Reviews

Reviews of JAZZMEN

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY(starred review)
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"Biographer Tye (Bobby Kennedy) presents a mesmerizing group portrait of American jazz greats Duke Ellington (1899–1974), Louis Armstrong (1901–1971), and Count Basie (1904–1984). Tracing each man’s influential career, Tye captures their intense work ethic and rigorous travel schedules (Armstrong alone averaged 300 nights on the road per year), their music’s deep gospel roots, and their artistic styles and gifts (Ellington and Basie flourished as conductors, while Armstrong thrived by communing with a live audience). Yet Tye’s main focus lies in how his subjects changed American culture at large: even as Armstrong, Ellington, and Basie endured the indignities of touring during the Jim Crow era, they brought alive in their music the “invisible stories of Black America.” In doing so, Tye contends, the jazz legends opened “white America’s ears and souls to the grace of their music and their personalities” and “the virtues of Black artistry,” and helped set the stage for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s. With scrupulous attention to detail, Tye brings his subjects to life as both forces of social change and three-dimensional human beings who lived and breathed their art, from Ellington’s soulful, “Shakespearian” arrangements to Armstrong’s “heart as big as Earth” and Basie’s “Buddha-like” temperament. It’s a vibrant ode to a legendary trio and the “rip-roaring harmonies” that made them great."
AARPChristina Ianzito
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"Jazz fans, take note! It’s been 125 years since Duke Ellington’s birth, on April 29, 1899, which makes this release rather timely: The Jazzmen: How Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Count Basie Transformed America (May 7) by Larry Tye, author of the biographies Satchel and Bobby Kennedy. Tye’s research included some 250 interviews focused on these brilliant jazz artists, who, the author says, were influential beyond the world of music: “Duke, Louis and the Count helped kick-start the Civil Rights revolution,” Tye told me in an email exchange about his book. “I hope readers see that these three maestros’ legacies off their bandstands are at least as compelling as on.”"
Library Journal(starred review)
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“One might have thought that there wasn’t much left to say about jazz’s holy trinity, but Tye’s thematic discursions on Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie have a fresh perspective and different angles. He draws on his previous works—including Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon—for some lenses through which he views these three men who’ve had a profound influence on American music and culture. The chapters navigating their travels through the American South (especially in Pullman cars) and contributions to the civil rights era are incredibly vivid. The thematic arrangement of the chapters and side-by-side comparisons of how each man navigated everything from racism to romance to the recording industry seem especially suitable for a book that is, after all, about jazz. It also makes each artist all the more distinctive compared to his peers. VERDICT A refreshing and attentive suite of composite portraits for jazz fans and readers interested in the intersection of art, culture, and politics in the 20th-century United States.”
ParadeMichael Giltz
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"Larry Tye delivers the inspiring, remarkable successes of three titans of popular music as one triumph of endurance and integrity: the elegant Duke Ellington, the irresistible big band drive of Count Basie and the world-spanning joy of Louis Armstrong."
The Guam Daily PostTerri Schlichenmeyer
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"This is a musician's dream book, but it's also a must-read story if you've never heard of Basie, Ellington or Armstrong. "The Jazzmen" may send you searching your music library, so make note."
RICKY RICCARDIGrammy Award–winning author of What a Wonderful World and Heart Full of Rhythm
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“Like the best music created by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie, The Jazzmen SWINGS. As Tye makes clear, their story is the story of America in the twentieth century.”
JUAN WILLIAMSauthor of Eyes on the Prize
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“The Jazzmen begins with colorful people and flows to rich history so beautifully it is musical.”
KIRKUS REVIEWS
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"Tye, the bestselling author of biographies of Satchel Paige, Joseph McCarthy, and others, embarks on his first voyage into music history. In a single volume, he has essentially produced fairly substantial biographies of Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington, contemporaries who became three of the most decorated and celebrated musicians in American history. The author capably delineates their struggles with, and impact on, the often harrowing and sometimes violent complexities and shifting dynamics of American race relations during the first half of the 20th century. The most striking aspect of the book is the astonishing amount of research Tye conducted, the sometimes overwhelming yield of which clears up myths that the golden trio themselves often perpetuated regarding their upbringings, their turbulent personal lives, and the technical evolution of their music. The author takes a fascinating look at the religious backgrounds and beliefs of Armstrong, Basie, and Ellington, who were the most prominent frontmen of the music that fanatics and public figures long blamed and targeted for societal degradation. Tye also explores the friendly but fierce professional rivalry among the three. The author’s vivid style brings readers front and center into the myriad of clubs and studios where Armstrong, Basie, and Ellington played, as well as the social vibe of the cities and towns where their music left an indelible mark. This thoroughly enjoyable musical journey is succinctly titled, yet the scope of Tye's research demonstrates why and how Armstrong, Basie, and Ellington transcended jazz and even music itself to establish themselves in American culture forevermore in words that a young Ellington employed to describe himself: "beyond category." For Ellington, “it wasn’t a contradiction to be an artist as well as a showman.”
BOOKLISTJune Sawyers
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"Although many books have been written about these iconic jazz artists, Tye (Demagogue, 2020) insists that "we don't know any of the three. Not really." Duke Ellington was the grandson of slaves. Louis Armstrong was raised by his grandmother, his great-grandmother, and a family of Lithuanian Jews. Count Basie dreamed of a world outside the one he was raised in and, with the help of pianist Fats Waller, was able to find it. Different in temperament, the three jazzmen made a collective impact, "elevating jazz into a pulsating force for spontaneity and freedom" even as they faced racial discrimination in Jim Crow America. None of these men were saints ("Not even close," Tye writes), but what matters is that "[t]hey gave us songs that were the ideal remedies for the blues of everyday life." In Tye's estimation, Ellington was "Shakespearean"; Armstrong, "the Mark Twain of song"; and Basie a "musical everyman." With descriptions of such key venues as Ellington's Cotton Club in Harlem, Basie's Reno Club in Kansas City, and Armstrong's Sunset Cafe in Chicago, Tye incisively portrays three seminal American artists."
DEVAL PATRICKformer governor of Massachusetts, assistant attorney general for civil rights under Bill Clinton
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“Proud and important history, beautifully told.”
MERCEDES ELLINGTONdancer, choreographer, and Duke’s granddaughter
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“The Jazzmen reveals how these three musicians, when they express themselves through their instruments, become magical.”
PUBLISHERS WEEKLYInterview with Larry Tye
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None of your previous books are about music or musicians. What prompted this one?

I wrote a book almost 20 years ago about the Pullman porters, who formed the first Black trade union. When I was talking to the porters, they made me promise to write two books: one about their favorite sports figure, Satchel Paige, and the other about their favorite passengers, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie. When these musicians traveled below the Mason-Dixon line, they’d hire Pullman cars to have a safe place to eat and sleep after their performances. After they returned to the Pullman cars, they would often hold late-night private jam sessions for the porters.

What do their stories reveal about the history of jazz?

They were all born into the nascent jazz world at about the same time, and each encountered many of the difficulties faced by Black jazz musicians. Their stories also trace the development of different styles of jazz in the cities where they got their start: Kansas City [Basie], New York City [Ellington], and New Orleans and Chicago [Armstrong]. Each took a different approach to jazz: Armstrong could hit his high C’s; Ellington could tell stories about Black America in his symphonic pieces; Basie couldn’t resist tapping his feet, and he got his audiences’ tapping theirs as well.

In what ways did their music influence their times and other music?

They laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about how jazz opened up America; it said something to white America about Black artistry and about equal rights. In the same way that gospel music laid the groundwork for jazz, this music laid the groundwork for rock, pop, and soul music. If jazz was an all-American music form, these three were its ambassadors.

What surprised you?

There’s danger in writing about people you think of as heroes or villains. These guys all started out as my heroes, but I discovered they were flesh and blood. I found out things about each of them that suggested they were not entirely unblemished—such as their constant philandering and their failures to create harmonious family lives—but that made them more human.

What lessons do you hope readers take from the book?

These are three of the most rollicking and fun maestros in the history of American music. I hope readers will learn what they meant to American culture and the wider world. Good art really does change our thinking—in this case about what Black men were capable of and that they deserved to be treated as equal.
WENDELL BRUNIOUSNew Orleans bandleader and trumpeter
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“Larry Tye has written a masterpiece. These three are not only the most important people in American music, but they changed the whole world in their individual ways.”
SONNY ROLLINSGrammy Award–winning tenor saxophonist
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“The Jazzmen tells an uplifting and unifying story that is especially important now, when times are so fractured.”
TRACY KIDDERPulitzer Prize–winning author
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“Entertaining and engrossing, and a warm invitation to an essential part of American history.”
DAN MORGENSTERNjazz author, historian, editor, educator, and former director of the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies
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“Tye has found that there are new things to say about The Three Musketeers of Jazz. Read, learn, and enjoy.”
GARY BURTONGrammy Award–winning jazz vibraphonist
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“I thought I was already well-informed about these jazz heroes, but Larry Tye reveals so much more about their musical journeys and personal experiences. It’s like meeting them all over again. I couldn’t put it down.”
THE ARTS FUSESteve Provizer
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"In The Jazzmen, readers are given a full taste of the lives of three complicated musical artists.”

Reviews of DEMAGOGUE

Wall Street JournalDuncan White
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“Larry Tye gives us the fullest account yet of [Joseph McCarthy,] the crusading senator from Wisconsin.” (Full article)
The New YorkerLouis Menand
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""Larry Tye’s purpose in his new biography, “Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), is to make the case that Donald Trump is a twenty-first-century Joe McCarthy … He more than makes the case. The likeness is uncanny." (Full article)
New York TimesJohn Williams
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"'Demagogue' Remembers a Vintage American Bully" (Full article)
LA Review of BooksChristopher Elias
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"Tye has produced a compelling and rich biography that will become the new authoritative text on its subject." (Full article)
Booklist Starred ReviewMary Ann Gwinn
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"Tye brings [McCarthy] back to ferocious life … This is a must-read biography … and every reader will blanch at its events' resemblances to today's fraught political conflicts." (Full article)
Boston GlobeEvan Thomas
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“Tye captures ‘Low Blow Joe’ in all his shambolic ingloriousness … The result is an epic expose that … will leave [readers] shaking their heads over the rise and fall of the greatest demagogue in American history.” (Full article)
Seattle TimesMary Ann Gwinn
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"This book, meticulously documented and written in a brisk, readable style, should be required reading for any student of American history, and general readers will blanch at its parallels with today’s fraught political discourse." (Full article)
Publishers Weekly
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“[A] sure-handed account … searing and informative portrait of [Senator Joseph McCarthy] and his specific brand of self-aggrandizing demagoguery.” (Full article)
Library Journal
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“Written in a straightforward, judicious style … a definitive biography that will stand the test of time.” (Full article)
New York Journal of BooksMike Farris
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“Demagogue is a beautifully written, richly researched tragedy, a morality tale in three acts. In the end, it proves that most demagogues, like the legendary emperor, usually have no clothes. And it’s not a pretty sight to behold.” (Full article)
Kirkus Reviews
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“Meaty narrative … a timely examination of a would-be savior whose name remains a byword for demagoguery.“ (Full article)
Christian Science Monitor Steve Donoghue
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“Tye has researched extensively and consulted more archival material than has been available to any previous McCarthy biographer … ‘Demagogue’ does an impressive job of shedding new light on Joe McCarthy, but the more light is shed, the more repulsive he appears.“ (Full article)
Christian Science Monitor
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“Bestselling biographer Larry Tye writes a long and comprehensive biography of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the polarizing spearhead of the Red Scare of the 1950s and – Tye contends – the origin of some disturbing features in our 21st-century political landscape.“ (Full article)