October 04, 2007


Jazz on a Saturday Night. By Leo & Diane Dillon. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $16.99.

Clair-de-Lune. By Cassandra Golds. Yearling. $5.99.

Marooned: The Next Generation of Desert Island Discs. Edited by Phil Freeman. Da Capo. $16.95.

      The magic of music shows itself three ways in these books for three age groups. Jazz on a Saturday Night is an attractive picture book that imagines a “Dream Team” of jazz greats playing together one night: Miles Davis, Max Roach, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Stanley Clarke and Ella Fitzgerald. This is an advocacy book: Leo and Diane Dillon dedicate it in part to “the spirit of New Orleans,” provide a list of their favorite jazz recordings, and include their own CD, on which they read about jazz and the instruments featured in the book. The CD also features an original song named for the book and inspired by the paintings in it, which have all the realism of a full-color dream. The text is nothing special (“At first, notes surprise; then they sweeten and rise”), but the pictures are, portraying the greats of jazz, the audience enchanted by them, and sometimes just the notes they play and the imagined effect those notes are having. Unfortunately, the book does not address – except indirectly – the basic question of whether jazz is exclusively an African-American art. Every single person performing and listening in the book is black, with the result that the work feels exclusionary rather than inclusive. This seems at odds with the Dillons’ expressed desire to get everyone interested in jazz – and with the enjoyment that performers such as Dave Brubeck have brought to generations of listeners.

      Music of a different sort is at the heart of Clair-de-Lune, whose eponymous heroine lives with her grandmother and practices ballet every day – as did her mother, who died when Clair-de-Lune was a baby. The girl has not spoken a word since her mother died: “If I do not speak, no one will ever really be able to dislike me, because no one will ever really know me. If I do speak, then it will be possible for people to dislike not just the person they think I am, but the person I am.” But this is not a tragic story – it is a heartwarming fantasy. One day, Clair-de-Lune meets a remarkable mouse named Bonaventure who can speak, and does, and who dreams of starting a dancing school just for mice. It is the adventures of this unlikely pair in a hidden world that is and is not part of Clair-de-Lune’s building that eventually let the girl open herself to her talent and her heart to the world. Cassandra Golds’ writing is overly sentimental, and the book’s happy-but-sad ending is predictable, but readers ages 9-12 – especially aspiring ballerinas – will surely be moved by the story.

      Marooned is strictly for adults. A sequel to Stranded, which focused on rock music that critics deemed worthy of having with them if they were ever stuck on a desert island, Marooned expands the musical repertoire to include pop, hip hop, folk, jazz, punk, electronica and more. The 20 essays are by such critics as Matt Ashare, Jeff Chang, Rob Harvilla, Anthony Miccio, Dave Queen, Dave Tate, Douglas Wolk, and anthology editor Phil Freeman himself. If you don’t know who the critics are, you can check the brief biographies in the back – but if you don’t know who they are, why would you care about their opinions? So the book is strictly for people already familiar with at least some of the critics and at least some of the music they write about – and interested in spending their time with writing that is, in general, focused more on the authors than on what they are supposedly discussing. “The supermarket is where I learned the Zen of pea stacking. Alone, all night, slicing open box after box, I really got a chance to think about my life.” “I remember all the swaying seeming to intensify a bit, all of us just crammed into that spot, the heat and the light and the feeling that we were all going to eventually faint at some point, though it never came to that.” “I hurled the first batch of twelve-inchers into the ocean in frustration, stupidly wasting my precious resources.” This sort of self-indulgence pervades the writing here, and although some of the critics do actually focus on the music rather than on themselves, it is hard to see this as a particularly useful guide to music suitable for desert-island listening. It’s certainly not a desert-island book itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment