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Monday, March 19, 2018

Book review: Peter Jones: This Is Hip - The Life of Mark Murphy.

"This book needed to be written for a number of reasons, the first being that Mark Murphy deserves greater recognition than he achieved in his lifetime. He mastered the art of jazz singing to an extraordinary degree, taking it to levels appreciated only by those few who knew about him and understood what he was doing."
So reads the opening paragraph by his biographer Peter Jones.
Jones is an established singer himself with several highly rated albums to his name and, no slouch with the pen either making him the ideal person to write this study of the enigmatic Murphy.
Murphy is credited with around 40 albums. Each one looked at with varying degrees of scrutiny by Jones.

Despite his admiration for the singer, Jones eschews the use of rose-coloured glasses giving his opinions as he sees and hears them. Which is how it should be.
In between, or rather intermingled with, the music we learn much about Murphy's early days, his attempts to 'make it as a singer (those attempts often foiled by his own uncompromising mission to do it 'his way'). His big love affair and the grief that followed the early death of his partner. After this tragedy, he found, in Sheila Jordan*, a tower of strength whose friendship helped him through the darkest days. 
I wasn't expecting it to be but this was a totally unputdownable book. In fact, the few times when I did put it down, apart from eating and sleeping, was to seek out and listen to a particular track singled out by the author. This led me to listen again to Rah, released by Riverside in 1961, which is according to Jones, a favourite with his fans which makes me a fan too. It's a great album.
It was actually 1985 when I became an out and out fan which was when I heard him  for the one and only time live. This was at one of the popular Newcastle jazz venues of the time - the Corner House in Heaton.
It was also where I met Whitley Bay resident Norbert Warner who published a fanzine, Mark's Time, which ran for almost 20 years and only ceased publication when Murphy and Warner fell out. This too is covered in This is Hip.
The sadness of his last years are painful to read and yet, in November 2012, he was able to record a vinyl EP for Gearbox: A Beautiful Friendship - Remembering Shirley Horn. Debra M reviewed the album in 2013 and waxed eloquent: 
This is an outstanding tribute, capturing the essence of Shirley Horn, and an absolute masterclass of vocal and piano trio.
Mark Murphy died on October 21, 2015, aged 83. It is wonderful that his memory lives on, not just with his music but with this, written from the heart, biography which also has a comprehensive, session by session, discography.
Lance
Peter Jones: This Is Hip - The Life of Mark Murphy. Equinox Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-1-78179-473-9. © Peter Jones.
* Sheila Jordan appears at this year's Gateshead International Jazz Festival April 6-8.

1 comment :

Derek Lambert said...

Mark was playing Greys Club, Newcastle in the mid 70’s, he came to stay with me over a weekend. A quite strange person till you got to kniw him. My young children were unsure about him at first but then decided he must be an American gangster.....
I watched him on stage for a week solid and enjoyed every minute.

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