Monday, June 9, 2008

John Hammond, Who Put His Money and Vision Where His Musical Taste Was

Another wonderful book.

Wonderfully written biography of a titan in the world of American music. A descendant of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (and of the Sloans of W&J fame), he grew up in a 5-floor mansion on East 91st Street, around the corner from 5th Avenue. The house not only had a squash court on the 3rd floor, but the court had a grandstand. Young John liked going down to the basement to listen to the music the servants liked. That led him to venturing to Harlem to listen to jazz. Dropping out of Yale, he entered the music business, and made an imprint: recorded Bessie Smith's last session, Lady Day's first, he suggested Prez and Lady Day duo; he suggested to Count Basie that he tour the country; suggested Teddy Wilson to Benny Goodman, as well as Charlie Christian; launched Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan to fame; launched Springsteen and SRV to fame, as well.

Along with his love of music was a devotion to racial integration and justice: he tried delivering food and clothes to the Scottsboro Boys; served on the board of NAACP beginning in his twenties.

An amazing man, a book worthy of a social titan.

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