STARDUST MELODY: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael

Richard M. Sudhalter, Author . Oxford Univ. $35 (480p) ISBN 978-0-19-513120-8

This first full biography of Hoagy Carmichael (1899–1981), a major jazz singer/songwriter, is a dense labor of love. Sudhalter (Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contributions to Jazz) admits to being driven by thoughts of obsolescence: "How quick we are to discard, to expunge what's not immediately relevant to us," he laments. "Surely it wasn't all that long ago that Hoagy Carmichael—wise, thoughtful, casual in a grown-up, seen-it-all way—was a familiar, even reassuring, presence in our midst." Sudhalter skillfully blends cultural and personal history, demonstrating how growing up in Indiana, a racial and musical crossroads for myriad touring musicians and entertainers, profoundly influenced Carmichael. Sudhalter paints vivid pictures, trying to divine the biographical inspiration for such Carmichael hits as "Ole Buttermilk Sky," "Georgia on My Mind" and "Lazy River." At times, Sudhalter's detailed notes on composition weigh heavily on the narrative. It's hard to imagine that the new audience Sudhalter hopes to entice would derive much pleasure from his scholarly dissections. Thankfully, the stiff bits are drummed between long runs of imaginative exposition. Sudhalter draws from numerous interviews, archival material, recorded music and Carmichael's personal papers to show that the laid-back man at the piano, cigarette dangling from his lips, was, for the most part, image. Carmichael, far from being carefree, embodies the American myth—hardworking, self-taught, recognized for his efforts and pushed aside by the next big thing: rock and roll. (Apr.)

FYI:This biography is being released in conjunction with three recordings—Stardust Melody, featuring some of Carmichael's most famous songs along with rare and previously unreleased tracks (RCA/Victor, Mar.); Stardust Melody—Beloved and Rare Songs, compiled by Sudhalter (Challenge Records, Feb.); and a five-CD set (JSP Records, Apr.).

Reviewed on: 03/04/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-19-516898-3
Ebook - 449 pages - 978-0-19-803005-8
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