1929: A Novel of the Jazz Age

Frederick W. Turner, Author . Counterpoint $25 (390p) ISBN 978-1-58243-265-6

Bix Beiderbecke was one of the great jazz musicians of the 1920s. A brilliant cornet player with an amazing ear, he drank himself to death at the age of 28 with illegal Prohibition liquor. Although Beiderbecke isn't as well known as some of his contemporaries, much has been written about the enigmatic Iowan. Literary journalist Turner offers a fictional take on Beiderbecke's life, giving readers an invigorating picture of what life was like for jazz musicians in the years leading up to the Great Depression. The story is hardly linear; it darts from one scene to the next, beginning with one of Bix's friends leaning on the musician's grave, reminiscing about his old pal, then flashing back to when Bix was alive, tearing through the streets of Chicago with Al Capone's gang. Though there's no plot per se, Turner does present a sequence of events that add up to a portrait of Beiderbecke's life and musical contributions. Despite its brevity, Beiderbecke's career took him across the country, bringing him in touch with such legends as Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington and Maurice Ravel. Turner's style is dense, although his pace varies from balladlike to racing. His descriptions of Beiderbecke's music are evocative (the notes from his cornet fall "like stardust over all of us" and listening to the music feels like "waiting for something terrifically important that is already happening, that will keep on happening, only you couldn't predict or anticipate exactly how it will happen next"). Long-winded and at times frustratingly circuitous, this is nonetheless a rich tribute to a Jazz Age icon. 9-city author tour. (June 15)

Reviewed on: 05/12/2003
Release date: 05/01/2003
Show other formats
Hardcover - 602 pages - 978-0-7862-6062-1
Paperback - 390 pages - 978-1-58243-309-7
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