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The Producer: John Hammond and the Soul of American Music Hardcover – June 27, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Built upon interviews with musicians, family and colleagues, this admiring biography delivers a solid portrait of the famed 20th-century critic, journalist and producer. Known for his square crew cut, protuberant eyes and toothy grin, the sometimes arrogant, blues-loving Vanderbilt heir "seemed to know what America wanted to hear before America knew it," writes first-time author Prial. Besides recording Bessie Smith's last studio sessions and Billie Holiday's first, Hammond is the nudge that gets Count Basie to leave Kansas City and the driving force behind Benny Goodman's decision to integrate his band by adding black vibraphonist Lionel Hampton—all this roughly two decades before he signs Bob Dylan to Columbia Records. Prial's sedulous work pays off in the consistency of his narrative. His even-toned, chronological book is light on anecdotes, but his smart use of music histories, jazz autobiographies and Hammond's own Downbeat and Melody Maker writings results in an impressive and authoritative text. Moreover, Prial's insights into Hammond's youth and two marriages transform his work from the tale of a jazz buff with money into an engaging study of a man with two obsessions—"making music and promoting social reform." (July)
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From Booklist

A silver-spoon baby who felt the noblesse oblige and acted on it, John Hammond (1910-87) was, through his mother's family, a Vanderbilt. Fascinated in childhood by the family's black employees' music, he had by his midteens found Harlem, where he heard musicians who became international stars. Ditching Yale for jazz journalism and record production, he launched or boosted Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Charlie Christian and began lifelong agitation for racial justice, starting with schemes to integrate jazz that bore famous fruit in Goodman's small groups with Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton and the Carnegie Hall concert "From Spirituals to Swing." Long Columbia Records and NAACP tenures enabled him to remain a star maker--Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen were later finds--and a social shaker after swing's demise. Attracting readers is done for Prial by the famous names Hammond's story obliges him to drop, and he neither probes Hammond's class-based arrogance and self-absorption nor more than hints at Hammond's personal financial decline. Still, this is gratifying reading for American pop mavens. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (June 27, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374113041
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374113049
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.7 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,349,932 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Doreen Haarmann on November 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
My only negative comment is perhaps some repetitiveness in some of the comments in the book. Otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed it. I like biographies in general. This is a must read for people interested in the music business. Mr. Hammond was an interesting character and a man who stood up for what he believed in. He loved jazz, and fought for racial equality. It is amazing how many different artists he was instrumental in promoting over the years.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Rex Chickeneater on November 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
John Hammond was a key figure in American popular music, bring diverse talents such as Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Ray Vaughn, to widespread audiences. He also helped promote entire categories of music, including jazz, blues, and folk, contributing significantly to the popular revivals of these fields. Duston Prial's biography is insightful, based on careful research in libraries and through interviews. The book is well written, and it will be an important document in maintaining Hammond's well deserved reputation as a cultural icon.

Hammond, however, appears as a somewhat distant character in Prial's account. One never really gets a sense of John Hammond's inner, subjective sense. Prial at times seems more concerned with pointing out where Hammond errored in his own autobiography -- "John Hammond on Record" (written with Irving Townsend and published in 1977) -- such as in the case of the reported causes of singer Bessie Smith's death. Prial fails to consider that Hammond actually may have believed (or internalized after so many retellings) the accounts that attributed her death to racist treatment following a car accident. Instead, Prial tells us, "The whole episode was an unseemly case of Hammond's not allowing the facts to get in the way of his good story."

In some cases it in the book it is not clear why Prial favors one version of events over another. The classic example is his account of Bob Dylan's trying to get out of his Columbia records contract. Readers interested in this incident should compare the richly insightful if brief account given by Hammond in his autobiography with Prial's retelling. These quibbles aside, Prial's book makes for enjoyable reading.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan W. Thompson on April 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
> John Hammond's discovery and signing of superstars like Bob Dylan, Bruce

> Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughn assure that most rock fans are familiar

> with the image of the tall man, impeccably dressed with a wide grin.

>

> In "The Producer", an enlightening and gripping page turner, you learn that

> Hammond played a leading role changing and developing American music. In

> this book you watch the musical landscape of the 20th century move quickly

> and dramatically. Remarkably, Hammond, a man whose instincts, generosity and

> enthusiasm are without parallel in the music industry was there for nearly

> all of it. The author's ability to move the action as well as exercise his

> generous and in-depth knowledge of jazz, folk blues and rock in an

> entertaining and informative manner is only one part of the "The Producer's"

> achievements.

>

> As importantly, we learn that Hammond's innate stubbornness and privileged

> upbringing gave him an unfaltering conviction that great music would succeed

> in transcending racism and a segregated society. His involvement with the

> burgeoning civil rights movement is written with great detail and

> illustrates how Hammond would put his money, energies and reputation into

> anything he believed strongly in.

>

> Above all, like all good books about music or musicians, "The Producer"

> sends you back to discover or rediscover great American music that was

> Hammond's proudest achievement.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By T. Philo on February 5, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is such a great biography. Hammond might not have been the easiest guy to know or get along with, but as readers we don't have that problem. His passion for music and his dogged pursuit of racial justice are the drivers in his life and in this well-told story. I just wish there was a set of CDs that came with the book so you could sample all of the music being discussed.
Hammond was important to the careers of so many 20th century artists that it seems hard to believe: Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and dozens of others.
I thoroughly enjoyed the story and, as a Springsteen fan, I think the climax comes with his "discovery" of Bruce.
Get it!!
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