Jazz Book Recommendations: Rabbit’s Blues

I am a complete Jazz fanatic. One Hundred Percent. All day long I listen to Jazz, think about Jazz, practice Jazz, and when I’m done with that, I settle down in my rocking chair and I READ about Jazz. To be honest, I love reading all kinds of books, but my Jazz library counts among my most prized possessions. I “inherited” most of these books from my father, Stephen Fulton, who has curated these books since the early 1970’s, and I am very careful about which books I add to the collection. In addition to reading the books cover-to-cover at least once, I often like to pull down books to browse through them, look at the pictures, and use them for reference (complete discography’s are really wonderful things to have in hand).

As involved as I am in the Jazz industry, I was completely unaware of the new biography of Johnny Hodges by Con Chapman (released 2019 on Oxford University Press). Whenever I go into the Strand I usually set a limit on what I’m going to buy, either a dollar limit or a number-of-books limit, and I had already reached this limit before I even headed into the Jazz section. I have been known to buy copies of books I already own (two copies don’t count as two copies if they’re different editions!), but I was really pleasantly surprised to see “Rabbit’s Blues” on the shelf. I immediately picked it up and had to have it, limit be damned.

Jazz books can often be dry, overly academic, ridiculously biased, and or sometimes just badly written. Sometimes people who write about Jazz really don’t know what they’re talking about. So you see, I am a picky reader when it comes to my favorite subject. I like facts, analysis by people who know what they’re talking about, and a lot of good pictures.

I couldn’t put “Rabbit’s Blues” down. It has a lot of fascinating interviews, qoutes, and interesting facts about a man I listen to all the time but really didn’t know much about. (Who is Johnny Hodges? you might be asking. Well, he’s one of the most influential alto saxophone players in Jazz, who spent most of his career playing with Duke Ellington. You’ve definitely heard him on a record.) In addition to basic facts about Hodges (where he was born, his family life, etc) the author, Con Chapman, paints a very interesting picture of the Jazz scene in Boston in the 1920’s and 1930’s. As I read, I listened to various recordings of Hodges mentioned in the book. And I should mention, I love that the book isn’t presented in chronological order, but instead covers different topics in different chapters. The only thing missing is a complete discography, which I would have appreciated! All in all I learned a lot, and I think you’ll dig it.

If you want to read a more in depth review of “Rabbit’s Blues”, check out David Orthmann’s review on All About Jazz, here.

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