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The Ghosts of Harlem: Sessions With Jazz Legends by Hank OÆNeal

This is a photographed packed easy to read Jazz inspired coffee table book. Each session is a personally told biographical interview of 42 seasoned Traditional, New Orleans, Chicago, Mainstream, Swing improvising instrumental music makers based in Harlem.

In the first 75 pages the author tells of "Searching for the Ghosts," while "Discovering Lost Locations" contains his view of Harlem's past with recent photos of the clubs and jazz haunts. A "Guide to the Interviews" explains that he compiled the sessions by birthday beginning with band leader Andy Kirk-1898 to string bassist Major Holley-1924. On page 7 O'Neal enumerates the 12 questions asked of each interviewee allowing a reader to open to any of the 488 pages and be transported to Uptown Harlem.

Interviewed in Harlem from 1985 to 2007 these elderly musicians recall significant details of Harlem's history from the 1920s to 2007. An avid professional photographer and darkroom printer Mr. O'Neal has decorated each page with a candid portrait that complements each transcribed interview.

Inserted in the inside back cover are 11 selections culled from record producer photographer Hank O'Neal's own recording sessions issued on Chiaroscuro or other record labels.

Sadly Eddie Durham-1906 the first to play an amplified guitar in a band never finished O'Neal's interview because he got a gig near San Francisco where this writer had dinner with him just before he passed away.

Larry Lucie-1907 Louie Armstrong's guitarist educated O'Neal "when a drummer plays soft . . . you can hear all the instruments--the bass the guitar and the piano."

String bassist for Teddy Wilson's Orchestra Johnny Williams Jr.-1908 related Saints and Sinners pianist "What was the last place you played in Harlem?"

Red replied. "The Hotel Theresa. We played there the night Eisenhower came up when he was running for President in 1952. . . . W.C. Handy was there that night . . . It's an office building now."

Al Casey-1915 Fats Waller's rhythm guitarist who played his last 10 years with the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band told O'Neal "you never finish learning music there's always something to learn something you don't know."

George Kelly-1915 a swinging saxophonist spoke of what changed Harlem he answered "people don't dance like they use to."

Panama Francis-1918 a marvelous timekeeper and Cab Calloway's drummer remembered when Harlem "was a twenty-four-hour-a-day place."

Because I knew these instrumentalists personally it was particularly enjoyable to hear their stories. Any reader can go directly to their favorite musician and imagine that they are listening to them.

Daniel Kassell
August 6 2009
All Rights Reserved

Additional Info

  • Book Title: The Ghosts of Harlem: Sessions With Jazz Legends
  • Author: Hank OÆNeal
  • Publisher: Vanderbilt University Press
  • Year Published: 2009
  • Book Type:: Biography
  • ISBN: 978-0-8265-1627-5
  • Rating: Five Stars
  • Number of Pages: 488
Dan Kassell

Dan Kassell expands his curiosity by attending concerts, conventions, lectures and movies to take note of the History of Jazz from the indigenous Caribes in the Caribbean to Algiers New Orleans, Chicago and New York. As a member of the Jersey Jazz Society since 1972 he's witnessed musicians who learned from jazz's founders. Reviews also appear in, Amazon and and historically in AllAboutJazz-New York, Mississippi Rag or Jersey Jazz since 1972.

First inspired by Thomas "Fats" Waller playing "Your Feet's Too Big," Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert, Louis Armstrong solos, Duke Ellington's Famous Orchestra and Bob Wilber with Marty Gross and Kenny Davern's Soprano Summit he's also became fascinated by the spontaneous improvisation of Free Jazz while working on publicity for Chico Freeman.

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