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Nat King Cole (1999) by Daniel Mark Epstein. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.

This well-written and knowledgeable book about one of America's most talented popular singers provides the reader with Nat Cole's interesting life-story (1919-65), and a fascinating history of the jazz culture that existed from the 1920's through 1960's. Nat grew up in Chicago during its notorious prohibition and jazz culture of the 1920's and 1930's. His family had migrated from Alabama in the early 1920's to obtain better jobs and improved living conditions. Raised in a religious Baptist household by his minister-father and loving mother, Nat and older brother, Eddie, became interested during their teen years in Chicago's African-American jazz culture. As teenagers, they would sneak out of their house at night to listen to such jazz greats as Earl "Gatemouth" Hines and Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong; their listening usually occurred while standing on the sidewalk outside of the various clubs and speakeasies that proliferated "Bronzeville" during the prohibition and repeal eras. Instead of practicing church music on his family's piano, Nat sharpened his jazz playing skills in order to form his own band and play in various musical groups. As a student at Wendell Phillips High School, he participated in the band program under the director, Walter Henri Dyett - it was Dyett who provided him with intensive ear training and sight reading experiences. While growing up in this supercharged jazz culture, Nat met and competed against Earl Hines in a piano-jazz Battle of the Bands, and he listened to Louis Armstrong's trumpet playing in Chicago's cabarets. Many of the Chicago jazz players at this time were controlled by the notorious gangster, Al Capone. For example, Armstrong was told what clubs to play in and how much money he would receive, or else!

Nat played in various bands around the Chicago area during the middle and late 1930's. Then, he and his new wife (Nadine) moved to Los Angeles after they were married in 1937. Nat was looking for the golden American musical opportunity to become a big-time popular singer and jazz pianist. But it took several years of performing in Los Angeles and Hollywood nightclubs for him to develop an ensemble playing technique that would appeal to millions of listeners during the World War II and postwar periods. These were times of experimentation that involved sharpening his piano playing and smooth singing techniques in a trio (string bass, guitar and piano). His enormous talent was finally realized by fans in the 1940's and 1950's who purchased his records by the millions and avidly listened to his weekly television show (1956-57). Some of the hit songs that propelled him to fame and fortune were "Straighten Up and Fly Right" (1943), "Sweet Loraine" (1943), "Nature Boy" (1947), "Mona Lisa" (1950), "Too Young" (1951), and "Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup" (1955, recorded with Tommy Dorsey). Cole was a brilliant exemplar of the type of singing and piano playing that still appeals to many individuals who grew up during the era following World War II, and to younger people enthralled with the smooth musicianship of this era. It should also be remembered that Cole was one of the forerunners of the growing civil rights movement in the 1950's -- he was physically attacked and almost killed by white racist hoodlums on the stage of a Birmingham, Alabama theater in 1956. Of course, today he is considered a hero of Alabama which celebrates "Nat King Cole Day" as an official state holiday on March 17th. He had a great influence on many popular jazz and blues singers including B.B. King, Charles Brown and Ray Charles.

By reading this excellent book, gifted students will learn about the life and times of a great American musician and entertainer. In addition, Epstein is well versed in the musical culture of these times and the technical aspects of jazz performance. In describing Nat King Cole's relationship to people, Epstein says: "It was a wonderful thing, Cole's attention. He paid attention to his parents, to Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Noone, and the other giants of the Golden Age of Jazz; he paid attention to his friends, his children, his sidemen, his audiences, and most of all to his music. In paying attention to his music he paid attention to all of us. He was full of love." (p. 364). Mark Epstein is an eloquent and erudite author. It is a pleasure to read his book about one of America's best musicians who performed during the golden era of popular music.

Recommended Recordings by Nat King Cole

•Nat King Cole: The Greatest Hits.
Capitol, CDP 7243 8 29687 2 6.
•Penthouse Serenade: Nat ‘King'
Cole at the Piano. Capitol Jazz,
CDP 7243 4 94504 2 4.
•Nat King Cole: A Musical Anthology.
A & E Biography, 72434 94751 0 6.
•Nat King Cole: The Trio Recordings,
Vols. 1-5. LaserLight, 79-915.
•Sweet Lorraine. Vintage Jazz Classics, VJC 1026-29 4CD.
•Straighten Up and Fly Right!
Vintage Jazz Classics, VJC-1044.
•The King Cole Trios Live: 1947-48.
Vintage Jazz Classics, VJC-1011-2.

Louis Armstrong, In His Own Words: Selected Writings of Louis Armstrong (1999) by Louis Armstrong, and Thomas Brothers, Editor. Oxford University Press, New York.

The editor has assembled many of Louis Armstrong's articles, letters and reminisces into a collection that describes his early life in New Orleans and his successful rise in the musical world. In his unique narrative, Armstrong combined the black dialect of his youth with a jazzy, flowing style of expression. He described his hard times growing up in New Orleans in the early 1900's which involved many experiences similar to scenes written by Charles Dickens. He attributed his early start in music to the Karnofsky family of New Orleans whom he worked for as a youth. Armstrong says of this family: "The Karnofsky Family kept reminding me that I had Talent -- perfect Tonation when I would Sing. One day when I was on a wagon with Morris Karnofsky – we were on Rampart and Perdido Streets and we passed a Pawn Shop which had in it's Window -- an old tarnished beat up "B" Flat Cornet. It cost Five Dollars. Morris advanced me Two Dollars on my Salary. Then I put aside Fifty Cents each week from my small pay -- finally the Cornet was Paid for in full. Boy was I a happy Kid." (p. 15). In these wide-ranging essays, he gave tribute to his musical mentor, Joe "King" Oliver, the pioneering trumpet player who brought jazz out of New Orleans to Chicago and other parts of the nation. Oliver hired Armstrong to play in his Chicago band in 1922. Armstrong also wrote a detailed description ("The Armstrong Story," 1954) of his jazz playing experiences in Chicago from 1922-24, including his interactions with many jazz pioneers. There are several other articles in this book written by and about Armstrong. Additionally, it includes numerous letters to fans, his agent -- Joe Glaser, his wife -- Lucille, and the jazz historian -- Leonard Feather.

Although this book is particularly useful to scholars of the history of jazz, it is very informative for gifted students who want to learn more about the development and personality of an originator of jazz trumpet playing and singing. Armstrong (1901-71) was a genius in this type of music, a wonderful performer and a fascinating human being.

We also recommend that Louis Armstrong, In His Own Words be read while listening to some of Armstrong's outstanding recordings contained on the following CD's: (1) Louis Armstrong: When the Saints Go Marchin' In. LaserLight, 17 086; (2) Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy. Columbia, CK 64925; (3) Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson. Verve Records, 825 713-2; and (4) What A Wonderful World. MCA Records, MCAD-25204.

A Study in Multicultural Literature: The Writings of Derek Walcott (1930- ) by Michael E. Walters Center for the Study of the Humanities in the Schools

". . . .either every writer is an exile (not only this narrator-Naipaul) or no writer is." What the Twilight Says, 1998, p. 123.

Every great writer and artist is in exile. Yet they carry their homeland within their personal consciousness, which contains the theme and format of their artistic expression. Derek Walcott was born and grew up on the beautiful island of St. Lucia in the Carribean West Indies where the harbor is surrounded by lush vegetated green mountains. In 1992 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. He has been living in the United States for the last several decades, mostly in Boston and New York, and also spends a few months each year residing in Castries, the capital of St. Lucia. His work reflects an important trait of the sensibility of giftedness -- the ability to simultaneously possess a keen sense of identity related to a specific time and place (St. Lucia), and a commitment to and involvement in the intellectual world of multiculturalism. The tensions created by affirming one's personal identity and being a part of world culture are reflected in Walcott's writings.

It is helpful for gifted students to study and reflect upon Derek Walcott's works. The history of St. Lucia is an important ingredient of his personality. For over a hundred years, the British and French fought over this island. But, it was the only Carribean island where the native inhabitants were never subdued. Despite the ultimate victory of the British, one of the languages that is spoken is a French dialect. In order to harvest the lucrative sugar crop, the European land owners brought slaves from Africa. Now St. Lucia is an independent nation whose population represents a mixture of native, European and African cultures. Derek Walcott's poetry and literary works express this multiculturalism.

Walcott wrote an epic poem, Omeros (1990), inspired by Homer's Odyssey (~800 BC). However, the setting is contemporary St. Lucia instead of the ancient Mediterranean world. However, the same conflicts of Homer's epic are contained in Walcott's poem, e.g., heroism, grace and the tragic. Yet, the imagery is the landscape and people of St. Lucia: ". . . .I said, ‘Omeros,' / and O was the conch-shell's invocation, mer was / both mother and sea in our Antillean patois, / os, a grey bone, and the white surf as it crashes / and spreads its sibilant collar on a lace shore." (Omeros, 1990, p. 14, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux).

A collection of Walcott's essays (What the Twilight Says, 1998, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux) also displays this tension between his personal Carribean identity and his love of the multicultural. There are essays concerning the writers and intellectuals of his native West Indies such as V.S. Naipaul who is from Trinidad, and a prime candidate for a Nobel Prize in literature. Walcott also wrote essays on such diverse literati as the Nobel Laureate, Ernest Hemingway, and the Russian-American poet, Joseph Brodsky. It is obvious that Derek Walcott should be included in any curriculum for gifted students.

Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, April-May 2000