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You Can`t Steal a Gift

You Can`t Steal a Gift: Dizzy, Clark, Milt, and Nat

Gene Lees
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    You Can`t Steal a Gift
    Book Description:

    In this wise, stimulating, and deeply personal book, an eminent jazz chronicler writes of his encounters with four great black musicians: Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Milt Hinton, and Nat "King" Cole. Equal parts memoir, oral history, and commentary, each of the main chapters is a minibiography, weaving together conversations Gene Lees had with the musicians and their families, friends, and associates over a period of several decades.Lees begins the book with an essay that tells of his introduction to the world of jazz and his reaction to racism in the United States when he emigrated from Canada in 1955. The underlying theme in his book is the impact racism had on the four musicians' lives and careers and their determination to overcome it. As Lees writes, "No white person can even begin to understand the black experience in the United States. . . . All [of the four jazz makers] are men who had every reason to embrace bitterness-and didn't."

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14295-2
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Nat Hentoff

    Increasingly, most of the writing on seminal jazz figures is based on second- or third-hand sources. Gene Lees, however, is one of the relatively few chroniclers left who has known the musicians he writes about long and well.

    Moreover, he is not just a jazz critic or journalist. Lees is a musician, singer, and lyricist with his own distinctive body of work. Unlike most of those who write about jazz, Gene is one of the family, and so, when he interviews musicians, he literally speaks their language. Clearly, that leads to deeper communication.

    Also, unlike some critics who try to...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. 1 Sudden Immersion
    (pp. 1-36)

    In the first week of May 1955, I traveled by train from Montreal to Windsor, Ontario, crossed into the United States on a bus, handed my permanent-residence papers to an immigration officer, and proceeded into downtown Detroit with an odd and tremulous feeling that I was leaving all that I was and ever had been behind. I was going to take up life in a new country and a new city: Louisville, Kentucky. I was twenty-seven. I bought a pair of shoes that day. The young salesman asked my name. I told him. He called me by my first name....

  6. 2 Birks and His Works
    (pp. 37-108)

    The week after Dizzy Gillespie’s death in January 1993, a note-worthy obituary appeared inNewsweek. It was exceptional if only because the magazine devoted a full page to him; departed jazz musicians are rarely accorded such respect in the lay press. Written by David Gates, it took the measure of the man and the artist with precision and perception.

    “You didn’t need to know anything about Dizzy Gillespie’s paradoxical career,” Gates wrote, “or his more paradoxical personality to discern that he was a lively mix of contradictions—you only had to hear him play. His trumpet solos often sounded like...

  7. 3 You Gotta Sing
    (pp. 109-152)

    One evening in 1981, at the Monterey Jazz Festival, I was sitting with Clark Terry and saxophonist Plas Johnson listening to Dizzy Gillespie. Clark smiled and shook his head in wonder, and announced: “He’s still the master.”

    But Clark himself is one of the masters. If one reflects on the classical trumpet literature, on the use of the instrument in all sorts of pre-jazz music, and ponders his astounding flexibility and effortless expressivity, the inevitable conclusion is that he too is one of the greatest trumpet players in history. He and Dizzy may be the pinnacles of the instrument. Not...

  8. 4 We Are Like Atlas
    (pp. 153-202)

    On December 19, 2000, Milton John Hinton, of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Chicago, Illinois, entered the sasha. He had in his ninety years recorded with almost every major jazz musician of the century, and many figures of the popular-music world, such as Frank Sinatra and Julius La Rosa. If music was his primary professional passion, photography was his second, and he documented the lives of the musicians around him, and the world they inhabited, in an estimated sixty thousand images, which have been seen in many gallery exhibits and in two books of his pictures. He held eight honorary doctorates and...

  9. 5 King Cole
    (pp. 203-252)

    Nat Cole came to Louisville in April 1956.

    This was only days after five white supremacists had tried to abduct him from a stage in Birmingham, Alabama. The head of the North Alabama White Citizens Council had issued an edict declaring that “Negro music appeals to the base in man, bringing out animalism and vulgarity,” and the white supremacists acted on it, oblivious of course to the animalism, vulgarity, and baseness in themselves. What the five men planned to do with Cole had their abduction succeeded remains unknown, but a friendly entreaty somewhere on a back-country road that he forswear...

  10. Index
    (pp. 253-269)