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August 2, 2010

Midsummer reading: Books on Robert Schumann and Baltimore's jazz legacy

Two intriguing new music books crossed my desk in recent days. If you're looking for something to dig into during these midsummer days -- assuming you've finished all those trashy novels you set aside for beach-side reading -- I think these would be wroth a gander.

On the classical side, a "new and expanded edition" of "Schumann, The Inner Voices of a Musical Genius," by Peter Ostwald (Northeastern University Press).

The original version of the book appeared in 1985; the author died in 1996. His wife, Lise Deschamps Ostwald, has prepared this edition and  contirbuted a chapter based on material that wasn't available when the book first came out.

As eminent conductor Kurt Masur notes in his foreword to this edition, the new information about the composer's life in the mental asylum at Endenich "is both devastating and enlightening ... we can now enter Schumann's world as we read the doctors' reports and journals on his health and daily activities."

The closing chapter by Lise Deschamps Ostwald takes us closer than ever before into the composer's sad decline.

This fuller portrait of those last years caps a still-extraordinary account of the rest of Schumann's life (including the bisexuality that other writers downplayed or never noticed). This book was an important contribution to music scholarship in 1985; it's even more valuable in 2010.

For something completely different,

check out "Music at the Crossroads: Lives and Legacies of Baltimore Jazz" (Apprentice House/Loyola University Maryland -- "the country's only campus-based, student-staffed book publishing company").

This is a cool product on many levels, not the least of which is that it was put together largely by current and former Loyola University Maryland students as part of an English course taught by Mark Osteen (he and Loyola alum Frank J. Graziano edited the book).

This may not be the last word on jazz artists with ties to Baltimore, but it's a welcome addition to a subject well worth exploring.

The book covers a lot of nostalgic ground -- Eubie Blake and his teenage days in Baltimore's bordellos; Chick Webb's funeral at Waters AME Church, where Ella Fitzgerald sang "My Buddy"; Billie Holiday's ups and downs; Hank Levy's energizing days developing great jazz bands at what was then Towson State College. There are chapters on Ellis Larkin, Ethel Ennis, Cyrus Chestnut, the Left Bank Jazz Society and more, as well as a look at the much-too-small jazz scene in the city today.

The informative collection of essays largely avoids term-paper dryness as the authors explore a rich history of jazz and how Baltimore has fitted into it. The book's got a good beat.

FILE ART OF SCHUMANN; SUN PHOTO OF CHICK WEBB FUNERAL IN BALTIMORE, 1939 (Ella Fitzgerald is seen fanning Mrs. Webb)

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:38 AM | | Comments (0)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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