came back up to speed (so to speak) in AMERICAN TABLOID and then faltered again badly in COLD SIX THOUSAND. As memoirs go, MY DARK PLACES is a pretty good one, though, with some of his more annoying narrative tendencies held in check.

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Check out Argentian writer Julio Cortazar's long short story/novella "The Pursuer," about the relationship between a Charlie Parker-like saxophonist (Johnny) and a Leonard Feather-like writer/promoter (Bruno). (It is or was in his collection "Blow-Up and Other Stories" -- Antonini's film was based on a Cortazar tale.) Perhaps Cortazar's reach slightly exceeds his grasp in "The Pursuer," but his Parker figure's monologue about what he heard/felt/saw inside his head between two stops on the Paris Metro seems to me to be damn close to what might have been going on inside Bird's head at times. Jazz often crops up in Cortazar's work. Paris-based, he was definitely hip, though perhaps a bit too concerned with being hip for his own good, at least literarily. I'll bet Brownie ran across him from time to time.

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Larry, sorry I can't recall running into Cortazar. Unfortunately. I read quite a number of his stories.

Good call on him!

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Meltzer was also one of the masterminds behind the Blue Oyster Cult.

GULCHER remains a really good sampler of his critical work.

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There's an excellent book of fiction 'Les Treize Morts d'Albert Ayler' (The Thirteen Deaths of Albert Ayler), a collective book by fourteen writers including Jerome Charyn, Jean-Claude Izzo, Jon A. Jackson, Michel Le Bris.

As the booktitle implies, these were fiction stories around the death of Ayler.

The book was published in 1996 in the famous Serie Noire thriller collection of thrillers from the prestigious Gallimard publishing house. The book sold out pretty quickly and is not available presently.

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There's an excellent book of fiction 'Les Treize Morts d'Albert Ayler' (The Thirteen Deaths of Albert Ayler), a collective book by fourteen writers including Jerome Charyn, Jean-Claude Izzo, Jon A. Jackson, Michel Le Bris.

As the booktitle implies, these were fiction stories around the death of Ayler.

The book was published in 1996 in the famous Serie Noire thriller collection of thrillers from the prestigious Gallimard publishing house. The book sold out pretty quickly and is not available presently.

Jerome Charyn! Wonderful! Thanks for this note.

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Haruki Murakami references Eric Dolphy in THE WIND UP BIRD CHRONICLES.

…there was no common ground between us, and so however much we might speak words in each other’s vicinity, this could never develop into anything that could be called a conversation. It was as though we were speaking to each other in different languages. If the Dalai Lama were on his deathbed and the jazz musician Eric Dolphy were to try to explain to him the importance of choosing one’s engine oil in accordance with changes in the sound of the bass clarinet, that exchange might have been a touch more worthwhile and effective than my conversations with Noboru Wataya.

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Some of you may have heard - or even read books - by the late French author Georges Perec (Clem has). In his classic work 'Je Me Souviens' (1978), Perec mentions seeing Lester Young in a Paris club, the MJQ albums his father was listening and also mentions - among others - Art Tatum and Barney Wilen.

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Geoff Dyer's BUT BEAUTIFUL, which has been mentioned here and on the BNBB several times before.

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I don't think anyone's mentioned James Baldwin's Another Country yet. There is (I think, been a while!) a reference to a few boppers in there.

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Also, his son Christopher Sorrentino has written a fascinating if at-times overly schematic novel about a fictional rock band, circa 1982, entitled SOUND ON SOUND.

And isn't it Barthelme who in, THE DEAD FATHER, likens listening to Stockhausen to whipping down a water slide lined with razor baldes and landing in a pool of rubbing alcohol?

That's funny. A friend of mine was in a band that made a song called "Sound on Sound" in 1983.

As for The Dead Father, I just read that book last summer. Still trying to wrap my brain around it, frankly. I mean I really enjoyed it, right. Just as I have the rest of his work. (And, at that time, it was the one title that I still hadn't read yet.) Still...

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Brandon,

Check out Larry Kart's piece on Kerouac in his new book. Although Kerouac used pseudonymns, the jazz musicians were often based directly on real-life figures.

Been awhile since I read Ellroy's THE BIG NOWHERE, but some of the Central Ave L.A. musicians may have been mentioned in that one. Basie gets mentioned in the work of both David Goodis and Chester Himes... great topic. I've got a Night Lights program slated for this summer that deals with this very subject.

I believe Kerouac has mentioned Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray on a few occasions (On the Road).

Mark

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I'm heading out to do some used LP/book shopping here in a bit. Will look for some McElroy. Thanks for the tip.

(And thanks to Clem for bothering to send me a super long email suggesting all of the stuff I've been enjoying lately).

Cheers fellas!

-- Brandon

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Among the musicians Kerouac mentions are Allen Eager (in "The Subterraneans" under the pseudonym "Roger Beloit"), Richie Kamuca (in the same place, K spells it "Ricci Commuca"), Shearing (in "On the Road") Getz and Warne Marsh (in "Desolation Angels"), Miles Davis (in "Mexico City Blues") and, perhaps above all and most intimately, Brew Moore (in "Desolation Angels" -- K calls him "Brue").

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I can't check it right now, but I seem to recall that there are real jazz musicians name-checked alongside the "fictionalized" ones -- Edgar Poole [Prez], Walden Blue [Wardell Gray], Geordie Dickson [bille Holiday], Junius Priest [Monk] -- in John Clellon Holmes' THE HORN -- which, FWIW, the somewhat goofy roman a clef names aside, is still my favorite "jazz novel".

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Author Peter Straub is a jazz fan and frequently mentions jazz artists in his writings. The earliest one I can remember is "Shadowland" whre he mentions Coleman Hawkins..and if I remember correctly "Shadowland" was the name of the piece that Louis Armstrong heard B.A. Rolfe play and which inspired Louis to explore the upper register of his horn for as an approach to stating melodies.

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If I recall correctly, "The Horn" is the book in which, at a jam session, the soloists exchange sixes instead of fours.

Another vote for "The Bear Comes Home." The first time I tried, I didn't get it (the bear and all). The second time I liked it a lot.

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The protaganist of Percival Everett's 'Suder' is a major league third baseman, who, in the process of losing it/finding it, plays a Charlie Parker record in the clubhouse.

Another Gilbert Sorrentino: His story, "The Moon in It's Flight", begins with a short discussion of a bop classic:

"Bernie was taliking about Sonny Stitt's alto on 'That's Earl, Brother.' As Good as Bird, he said. Arnie said, bullshit: he was a very hip young man from Washington Heights, wore mirrored sunglasses. A bop drummer in his senior year at the High School of Performing Arts."

No one's mentioned a couple of obvious ones (probably too obvious):

Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man listening to Louis Armstrong.

Michael Ondaatje's 'Coming Through Slaughter', his ode to Buddy Bolden.

Edited by paul secor

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Years ago I read a crime novel by Elmore Leonard that could have been The Switch, I can't remember for sure. Anyway, the bad guys throughout the story were listening to Groove Holmes tapes.

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Author Peter Straub is a jazz fan and frequently mentions jazz artists in his writings. The earliest one I can remember is "Shadowland" whre he mentions Coleman Hawkins..and if I remember correctly "Shadowland" was the name of the piece that Louis Armstrong heard B.A. Rolfe play and which inspired Louis to explore the upper register of his horn for as an approach to stating melodies.

Good call. The hero of Shadowland is named Tommy Flanagan, and there's a mention of the character having met his namesake at one point. Straub also wrote Ghost Story where some of the supporting characters have some familar last names like "Mobley" and "Venuti".

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