In this wise, stimulating, and deeply personal book, an eminent jazz chronicler writes of his encounters with four great black musicians: Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Milt Hinton, and Nat "King" Cole. Equal parts memoir, oral history, and commentary, each of the main chapters is a minibiography, weaving together conversations Gene Lees had with the musicians and their families, friends, and associates over a period of several decades.
Lees begins the book with an essay that tells of his introduction to the world of jazz and his reaction to racism in the United States when he emigrated from Canada in 1955. The underlying theme in his book is the impact racism had on the four musicians’ lives and careers and their determination to overcome it. As Lees writes, “No white person can even begin to understand the black experience in the United States. . . . All [of the four jazz makers] are men who had every reason to embrace bitterness—and didn’t.”
Gene Lees is the publisher of the Jazzletter. He is also a song lyricist and the author of more than a dozen volumes of jazz history and criticism, including the highly acclaimed Cats of Any Color: Jazz Black and White.
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