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5.0 out of 5 stars All the things he was, January 28, 2014
By H Songhai “H Songhai” (Philadelphia, PA)
Everything you ever wanted to know about the architect of bop piano. His friends, his enemies, his sparkling highs and his deep lows. This book will make you cry and there are many moments that will make you smile. If you can, listen to his recordings in chronological order while you read. I am about to read it again to pick up those subtleties I mised the first time, A must read for anyone interested in African American classical music.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read!!, October 30, 2013
This is a great read about one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. The descriptions of 52nd. street make you feel like you are there! You realize also the sadness of racism that was prevalent in these times.
|A subtly political biography, May 11, 2013
Peter Pullman’s Wail is a both a massively researched biography and an exploration of many important social and political themes: race, mental illness and its treatment, music criticism and its class implications, a comparison of US and European subcultures, and the social and legislative regulation of artists deemed to be criminally or sexually deviant. All are explored organically in the context of Bud Powell’s life and art.
The book is especially strong in chronicling Powell’s spectacular nightclub appearances and their effects on musicians and fans (nicely captured in the cover photo). Musically, while Pullman of course gives the most attention in Wail to Powell’s fellow giants of bebop–Monk, Parker and Gillespie–he also recognizes the profound influence on Powell of earlier and lesser-known masters such as the Harlem stride pianist Willie “the Lion” Smith, Mary Lou Williams, and Elmo Hope.
5.0 out of 5 stars “Wail” cries to be read, September 11, 2012
By Iris Lee Stoler (Brooklyn, NY USA)
This biography of Bud Powell, a name familiar to anyone interested in jazz, makes no attempt to over-analyze the enigma that was Bud Powell. This is to its author’s credit. The Bud Powell who weaves his sad way through this life-story was a frustrating mystery to pretty much everyone in his life, and Pullman refuses to take the easy, psychobabble, way out. Pullman takes us on a journey during which we get multiple pictures of Powell the genius and Powell the immense failure, but Pullman very, very rarely resorts to the biographer’s easy “might have thought” or “probably felt.” This respect for his subject by his refusal to second-guess his states of mind is admirable.
When the biographer’s subject is so unfathomable in so many ways, the settings and people in his life take on more importance, and here Pullman has recreated the era of bebop as it moves from its beginnings in Harlem to West 52nd St., the Village, and Paris. It’s filled with names of the famous: musicians, clubs, entrepreneurs. Family and friends are fleshed out. Racism, never far from present in the interactions of black musicians and white managers, is described “like it is.” To a reader who once spent many hours at clubs including the old Five Spot and Blue Note, reading about those places and times felt like coming home again.
At book’s end, the reader is left with personalities, places, and not least, music, swirling around in one’s head, while the central figure remains inside an opaque world where mental illness and enormous creativity uneasily coexisted. There are points of light and darkness within the mysteries that make up a life, and Pullman has done a great job of showing us those points in the life of Bud Powell.
5.0 out of 5 stars Worthy of the man, August 23, 2012
By Tim Ledwith
“Wail” is a terrific read, providing deep insights into not only Bud Powell’s life but his times. In the end — beyond its exhaustively researched history of Powell’s music and bebop as a whole — the book tells a story of addiction and mental illness through the prism of race and class in mid-20th century America. It’s a tale that is heavy with pathos, yet Pullman handles it sensitively without ever straying into morbid or sensational territory. His tone and style are deliberate and accessible, as he steadily conveys facts and analyses that ultimately paint a complex portrait of an extraordinarily complex artist. “Wail” is careful and comprehensive enough to appeal to the jazz aficionado, but it is also a compelling biography in strictly human terms. It is clear eyed yet compassionate in tracing the creative peaks and valleys of Powell’s amazing life. It is worthy of its subject, and that’s saying something.
5.0 out of 5 stars Bud Powell and His Times, August 5, 2012
By Harold D. Baker (Irvine, CA United States)
This is a stunning piece of scholarship, not only in Jazz history but also in the social history of the United States. The author stays painstakingly close to first-hand accounts of the events, providing a grittily detailed picture of the times and places in which Powell’s life unfolded. The descriptions of the brilliant jazz scenes in Harlem and Paris are particularly vivid, with a great deal to say about the other musicians and entrepreneurs whose lives intersected with Powell’s.
There are very few heroes in this story. Powell emerges as a highly contested “property,” at least after he broke out as one of the leading exponents of bebop, and the many would-be “protectors” of this child-like genius, socially immature, crippled by illness and abuse, are often self-interested. Only a handful remain at his side throughout his final illnesses, creative decline, and tragically early death.
Much of the narrative, on the other hand, is from the perspective of a few sensitive observers, unlikely participants in Powell’s tough world, who were genuinely touched by both his gifts and his vulnerability. Seeing Powell through their eyes, we see him with compassion and attachment. These are also qualities of the biography itself.
masterful biography of ‘Bud’, April 19, 2012
By Herb R.
I am an avid jazz fan and have read much of what has been written about the jazz greats. Out of all of the books written on jazz artists, Peter Pullman’s biography of Bud Powell most effectively captures the heart and soul of Powell, his colleagues and his contemporaries.
Growing up in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem, I lived in the midst of jazz history and listened and learned from the musicians themselves, as well as the children and grandchildren of some of the jazz greats of the time, including Andy Kirk, Johnny Hodges, Al Hall, Don Redman, and Jackie McLean (affectionately known on `The Hill’ as Jackie Mac). It is remarkable that Pullman, who did not grow up in our neighborhood, listened so closely and sensitively in his interviews, that he is able to capture the untold story of what these jazz greats endured against insurmountable odds, while continually creating a supremely high level of art.
Other authors often don’t unearth the truth, and report the stories in a sanitized, patronizing way, focusing on the cliché of the addiction of jazz artists, without digging into the sociological background soil of these musicians of color. Pullman masterfully portrays Powell as a genius of the highest order and he goes way beyond the stereotypical storyline.
Peter Pullman tells the story from the mouths of the people who lived the jazz scene of the era. I was particularly impressed by how the story of Powell’s psychiatric and drug history, including multiple hospitalizations, are placed in its proper historical context, and Pullman sensitively describes what happened without sensationalizing it.
For those who have followed jazz for generations, or for the reader new to the exploration of the art of jazz, this book is not to be missed. Wail: The Life of Bud Powell is an art form in itself.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great biography of a tragic genius, April 15, 2012
By Happy Camper “Mike S.” (Oakton, Virginia USA)
To listen again, as I did, to a recording session Powell made when he was given a single day leave from an insane asylum, is to not just hear the soaring music, but the transcendent spirit of a man who was able, for a time, to overcome one painful, destructive obstacle after another (external and internal) and still make the most glorious art. Such is the nature of this book, you will likely want to stop and hear the music it describes from each period of Bud’s life, and you will inevitably hear it in a far richer way.
The five years Powell spent based in Paris is the most “novelistic” portion of the book, given the rich source material and first-hand reporting the author engaged in.
Also, for the first time, Powell’s years in sanitariums is closely chronicled, due to a court case won by the author to gain access to state mental health records. The resulting narrative of his incarcerations is stunningly revelatory of the primitive treatment methods of the time. One can only speculate on how much more brilliant and original music we would have had from Bud, if only he hadn’t spend so many years effectively imprisoned for unjustified lengths of time and subjected to barbaric shock treatments.