This is the story of Teddy "Seagull" Weatherford, an apparently brilliant Jazz pianist who, as the author of the book Brendan Koerner notes, "opted for adventure abroad (mainly Asia) instead of fame at home." As you read the book you do wonder if Weatherford would have been much more famous and revered - not unlike the Louis Armstrong with whom he did gigs for a year at one stage and cut an early jazz label - if he had not moved to the Far East and India? Or, on the other hand, he may well have found it hard going to swim against racial prejudice and jostle for the limelight with other musical greats and risk ending up being even more of a footnote in the history of music.
Leaving aside all this speculation, Weatherford may never have considered seriously returning to the West because he was enjoying life in the East so much anyway. As The writer Langston Hughes observes, "If I were a performer, I thought, and could play or sing or dance my way to Hong Kong and Singapore and Calcutta and Bombay, I would never go home at all."
As Weatherford is nevertheless so little known today - and because the work deals with events that happened several decades back - it would certainly have been quite hard to identify original resources and track down the few people alive today who may have recollections of those events. Despite this, the author presents a very informative and engrossing biography of this Jazz musician.
This book is a brilliant evocation also of the times and places that Weatherford lived in. Some of the descriptions are so vivid, it is almost like watching a period movie about early twentieth century Asia, particularly the poverty and sleaze of Shanghai and Calcutta. What is more, Koerner - in his portrayal of someone who "provided the soundtrack for the last gasp of Empire" - does not commit the common mistake of many historians of viewing events through the prism of today's moral expectations.