Trumpet Blues

Trumpet Blues : The Life of Harry James

3.85 (27 ratings by Goodreads)
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Swing is back in style, and with it a renewed interest in the big band era. And few players dominated that era more than Harry James, whose soaring trumpet solos and romantic hit tunes influenced popular music for a generation. Now, Peter J. Levinson, who knew Harry James personally, has written a revealing biography of this jazz icon, based on nearly 200 interviews with musicians and friends. Harry James led a truly colourful life, and in this book Levinson captures it all. Beginning with James's childhood in a travelling circus, the reader can follow the young trumpeter's meteoric rise in the 1930s and witness his electrifying performances with the Benny Goodman Orchestra and see how James formed his own band in 1939, an incubator for many pop music stars of the 1940s and '50s, including Frank Sinatra, Connie Haines, Dick Haymes, Helen Forrest, and Kitty Kallen. Combined with James's superb musicianship, peerless trumpet technique and talented sidemen, this stellar group dominated the war years and the immediate post-war more

Product details

  • Hardback | 352 pages
  • 157.48 x 236.22 x 33.02mm | 703.06g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 16 pp halftones
  • 0195110307
  • 9780195110302

About Peter J. Levinson

Peter J. Levinson, who knew Harry James for 24 years, was the foremost jazz publicist for nearly two decades, and still represents a few select clients. Currently, he is at work on a biography of Nelson Riddle. He lives in Malibu, more

Review Text

Leading jazz publicist Levinson makes his literary debut with this biography of the late bandleader, who in the '30s and '40s established himself as a rival to Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, among others. James's early years were particularly formative, as he was born to parents who devoted much of their lives to performing for the circus. "Young Harry first met his public at the age of 11 days, when his parents introduced him to the circus audience," Levinson writes. With his look at the life of circus entertainers in the early part of the century, Levinson hooks the reader immediately. He makes James's progression from childhood circus performer to budding musician at age 12 - when he was "the youngest circus bandleader in the world" - a seamless evolution. By the early 1930s, when James was struggling to succeed as a trumpet player, the reader has a strong sense of his musical growth. It wasn't until December 1936, when Goodman - who would stay friends with James throughout their lifetimes, despite their competition for bookings - invited him to join his band, that the trumpeter became a star. Levinson captures the era well, citing the impact of WWII on popular music, telling stories of the biggest stars of the time (including Goodman, Dorsey, James's hero Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, and Frank Sinatra, whom James helped discover by giving the "kid" his first recording gig) and the bigotry integrated big bands faced on the road. To his credit, Levinson, while hardly ignoring James's legendary womanizing, gambling, and drinking, as well as his lengthy marriage to pinup queen Betty Grable - ultimately victimized by all of James's vices - avoids turning the bandleader's life into a melodramatic soap opera. Instead, he concentrates on the music. Impressive, and a fascinating read not only for fans of jazz, but for students of 20th-century history, Hollywood, and the music business. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Review quote

"The surprise page-turner of the year is Peter Levinson's life of the swing-era star Harry James."--Gary Giddins, The Washington Post Book World"Encyclopedic and engaging...Harry James, his fabled horn, and the woman he won with it--Betty Grable--come to stunning life in this evocative tale of a time when big band music meant melody, virtuosity, and, yes, romance. Those were the good old days."--Mike Wallace, CBS News/Sixty Minutes"Levinson writes the way Harry James played, which makes Trumpet Blues an absolutely brilliant book, about an absolutely brilliant horn player."--Robert B. Parker, author of the popular Spenser mystery series"Impressive...a fascinating read not only for fans of jazz, but for students of 20th-century history, Hollywood, and the music business.... Levinson hooks the reader immediately."--Kirkus Reviews"Graphic and superb, and rich in insider anecdotes, it hits all the high and low notes."--Bill Bell, The Daily Newsshow more

Rating details

27 ratings
3.85 out of 5 stars
5 41% (11)
4 22% (6)
3 26% (7)
2 4% (1)
1 7% (2)
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