Books: December 11, 1996
THE STORY OF A JAZZMAN
The author chronicles the personal trials and the musical career of the elusive Stan Getz
Stan Getz: A Life in Jazz
Donald L. Maggin '48
William Morrow, $25
Even if you're not familiar with the wonderfully relaxed, translucent playing of Stan Getz (1924-91)-the most popular tenor saxist of the 1950s and 1960s-you've likely felt his musical impact. His elegant, lyrical recordings occasionally made Billboard's pop-not just jazz-charts, and his influence touched many musicians. He was responsible, along with guitarist Charlie Byrd, for introducing and popularizing bossa-nova rhythms in North America and for launching the careers of such successful recording artists as singers Astrud Gilberto (in the 1960s) and Diane Schuur (in the 1980s). Getz earned financial rewards that few jazzmen ever dream of. (He and his second wife blew a million dollars just on legal fees in their prolonged divorce proceedings.) And, like a number of other jazz notables, he battled serious problems with drugs, alcohol, and depression.
In this impressively researched book (which, despite an assortment of niggling factual errors, will serve as the definitive text on its subject for the foreseeable future), Maggin does more than just trace the major events, on and offstage, in Getz's life. He works in enough background information so that the general reader will learn a surprising amount about the developments in jazz over the past 50 years. Whenever a new musical idiom emerges in the course of his story, be it bebop, bossa nova, or modal jazz, Maggin takes time to make clear-without resorting to technical language understood only by specialists-just what it is. And that is no mean feat.
Getz's mounting personal problems often make for harrowing reading. In an extremely dry, matter-of-fact tone, Maggin relates Getz's arrests for using heroin and trying to steal morphine, his attempted suicides (in one instance, his son Steve found him passed out with his head in the gas oven), and his outbursts of rage: Getz punching and strangling his wife, cutting up her clothes, kicking his daughter's dog, hitting his daughter, smashing his favorite saxophone, throwing bricks through every window of his home, and putting his foot through a glass door, causing the permanent loss of movement of four toes. (A contemporary press report said he'd injured himself "puttering around the house.")
Maggin is more interested in describing events than in interpreting them, however. Readers desiring a persuasive explanation of why Getz does what he does may be frustrated by Maggin's reportorial approach. Although he provides much depressing detail in nearly 400 pages of text, we don't really come to understand Getz. Perhaps we're not expected to. As fellow sax great Zoot Sims once said of him: "Stan's a nice bunch of guys."
Maggin's fervent admiration for Getz's playing (which he describes accurately, if too often, as "aching" with poignancy) was shared by many. But Maggin should also have acknowledged that not every serious listener rated Getz as highly as he did. Each time Maggin tells us that Getz has won still another Down Beat poll, he is implying that Getz was generally viewed as tops on his instrument. The reality, which Maggin should have made clear, is that for years there were two annual Down Beat polls-the critics' poll and the readers' poll. And Getz generally did not fare as well with the critics as he did with the readers. While magazine readers were naming him as their favorite, critics were often ranking the likes of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins, and Ben Webster above him.
It would take nothing away from Getz's accomplishments to report and interpret his poll standings more accurately, and to acknowledge that popularity could be affected by nonmusical factors. In the 1950s, for example, music magazines such as Down Beat generally put on their covers artists who were white (like Getz) rather than artists who were black (like Coltrane, Rollins, Hawkins, and Webster). That had more to do with racial attitudes of the era than talent.
-Chip Deffaa '73
Chip Deffaa, the jazz critic of The New York Post, is the author of seven music-related books, including the recently released Blue Rhythms: Six Lives in Rhythm and Blues (University of Illinois Press) and Jazz Veterans (Cypress).
PORTRAITS OF COLLEGE LIFE
College As It Is or, The Collegian's Manual in 1853
James Buchanan Henry 1853 and
Christian Henry Scharff 1853
J. Jefferson Looney *87, ed.
Orders to Friends of the Princeton University Library,
1 Washington Rd., Princeton, NJ 08544.
$29.95 cloth, $19.95 paper
Nurseries of Letters and Republicanism: A Brief History of the American Whig-Cliosophic Society
and Its Predecessors, 1765-1941
J. Jefferson Looney *87
Orders to Trustees of the American Whig-Cliosophic Society, Robertson Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544.
Serious-sounding titles belie the light-hearted nature of College As It Is and the whimsical touches of Nurseries of Letters and Republicanism, two books that students of Princetoniana will find both revealing and entertaining. J. Jefferson Looney *87, who edited the former and wrote the latter, is a historian and a former associate editor of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson. His eye for detail helped to fashion both books into fascinating portraits of campus life.
College As It Is, written by James Henry Buchanan and Christian Henry Scharff, both members of the Class of 1853, is a "chronological approach to the life-cycle of the undergraduate," according to Looney. It follows the college career of a fictional "graduate of Princeton College" through the rigors of the classroom, and it describes the day-to-day life of a student, the state of the campus, and the town of Princeton.
The narrator offers detailed descriptions of the pleasures, complaints, and travails of the campus-along with advice on matters practical and academic. For example, he advises readers that one must "throw all the bed clothes in a heap," for "if the student does not root up his bed, as if an old sow had been working about in it, the clothes are not taken off [by the servant], but only put a little to right." The narrator's descriptions often serve as reminders of how timeless the college experience is. He complains that a professor of natural philosophy never used any notes, which made "his lectures, on account of their want of order . . . extremely difficult to write or recollect."
Nurseries is also humorous at times, but its narrow focus-on the Whig and Cliosophic societies-gives it a more formal, historical feel. Looney traces the development of both societies and describes how the changing nature of the college and the nation affected them. Descriptions of members and of debate proceedings make the text informative, and anecdotes and quotes gleaned from the societies' records provide some memorable moments.
One of the most colorful comes from James Madison 1771, who incited his fellow Whigs to scorn the members of Clio: " . . . disdain these sons/ Of screech owls, monkeys, & baboons . . . / Untill this tribe of dunces find/ The baseness of their grovelling mind/ And skulk within their dens together/ Where each ones stench will kill his brother."
When student interest in debating was at its highest, in the late 1700s, the hard-fought intrasociety debates, writes Looney, "were exciting affairs, in which work at the college nearly ground to a halt for days at a time . . . until the faculty got fed up and demanded an end to the proceedings." Well into the 1800s, the two organizations remained powerful social forces on campus. Ironically, interest in the debating societies dropped off sharply around the time that the most visible signs of their existence, Whig and Clio halls, were being built, in the late 1800s. Not long after that, the two effected a de facto merger (to the consternation of alumni). Looney ends his history when they officially came together in 1941.
-Paul Hagar '91
WHAT ARE THE LIMITS OF LOVE?
Jodi Picoult '87
G. P. Putnam's Sons/The Putnam
Berkley Group, $24.95
Four years ago I reviewed Jodi Picoult '87's first novel in PAW. Songs of the Humpback Whale was an ambitiously complex if somewhat melodramatic saga of an unraveling family told in five voices. With Mercy, Picoult's fourth novel, the prolific author takes on the subject of euthanasia, and, more broadly, the question of how much you'll do for the person you really love. "If you loved someone, really loved them, would you let them go?" one of Picoult's characters asks.
Once again, the structure is complicated and the writing tends toward the heavyhanded, though many will overlook the stylistic excesses and find an absorbing read. This is wellmade fiction in the Sue Miller vein-clearly defined, sympathetic characters manipulated through an engaging and not always predictable series of personal trials.
In fact, Picoult revels in surprising the reader. Mercy begins with a one-two punch. In the prologue we find Allie MacDonald, the heroine, methodically setting up a yard sale to sell off her husband Cameron's possessions. His prize heirloom fly rod goes first, followed in short order by his armchair, all his suits, and his police uniforms, which the nursery school snatches up for its costume corner. Of course we assume he's gone-either dead or otherwise out of the picture. Imagine our surprise, then, when Cameron drives up after work to find his possessions dispersed save a few boxer shorts. Picoult has made it perfectly clear that there's a story here, and we're as hooked as the many fish Cameron must have pulled in with his precious rod.
Cut to chapter one, a few months earlier, in which Jamie MacDonald, a man besotted with his terminally ill wife, Maggie, complies with her last wish and suffocates her with a pillow. Then he drives the body into the small town of Wheelock, Massachusetts, where the majority of residents are descendants of the MacDonald clan who came over from Carrymuir, Scotland. There, right in front of a good number of the town's 2,000 residents, he confesses to his distant cousin Cameron, who is chief of police and feels obligated to book him. Cameron's wife, Allie, who witnesses the scene from her flower shop across from the police station, feels instantly inclined to support Jamie.
That, in brief, is the setup. Was what Jamie did premeditated murder, manslaughter, or an act of mercy? Cameron publicly sides with the prosecution but, taking one of several risks that strain credulity, secretly hires an attorney, Graham MacPhee, to represent Jamie. The inexperienced but by no means stupid lawyer opts to steer clear of the euthanasia issue and instead tries to prove temporary insanity (excess grief, identity with victim's pain, etc.). Allie befriends Jamie and becomes MacPhee's unpaid assistant, causing some strain on her marriage.
Picoult attempts to add another dimension to her tale with an affair between Cameron and Mia Townsend, an evanescent, footloose woman who turns up in Wheelock the same day as Jamie and quickly becomes Allie's indispensable assistant in her shop, Glory in the Flower. For a while, Cameron is convinced that Mia is the love that was meant for him and considers leaving his devoted wife, who heretofore has always worshipped him. Mia has a tendency to run away whenever stress overwhelms her-could her name stand for "MissinginAction" as well as "mine"?-and she isn't present enough to make a real difference in anyone's life.
Although it's a stretch, Jamie presses the parallels between his situation and Allie's. Both he and Allie loved the more in their marriages and thus were in the weaker position. Should Allie let Cameron go as Jamie let Maggie go, since she really loves him? But Allie responds to Cameron's infidelity with surprising strength. Her reaction miraculously shifts the balance of power in her marriage and teaches not just Cameron but Jamie, too, a lesson about love.
Picoult raises some interesting questions in Mercy, some of which may not have been intentional. Why didn't Maggie MacDonald kill herself? Although cancerridden, she was certainly well enough to take the situation in her own hands. In fact, her ability to enjoy a wonderful last weekend with Jamie, which included a fancy dinner and a night of high-energy jitterbugging, made me question whether her surrender wasn't premature. Why didn't anyone wonder about this at the trial? Another niggling question: Where were these people's parents? None of them had any children, but didn't they have any family? The absence of family at such a critical juncture in the characters' lives struck me as unlikely.
I also had problems with overwritten lines such as "tears scalding Allie's skin like individual brands." The writing is better in the more tautly constructed court scenes, and the book as a whole moves along with an almost mechanical precision. I've no doubt Picoult is writing for a real market out there, and I hope she taps into it with her carefully wrought combination of character, plot, sex, and emotion.
-Heller McAlpin '77
Heller McAlpin is a writer living in New York. She reviews frequently for Newsday as well as PAW.
Lessons From an Ever-Changing Therapist
Irvin Cohen, Jr. '52
Orders to Professional Resource Press, P.O. Box 15560, Sarasota, FL 34277-1560. $24.95 paper
A Centennial History of African Americans in Radiology
Alan E. Oestreich '61, ed.
Orders to Alan E. Oestreich, M.D., Radiology, Children's Hospital, 3333 Burnet Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45229-3039. $40
For Social Peace in Brazil:
Industrialists and the Remaking
of the Working Class in
São Paulo, 1920-1964
Barbara Weinstein '73
The University of North Carolina Press, $24.95 paper
Raising Hell: A Concise History of the Black Arts-and Those Who Dared to Practice Them
Robert Masello '74
Perigee/Berkley Publishing Group,
Adopting: The Tapestry Guide
Laurie S. Wallmark '76
Tapestry Books, P.O. Box 359, Ringoes, NJ 08551-0359. $8.95 paper
Freer Markets, More Rules:
Regulatory Reform in Advanced Industrial Countries
Steven K. Vogel '83
Cornell University Press, $35
Lines of Thought: Discourse, Architectonics, and the Origin of Modern Philosophy
Claudia Brodsky Lacour (comparative literature professor)
Duke University Press,
$45.95 cloth, $15.95 paper