Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nat Hentoff gets the St Louis blues.

Mr. Nat Hentoff is one of the founding fathers of jazz scholarship. He is a pioneer of jazz history, appreciation and journalism. (And for those stubborn "The blues aren't jazz" folks, Hentoff recorded sessions with Otis Spann, Memphis Slim and Lightnin’ Hopkins. So he's got major blues cred as well.) Hentoff knows all about, and is a part of, American jazz and blues music history. He was there. He was on the front lines as a correspondent. Starting out as associate editor of Down Beat magazine in the 1950s, he has published many books on jazz, biographies and novels, as well as a career of journalism and critique at the Washington Post, the Village Voice, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the New Republic, Commonweal, the Atlantic and more than 25 years on staff at the New Yorker

When I began to dig up information on the original St Louis blues musicians, I found that many area artists were not included in the story of American music. In their time their music was very popular and their styles were influential but of the few names from the city that did get mentioned, they were not listed as St Louisans. The history of St Louis' arts had not been documented. The facts about the St Louis artists weren't available to music writers and fans and so the American music story was told without identifying them or their city.

Artists from places like New Orleans, Memphis, or Chicago were written about and categorized by the cities they lived in and those cities were credited with the art that their resident creatives made.

So that's what made me realize that a book had to be made. St Louis, the artists and the cultural achievements - and the familial bond between all of them - were unrecognized and unrepresented in history.

And now comes Mr Hentoff's insightful review of Devil At The Confluence in October's JazzTimes magazine where he says, "Never before have I learned so much about St. Louis’ powerful and influential role in the blues and American music.

Thank you, sir. It's both wonderful and amusing that he appreciates the book Devil At The Confluence as an heirloom that he is thinking of putting in his will, but most importantly, his appreciation is affirmation of what I realized about St Louis and why I created a book. 

And it is something that St Louisans (and many visitors) understand: the cultural arts of the area are a part of a strong legacy that is vibrantly alive today with progressive creativity.
So often St Louisans wonder why the amazing talent that we have appreciated for generations and can be found in all corners of the city every day isn't recognized in the national arena.
Well, the book answers that question - it's because of the Devil at the Confluence.
And now, thanks to Mr Hentoff, that just might change.

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