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In Tune -- by Eric Seddon
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to Eric Seddon % Earlyjas, or e-mail:
eric.seddon@gmail.com
Earlville Association for Ragtime Lovers Yearning for
Jazz Advancement and Socialization
EARLYJAS
   Among the more recent books written by jazz clarinetists is an extremely
important memoir by Tom Sancton: New Orleans native, a Paris Bureau chief for
Time magazine, and trad jazz clarinetist.

   Sancton’s book is entitled Song for My Fathers: A New Orleans Story in Black
and White (Other Press, New York, 2006). Beginning with the New Orleans jazz
funeral of Doc Celestin on December 18, 1954, we’re given more than a glimpse
into a crucial two decades of Crescent City history, unfolding through the eyes of
young Tom Sancton. Son of a reporter and aspiring novelist, whose mother was a
southern belle, he is thrown into the world of Creole and black jazz musicians
during the foundation of Preservation Hall. His perspective is unique: a white kid
in that milieu, at a point in time that will never be repeated—when musicians like
George Lewis, Creole George Guesnon & Sweet Emma Barrett pioneered the
early jazz revival.

   The book is masterful, combining many genres seamlessly. A coming of age
story, a chronicle, an analysis of oral tradition music making, with the flair and
page-turning quality of a novel, this is simply one of the best books about jazz, and
about New Orleans, I’ve ever read. Through much of it, Sancton’s adolescence on
display as he learns to play clarinet, falls in love for the first time, and tries to
balance his passion for jazz with school and other obligations. We overhear him
taking music lessons from Lewis and Guesnon; in the process becoming privy to
their struggles, ambivalences, and hesitations, as they were finally showcased and
given a share of success for the music they helped pioneer and preserve.
Throughout the book, the figure of his father looms large: the younger Sancton’s
admiration, then disillusionment, with his father is skillfully and poignantly told,
settling into a sober middle aged reassessment. None of this interferes with the
musical aspect of the story—instead, like the quality of New Orleans jazz itself,
Sancton’s life and the music become inseparable.

   Like Sidney Bechet’s autobiography, this written demonstration of the life
becoming the music, and the two flowing in and out of each other, is the most
remarkable aspect of the book. Anyone who seriously involves themselves with
New Orleans jazz must eventually come to this conclusion: It is the life one lives,
and the depth of one’s soul, that must come through the music. There is no faking
it. And Tom Sancton fakes nothing: You can smell the Zatarain’s, feel the
humidity, taste the danger of bullets being thrown during a parade, get lost in the
tunes—you can experience with him a type of hero worship turning bitter, then
mellowed, then resolving into something like pure gratitude. I picked this volume
up on the recommendation of a friend from NOLA, and at first wasn’t so sure
what to think. It ended up giving me a far deeper appreciation of music, life, and
the relationship of the two.      - - Eric Seddon
Tom Sancton autobiography:
  Song for my Fathers:  A New Orleans
Story in Black and White

    Jazz clarinetists are particularly fortunate
when it comes to autobiographies.
Contributions to the genre include some of
the most important players in the history of
the instrument: Benny Goodman, Artie
Shaw, Barney Bigard, Woody Herman, Pete
Fountain, and Mezz Mezzrow have each
published volumes, and at least one of them
- Sidney Bechet’s Treat It Gentle - ought to
be considered a masterpiece of American
literature in its own right.