- Series: Life of Harry James
- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (May 24, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 019514239X
- ISBN-13: 978-0195142396
- Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 1 x 6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,314,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Trumpet Blues: The Life of Harry James 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
An engrossing, swinging biography of a jazz icon, this book traces the life of Harry James, a trumpeter and bandleader who played in Benny Goodman's Orchestra in the '30s, and who led the country's most popular big band during World War II. Levinson, a jazz publicist who knew James from 1959 until the latter's death in 1983, presents the life of the flashy trumpeter as one of fame, fortune and eventual self-destruction. Born in Georgia in 1916 and raised in Texas, James had an insecure, peripatetic childhood. His mother was a trapeze artist and his father a circus bandleader, and James played in the circus band. Taking Louis Armstrong as his musical role model, James, who was white, was recruited to play in Benny Goodman's band, then left to form his own hugely acclaimed band, marrying film star Betty Grable and acting in movies himself. Over the next two decades, his star waned, but he staged a comeback of sorts in the late '50s, playing in Nevada casinos and continuing fitfully to reinvent his band throughout the next two decades. James's three marriages were ruined by addiction to alcohol, sex and gambling. Grable divorced him in 1965 following a 22-year marriage marked by his constant infidelities, neglect of their two daughters and, according to Levinson, by violent abuse. While many jazz critics dismiss James's romantic bluesy style and wide vibrato as schmaltzy and sentimental, Levinson disagrees. This robust biography offers a heady plunge into the swing era and a vivid portrait of a daring and inventive artist. Photos. (Oct.) FYI: A companion CD from Capitol Jazz, annotated by Levinson, features 16 of James's hit songs.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
Leading jazz publicist Levinson makes his literary debut with this biography of the late bandleader, who in the '30s and '40s established himself as a rival to Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, among others. Jamess early years were particularly formative, as he was born to parents who devoted much of their lives to performing for the circus. ``Young Harry first met his public at the age of 11 days, when his parents introduced him to the circus audience,'' Levinson writes. With his look at the life of circus entertainers in the early part of the century, Levinson hooks the reader immediately. He makes Jamess progression from childhood circus performer to budding musician at age 12 when he was ``the youngest circus bandleader in the world''a seamless evolution. By the early 1930s, when James was struggling to succeed as a trumpet player, the reader has a strong sense of his musical growth. It wasn't until December 1936, when Goodmanwho would stay friends with James throughout their lifetimes, despite their competition for bookingsinvited him to join his band, that the trumpeter became a star. Levinson captures the era well, citing the impact of WWII on popular music, telling stories of the biggest stars of the time (including Goodman, Dorsey, Jamess hero Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, and Frank Sinatra, whom James helped discover by giving the ``kid'' his first recording gig) and the bigotry integrated big bands faced on the road. To his credit, Levinson, while hardly ignoring James's legendary womanizing, gambling, and drinking, as well as his lengthy marriage to pinup queen Betty Grableultimately victimized by all of James's vicesavoids turning the bandleaders life into a melodramatic soap opera. Instead, he concentrates on the music. Impressive, and a fascinating read not only for fans of jazz, but for students of 20th-century history, Hollywood, and the music business. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
Fortunately, the last few chapters focused more on the topic of the book, Harry James. It really didn't tell much about his personal life (you'll have to read The Girl With The Million Dollar Legs to find out how he treated Betty Grable) but it DID give some insight as to what might have made him tick. If you're a big band fan, it's worth the read.
James' life from his childhood in the circus through his breakthrough with the Goodman band, and later success as a bandleader, are all detailed, with litanies of concert events and recording dates. Despite the decline of the big bands in the late 1940s and 1950s, James continued working almost non-stop ( until his death in 1983), and had a financially very successful period in Las Vegas in the early 1960s. There are extensive quotes throughout the book from bandmembers, and countless other contemporaries from all stages of Harry's career that corroborate the main themes of the book.
The author is also quite blunt about Harry's problems with alcohol, gambling, and womanizing. I had read of James womanizing in other books, but in this book several contemporaries were quoted in detailing the extent of the "skirt-chasing" and it really bordered on obsessive behavior, probably as bad as his gambling. We tend to think of these tales of addiction as modern problems, and forget that personality flaws of this sort have been around forever. Certainly, this side of James is not attractive, but it does not detract from the theme of Harry's stature as one of the leading men of music in this era.
Of course, no book about James could be written without talking about his first wife, Luise Tobin and even more prominently his second wife, Betty Grable. There are innumerable references to both, but particularly to Miss Grable. Miss Tobin was interviewed by the author for this book, and Miss Grable died in 1973, but a few of her survivng close friends were interviewed. Apparently, the author was able to even talk to Betty and Harry's two daughter's who have generally declined interviews in regards to their famous parents.
While both marriages ended badly, and Mr James acted like a real louse in both cases, I find the Grable union the most "tragic" part of Harry's personal life. What is most surprising is that after 22 years of a pretty chaotic marriage, Miss Grable continued to be a friend and a supporter after the divorce. It is not pleasant to read some of these details, but it certainly gives us a full picture of James' personal life, and insight into the lifestyle of the entertainment figures of that time.
I found some of the endless accounts of concert dates and recording details a little tedious, but otherwise the book is a well-researched and well-written biography. It gives a great look into the big band era, the musicians, their lifestyles and the entertainment business of that period in general. I highly recommend at 4 1/2 stars.
Most recent customer reviews
I played first trumpet for Harry,and lead The Harry James Orchestra today.Read more
Very good, i really enjoyed it,a very detailed account of one of the worlds greatest musicians and band leaders, but the typo in the text was...Read more