A Call to Assembly: 9an American Success Story

Willie Ruff, Author Viking Books $24.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-670-83800-4
Jazz musician Ruff has come a long way from the poor black neighborhood in Sheffield, Ala., where he grew up learning about music any way he could--from the boy next door, the drummer at the Sanctified Church, the sound of the steam-driven calliopes on Tennessee River stern-wheel paddleboats. At 14, seeing a way out of poverty, he lied about his age and enlisted in the Army, where he reveled in daily showers, plentiful food, new clothes and, above all, opportunities to make music. He joined the all-black band as a drummer, but when told he would have to leave because there were too many men on drums, taught himself French horn so he could stay (until then, the band had no French horn players because the instrument was considered too difficult for blacks). After receiving a high school equivalency diploma, he left the service and entered Yale (one of nine black students enrolled in 1949), studied with Paul Hindemith, played in the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and earned a master's degree. Turning down Erich Leinsdorf's invitation to play horn with the Buffalo (N.Y.) Philharmonic, Ruff chose a career in jazz, first appearing with Lionel Hampton and later forming ok with performing earlier? a duo with the brilliant pianist Dwike Mitchell. A composer, filmmaker and professor of music at Yale, Ruff travels all over the world teaching people about jazz. He seems to have unlimited talent and energy. His book is an account of his own remarkable life, but it is also a tribute to many people who have helped and inspired him: his mother, who taught him how to keep his dignity and survive the South's brutal segregation laws; John Brice, the bandmaster who was determined to make the 766th Air Corps Band at the all-black air base in Lockbourne, Ohio, a symphonic ensemble to rival the all-white Army Air Corps Band in Washington, D.C.; the secondhand clothier in New Haven who gave him memorable advice on how to survive at Yale: ``Dress British, think Yiddish.'' Ruff tells his inspiring story wonderfully well. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/01/1991
Release date: 07/01/1991
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-14-017745-9
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