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Ten Great Books with Jazz at their Heart

10th October 2023

Ten Great Books with Jazz at their Heart. Many books, from many locations, have Jazz at their heart. Here are ten of our favourites.

The Axeman’s Jazz by By Ray Celestin – NEW ORLEANSTen Great Books with Jazz at their Heart

New Orleans, 1919. As music fills the city, a serial killer strikes . . . 

New Orleans, 1919. As a dark serial killer – The Axeman – stalks the city, three individuals set out to unmask him . . .

Though every citizen of the ‘Big Easy’ thinks they know who could be behind the terrifying murders, Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot, heading up the official investigation, is struggling to find leads. But Michael has a grave secret, and if he doesn’t get himself on the right track fast, it could be exposed . . .

Former detective Luca d’Andrea has spent the last six years in Angola state penitentiary, after Michael, his protégée, blew the whistle on his corrupt behaviour. Now a newly freed man, Luca is back working with the mafia, whose need to solve the mystery of the Axeman is every bit as urgent as that of the authorities.

Meanwhile, Ida is a secretary at the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and dreaming of a better life, Ida stumbles across a clue which lures her and her musician friend, Louis Armstrong, to the case – and into terrible danger . . .

As Michael, Luca and Ida each draw closer to discovering the killer’s identity, the Axeman himself will issue a challenge to the people of New Orleans: play jazz or risk becoming the next victim. And as the case builds to its crescendo, the sky will darken and a great storm will loom over the city . . .

Inspired by a true story, THE AXEMAN’S JAZZ, set against the heady backdrop of jazz-filled, mob-ruled New Orleans, is an ambitious, gripping thriller announcing a major new talent in historical crime fiction.

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The Horn by John Clellon Holmes – NEW YORK CITY

Edgar Pool came up with the big bands. He spent the 1930s crisscrossing the country, playing in only the finest dance halls. In those days, a saxophone player was expected to stay on the beat, to swing without getting too hot. But Edgar—whom the young men called “the Horn”—couldn’t help but rebel. His sound was always far-out, never pedestrian. When the bebop revolution came, Edgar was recognized as one of the vanguard. But by then it was already too late; the world had passed the Horn by.

This is the story of jazz in the transition years between swing titans Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young and bop innovators Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Rich in the details of a musician’s life—the grind of the road; the flash of inspiration; the seduction of booze, drugs, and willing women—it is also a heart-wrenching portrait of the price an artist pays for being ahead of his time.

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Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan – BERLIN, PARIS

Charles C. Jones – Chip – and Sidney Griffiths, have been friends since they were children the STates. They find themselves in Berlin at the start of WW2, jazz musicians in a band whic inludes Hieronymous Falk, who is young and gifted half black and half German young man. The band flees to Paris after a brawl where they witness the fall of Paris, and Hieronymous disappears. The 1990s sees Chip and Sidney back in Berlin.

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Ten Great Books with Jazz at their HeartThe Vinyl Detective by Andrew Cartmel – ENGLAND

He is a record collector — a connoisseur of vinyl, hunting out rare and elusive LPs. His business card describes him as the “Vinyl Detective” and some people take this more literally than others.

Like the beautiful, mysterious woman who wants to pay him a large sum of money to find a priceless lost recording — on behalf of an extremely wealthy (and rather sinister) shadowy client.

Given that he’s just about to run out of cat biscuits, this gets our hero’s full attention. So begins a painful and dangerous odyssey in search of the rarest jazz record of them all…

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Twelve Bar Blues by Patrick Neate – AFRICA, NEW ORLEANS, NEW YORK CITY

Spanning three continents and two centuries, Twelve Bar Blues is an epic tale of fate, family, friendship and jazz. At its heart is Lick Holden, a young jazz musician, who sets New Orleans on fire with his cornet at the beginning of the last century. But Lick’s passion is to find his lost step-sister and that’s a journey that leads him to a place he can call ‘home’. Meanwhile, at the other end of the century, we find Sylvia, an English prostitute, and Jim, a young drifter. They’re in search of Sylvia’s past, lost somewhere in the mists of the Louisiana bayou.

Patrick Neate has written a story that straddles time and space, love and friendship, roots and pilgrimage and everything between. Poignant and hilarious, it will hook you – like a favourite tune – till the end.

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An American Duchess by Sharon Page – ENGLAND

At the height of the Roaring Twenties, New York heiress Zoe Gifford longs for the freedoms promised by the Jazz Age. Headstrong and brazen, but bound by her father’s will to marry before she can access his fortune, Zoe arranges for a brief marriage to Sebastian Hazelton, whose aristocratic British family sorely needs a benefactor.

Once in England, her foolproof plan to wed, inherit and divorce proves more complicated than Zoe had anticipated. Nigel Hazelton, Duke of Langford and Sebastian’s austere older brother, is disgraced by the arrangement and looks down upon the raucous young American who has taken up residence at crumbling Brideswell Abbey. Still reeling from the Great War, Nigel is now staging a one-man battle against a rapidly changing world the outspoken Zoe represents everything he’s fighting against. When circumstances compel Zoe to marry Nigel rather than Sebastian, she does so for love, he for honor. But with Nigel unwilling to change with the times, Zoe may be forced to choose between her husband and her dreams.

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Ten Great Books with Jazz at their HeartNight in Shanghai by Nicole Mones – SHANGHAI

In 1936, classical pianist Thomas Greene is recruited to Shanghai to lead a jazz orchestra of fellow African-American expats. From being flat broke in segregated Baltimore to living in a mansion with servants of his own, he becomes the toast of a city obsessed with music, money, pleasure and power, even as it ignores the rising winds of war.Song Yuhua is refined and educated, and has been bonded since age eighteen to Shanghai’s most powerful crime boss in payment for her father’s gambling debts. Outwardly submissive, she burns with rage and risks her life spying on her master for the Communist Party.Only when Shanghai is shattered by the Japanese invasion do Song and Thomas find their way to each other. Though their union is forbidden, neither can back down from it in the turbulent years of occupation and resistance that follow. Torn between music and survival, freedom and commitment, love and world war, they are borne on an irresistible riff of melody and improvisation to Night in Shanghai’s final, impossible choice.In this stunningly researched novel, Nicole Mones not only tells the forgotten story of black musicians in the Chinese jazz age, but also weaves in a startling true tale of Holocaust heroism little-known in the West.

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The Jazz Flower by Vee Williams Garcia – NEW YORK CITY, WASHINGTON, PARIS

The Jazz Flower is a follow-up to Forbidden Circles, which ends with Nora Johnson and Douglas Stills expecting their first child. In The Jazz Flower, the child is born. Later, the couple has two more children. But it is their first child, Rosa, who takes center stage.

Rosa Johnson Stills grows and blooms into a beautiful mocha-hued jazz singer in 1930s and ’40s Washington, D.C. During those years, Rosa challenges her light-skinned grandmother, Lilly, who low rates her dark skin color and her jazz dream. Rosa also fights her rival, socialite Iris Haywood, in an endless effort to possess her first love, Attorney Alan Covington. Because of a long-ago pact their families made, Alan is pledged to Iris. And Iris will never let him go. Eventually, Rosa relocates to New York City to take a singing job at The Blue Phoenix nightclub and to try to forget Alan. In New York, Rosa dates Jackson Parker, a racketeer. But Alan is in her arms whenever he’s in New York on business ? even after he and Iris are married. Parker threatens to kill Rosa if he catches her with another man. Set in the Swing and Bebop eras of jazz music, The Jazz Flower unfolds prejudice, obsession, and murder, as it transports readers from D.C. to New York, to Paris, France, on its way to a riveting conclusion.

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And All That Madness by Joan Merrill – NEW YORK CITY

AND ALL THAT MADNESS a Casey McKie mystery by Joan Merrill When the New York Jazz Society acquires a fifty-year old letter from Georgia Valentine, questions arise over the legendary vocalist’s death. Did she give herself a fatal dose of heroin, as the original investigators ruled, or did someone kill her? And if it was murder, what was the motive? Casey moves her operation from San Francisco to New York to investigate the cold case, questioning Georgia’s musician friends, her widower, a drug dealer, a Broadway actress, a mafia boss and the authorities who declared the death a suicide. This quest takes Casey to New York’s most venerable jazz clubs, a Harlem nursing home, a mob-owned Italian restaurant, a lesbian bar and One Police Plaza, home of the NYPD. She joins forces with an attractive detective from the Organized Crime unit, and, as the case progresses, so does their relationship. With no shortage of suspects, Casey ultimately uncovers evidence revealing a surprising killer.

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Ten Great Books with Jazz at their HeartJazz Moon by Joe Okonkwo – HARLEM, PARIS

In a lyrical, captivating debut set against the backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance and glittering Jazz Age Paris, Joe Okonkwo creates an evocative story of emotional and artistic awakening.

On a sweltering summer night in 1925, beauties in beaded dresses mingle with hepcats in dapper suits on the streets of Harlem. The air is thick with reefer smoke, and jazz pours out of speakeasy doorways. Ben Charles and his devoted wife, Angeline, are among the locals crammed into a basement club to hear jazz and drink bootleg liquor. For aspiring poet Ben, the swirling, heady rhythms are a revelation. So is Baby Back Johnston, an ambitious trumpet player who flashes a devilish grin and blasts jazz dynamite from his horn. Ben finds himself drawn to the trumpeter and to Paris where Baby Back says everything is happening.

In Paris, jazz and champagne flow eternally, and blacks are welcomed as exotic celebrities, especially those from Harlem. It s an easy life that quickly leaves Ben adrift and alone, craving solace through anonymous dalliances in the city s decadent underground scene. From chic Parisian cafés to seedy opium dens, his odyssey will bring new love, trials, and heartache, even as echoes from the past urge him to decide where true fulfillment and inspiration lie.

Jazz Moon mashes up essences of Hurston and Hughes and Fitzgerald into a heady mixtape of a romance: driving and rhythmic as an Armstrong Hot Five record, sensuous as the small of a Cotton Club chorus girl’s back. I enjoyed it immensely. Frankly, I wish I’d written it. Larry Duplechan, author of Blackbird and Got ’til It’s Gone

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Enjoy your books with Jazz at their Heart!

Tony for the TripFiction Team

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  1. User: Anabel Marsh

    Posted on: 01/11/2023 at 9:33 am

    I also recommend Trumpet by Jackie Kay.

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