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Monday, March 02, 2015

Book Review: The Best Gig in Town - Jazz Artists at the White House 1969-1974 by Edward Allan Faine

There's no shortage of jazz literature - I've a floor to ceiling wall full of them (interspersed with Chandler and Elmore Leonard) - so do we really need more?
If the tome is unique then the answer is yes.
This book is unique.
Much has been written about Richard Nixon's Presidential time in office - Watergate and all that jazz or, to be more precise, Watergate without all that jazz.
Here the jazz is given centre stage and, although Watergate is touched on, emphasis is on the bands, artists, and distinguished guests of honour who appeared in the East Room.
It's quite a roster of talent: Duke Ellington; Henry Mancini; MJQ; Al Hirt; Peggy Lee; WGJB; Bobby Short; Pearl Bailey (twice); Billy Taylor (twice); Pete Fountain and Frank Sinatra.
Each concert has a chapter devoted to it, the background, the evening, the bigwigs (heads of state from France, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Iran, Ivory Coast, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Apollo 10 Astronauts) and press reports in the aftermath. 
Needless to say some performances were better received than others - Peggy Lee overran and drank too much! Pearl Bailey blagged a White House chair and, on her next visit, tried to blag the Steinway!
It's a great read and, whilst it might not be another exposé of "Tricky Dicky", for the jazz person, it's a fascinating look at the inner circles of American politics and, in particular, the choices Mr P and his advisers made.
Obviously the artists booked were "clean" upstanding Americans - even Frank, with all his baggage, was an obvious choice for a gig when the Italian Prime Minister was the guest of honour. Sinatra changed his political allegiance as frequently as he changed bow-ties in his bobbysoxer years!
It's a book well written and well referenced - at times I felt I was sitting midst the blue-rinsed matrons and the portly governors and ambassadors listening to some of the finest music of the era.
The Best Gig in Town - Jazz Artists at the White House 1969-1974 by Edward Allan Faine  is now available on Amazon. (UK Link.)
Lance.

2 comments :

Liz said...

on my wish list to read after your excellent review!

Patti D. said...

Yes, mine too! Sounds fascinating .....

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