Florence Mills - Harlem Jazz Queen - Bill Egan
FLORENCE MILLS HARLEM JAZZ QUEEN
The Scarecrow Press Inc. - Lanham, Maryland - Toronto - Oxford - 2004
Studies in Jazz N° 48
Rutgers - The State University Of New Jersey
This is undeniable the best book on jazz I have ever read.
It is not only jazz history, but it has much larger scoop, this is above all social history. Poverty, racism, social consciousness.
This book is also the proof that jazz history is more than Louis, Duke, Bessie, King Oliver, Lady Day and all those well known names we are all familiar with. It is also the proof that those who did not have the opportunity to be recorded and therefore did not get the change to become 'immortal', played an equally or even more important role in the making of this unique American art form.
When I read Florence Mills' name for the first time, I remembered having seen her picture in 'New Orleans Jazz, A Family Album' with Tony Jackson (page 255). So it was quite interesting to read the story of her life, her struggle for equal rights and social justice and of her personal efforts to help her 'people' by organising concerts and events to support the less advantaged. Above all there is her battle against racial prejudice, not only in the US but also in England, when she performed in the London theatres, how she found freedom, understanding and above all recognition in Europe, Paris, Berlin and above all places in Ostend, Belgium.
The list of musicians and singers she performed with read like a
who's who of jazz. The already named Tony Jackson, Jelly Roll Morton, Montudi
Garland, Kid Ory, Bricktop, Tennessee Ten, Noble and Sissle, Johnny Dunn. Duke
Ellington was one of her greatest admirers.
I like to read and I read a lot, and not only about jazz. This book reads like a novel. Once I started reading it, I could not stop. This book tells about real people, real situations, struggles,…things that still exist in our world, unfortunately, such as poverty, racial prejudice with all the bad sides and temptations. This book tells the story of a very gifted person, not only musically, but also very intelligent with a great sense for social justice. It is about her talent and her perseverance that got her out of the bad living conditions to a better life. She never forgot her roots and the difficult living conditions of those who lived as her neighbours in the getto. She always tried to do something in return for those who were not so lucky as she was.
Bill Egan wrote a very fascinating book on this fascinating singer, Florence Mills. This book is a piece of love. Egan is living in Australia.
My only regret is that I was not able to share this review and my personal opinions on this great book with you sooner due to our little problems with the Jazzgazette.
If you are interested in jazz, buy this book, just sit back one evening by the fireplace and let this Harlem Jazz Queen lead you through her life. A jazz Queen she was indeed.
Jempi De Donder
[See original at: http://www.thejazzgazette.be/january2005.htm - unfortunately this site now appears to be defunct)