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JAZZ: America’s Gift

From Its Birth to George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue & Beyond

An Innovative Look at the Defining Moments of Jazz

Music is both a unifying force and a deeply personal expression of the self. Over the millennia, melody and lyrics have served as a multilayered mode of storytelling and expression of joy, sorrow, and hope. For America, no other musical style is quite so adept at this than jazz. Jazz: America’s Gift delves into the rich and storied history of American jazz—from its roots in early American folk song and the blues into the sound and splendor of the Jazz Age. Not just another history book, Jazz: America’s Gift is a unique and engaging exploration of the musical styles, traditions, innovations, and incredible talents that shaped jazz, and exposes how jazz itself shaped America’s history, bringing the country closer together.

No figure embodies the mood and music of this time like George Gershwin, a Jewish-American musical dynamo whose Rhapsody in Blue would become one of the most widely known compositions to come out of this time. Using song titles as markers along the path of Gershwin’s life, author Richie Gerber tells the evocative, often joyous, and sometimes heart-wrenching story of this often misunderstood genius. Gershwin’s life story is elegantly framed within the larger narrative of the rise of jazz music, with an attention to detail that makes the words leap off the page and music sound in your ears.

Jazz: America’s Gift is the perfect marriage between Miguel Covarrubias’s artwork and the colorful history of the Jazz Age. The interplay of Gerber’s words and Covarrubias’s images gives each page a rhythm all its own. . . . Who could ask for anything more?

Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Gerber's deft, energetic examination of Gershwin's music . . . illuminates the enormous Jewish contribution to the great American musical export, jazz." - Publishers Weekly

”[H]istoric facts and figures about jazz with a fairly complete survey of its origins in slave songs, spirituals, minstrel shows, and Storyville flesh dens, as well as a chronicle of the rise of New Orleans trumpeter Louis Armstrong.” - Publishers Weekly

Gerber . . . links the raw power of jazz and the blues to the country's past of prejudice and racism.” - Publishers Weekly

"[Gerber] scores points with his bold commentary about the complicated political and cultural relationships between Jewish and black communities with regard to jazz.” - Publishers Weekly

”Gerber does well with the life of musical genius George Gershwin, a Brooklyn son of Russian Jews who rose from Tin Pan Alley to produce such startling masterpieces as 'Porgy and Bess' and 'Rhapsody in Blue.'” - Publishers Weekly

 

From Kirkus Reviews:

"Rather than taking a dry, academic approach to the subject, Gerber, a musician and natural foods entrepreneur, writes in a conversational, lively, and witty style"

"Using a variety of bibliographical sources, Gerber paints a vivid picture of jazz's roots in slaves' spirituals and minstrel shows; the music's popularity in the Storyville section of New Orleans; and the emergence of Louis Armstrong.

He unearths some interesting facts, such as shared cultural experiences of African-Americans and Jews: he notes that African-American singers such as Billie Holliday and Alberta Hunter recorded Jewish songs, and that Louis Armstrong so admired Jewish people that he wore a Star of David around his neck."

"He makes a strong, enthusiastic case for Gershwin's contributions to jazz, something that many jazz historians, according to the author, don't often acknowledge ("As far as George Gershwin goes--jazz can't live with him and jazz can't live without him!")

"In addition, Covarrubias' vibrant illustrations really enhance the text"

 

From The Midwest Book Review, Small Press Bookwatch

"Exceptionally well written . . . Very highly recommended . . . Thoroughly 'reader-friendly' . . . Rewarding reading . . . A must for all Jazz enthusiasts . . . Impressively informed and informative . . .

It will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to community, and academic library American Music History reference collections and supplemental studies reading lists." - The Midwest Book Review, Small Press Bookwatch

Profile Photo Richie Gerber

About Richie Gerber

Richie Gerber is a musician, performer, comedian, and impresario. Over the years, he produced hundreds of jazz concerts that featured his band The Free Radicals, playing straight-ahead jazz, bebop, and swing with jazz greats like Eddie Higgins, former Count Basie alumnus Pete Minger, five-time Grammy nominee Ira Sullivan, and Buddy DeFranco. Gerber is the former owner of the Bread of Life Natural Foods Market, which merged with Whole Foods Markets in 1997 to form the Whole Foods Florida Region. Leveraging his knowledge as an organic farmer and natural foods store owner/operator, Gerber became a licensed nutrition counselor and went on to produce and host The Natural Grocer Radio Show for ten years, the longest-running health talk radio show in South Florida at the time. In 2014, Gerber and his wife, Julie, were included in Natural Prophets, a book about the pioneers of the health food industry.

 

Illustrator Miguel Covarrubias (November 22, 1904-February 4, 1957) can arguably be called the chronicler of "The Jazz Age." Moving from his birthplace of Mexico to New York City as a nineteen-year-old in 1923, carrying his pen and sketchpad, he instantaneously took the Big Apple by storm. He shared a studio on 42nd Street with Al Hirschfeld, a caricaturist greatly influenced by "El Chamaco" ("The Kid"--Covarrubias's nickname). Covarrubias's original, unique, and innovative style of drawing celebrity caricatures catapulted him into a teenage/twenty-something storied celebrity artist, landing him gigs at top-tier magazines such as The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. In 1933, Covarrubias was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, which he used to study the Island of Bali and write and illustrate a highly celebrated book by the same name. In 1940, he was awarded a second Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as numerous other awards.

All books by Richie Gerber

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