The son of a Vanderbilt heiress, John Hammond listened to jazz records with his parents’ servants, went to Harlem as a teenager, and became a regular in clubs where very few white faces ever appeared. Taking a little family money, Hammond went across racial lines in pre-World War II America and came back with recordings of some of the greatest jazz musicians in history. By age 22, he had convinced Benny Goodman to integrate his band and made his first big discovery: Billie Holiday.
Later, as jazz gave way to pop and rock, Hammond championed Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Ray Vaughan in his life’s extraordinary second act.
In Dunstan Prial’s hands, Hammond’s biography is the story of American popular music since the 1930s, a tale of a man at the center of things, with his ears wide open.
For anyone interested in the development of American music in the 20th century, this book is essential reading. John Hammond was a big-hearted, opinionated and fearless advocate for musicians and for the civil rights movement. What this book makes very clear is that Hammond was in the business for the music and the musicians, not for personal gain. Mind you, as a direct descendant of Cornelius Vanderbilt he had the resources to make that choice. The portraits of some of Hammond's discoveries, Billie Holliday, Bennie Goodman and Bruce Springsteen, are excellent. One negative; there's some awkward audio editing on the recording. Not a big issue though.
3 of 4 people found this review helpful
This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?
I enjoyed the book, but the audio editing was terrible. It was very distracting to hear the same recording of particular words repeated again and again in other paragraphs. Yes, you'll hear the same recording of a word multiple times in the same paragraph.
What didn’t you like about Ray Porter’s performance?
As far as I could tell, Ray Porter is a capable reader. However, the combination of his performance and the poor audio editing made listening to the book far from enjoyable. I liked the story, but the product is not professional. It needs to be rerecorded.
What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
This book is a fascinating study of the eccentric life of John Hammond. Prial is fair about Hammond, noting his strengths and flaws. Overall, the audio narration is excellent, although there are quite a few edits that are jarringly spliced. Towards the end of the book, Prial pontificates about Flock of Seagulls or Duran Duran being artistically invalid compared to Stevie Ray Vaughan. This was Prial's "naughty" Hammond moment that probably should have been cut. Tsk Tsk! This comment aside, the book is well researched and presented. I learned a lot and recommend this one!