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Young Man with a Horn (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – 26 Oct 2012


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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Reprint edition (26 Oct. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590175778
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590175774
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.4 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 634,538 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

'pulsing with the life of the jazz solos that tumble from Rick's trumpet, as well as the vibrancy and talent of his black musician friends.  A pitch-perfect evocation of the music that defined an age.'

(Irish Times)

'these marvellous books are witty and assured.  Her tone is dark and jaunty, the writing off-handedly smart.  

(London Review of Books)

About the Author

DOROTHY DODDS BAKER (1907-1968) was born in Missoula, Montana, and raised in California. After having a few short stories published, Baker turned to writing full-time, and in 1938 she published Young Man with a Horn, which earned critical praise and eventually became a movie. She received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1942 and, the next year, published  Trio, a novel whose frank portrayal of a lesbian relationship proved too scandalous for the times. Her final novel, Cassandra at the Wedding, is also available from NYFRB Classics. GARY GIDDINS was a music critic for The Village Voice, where his column Weather Bird ran for thirty years. He has contributed articles about music, mostly jazz, to The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Nation and Vanity Fair, among others.


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 1 Aug. 2013
Format: Paperback
In this newly reprinted, remarkably "fresh" novel from 1938, considered the "first jazz novel" ever written, author Dorothy Baker takes the reader into the mind and heart of a young white boy in the 1920s whose desire to excel as a creative jazz musician is so overwhelming that he lets nothing get in his way - not the fact that he is only a child when he begins to pursue his interest, not the fact that he is an orphan, not the fact that he is supposed to be in school, and not the fact that he has no instrument to play.

Compelled by forces he does not understand, young Paul Martin, at fourteen, teaches himself to play the piano by skipping school and practicing during the day on the piano at a black mission church, later switching to the trumpet when he discovers that with luck and hard work, he can afford to buy one at a pawn shop. It is at the bowling alley where he works setting up pins that he meets Smoke Jordan, an eighteen-year-old black man who gets so caught up in the rhythm of sweeping the alley's floor that he forgets the purpose of his job and dances instead to his own inner music. Smoke and Rick become best friends, inseparable, both totally committed to their interest in jazz. Their relationship is one of the treasures of this novel as these two come to trust each other completely, sharing their lives in unexpected ways.

Before he is even twenty-one, Rick is working in New York, but here life becomes much more complicated, and it is in these last two sections of the novel that the author's insights make Rick's jazz life and the conflicts that sometimes arise with his personal life come fully alive.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Louise the book worm on 16 Jan. 2014
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book on the strength of the back blurb and the reviews, and I'm glad I did. There's a style, and a tone, about the way "Young Man with a Horn" is written, that stands notably out from the crowd, even at the distance of so many years. Her confident, slightly quirky authorial voice keeps you reading. The book immerses you in the full swing of the Jazz Age, much as "Mad Men" does in 1950s and 60s New York - to the point where it no longer really matters exactly what type of music was being played during the period she writes about, or what you yourself think about it: it's how the music made everyone feel that got them all steamed up. Even in the late 1950s the kids were still playing jazz as a form of rebellion against the "light popular music" mainstream, so back in the 20s it must have been utterly revolutionary.

The attempt - to set down the musical equivalent of oral history, as it sizzled away in a moment in time - is brave, and I think masterfully done. It's sometimes necesary to recall that elements of the content or style that might somehow come off as slightly cliched, shorthand for "jazz", have only become so since she wrote this. She was the pioneer, modernist in the poetry of her writing, in not caring whether her characters were white or black, and in endeavouring to set down on the page what jazz music feels like, played right there in front of you.

She writes about music well, but she writes about musicians better. Assuming - is it safe to assume? - she knew men and women like this in her own life, at least some of her acquaintances must have winced, just slightly, at her cooly scathing summings up of what some of her fictional jazz musician characters were actually capable of. It made me think of Spike Lee's great "Mo' Better Blues.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Secret Spi on 6 Feb. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
The name Dorothy Baker seemed familiar to me when I started reading this book. It was only afterwards that I realised I was thinking of both Dorothy Parker and Josephine Baker, two other wonderful Jazz Age women. And, on the basis of this book, Dorothy Baker deserves to be better known.

"Young Man with a Horn" is the bittersweet story of a of the "nervous, crazy" life of a jazz musician, Rick Martin, in 1920s USA. We are introduced to Rick, an orphan, as he discovers the meaning of his life - jazz music - and his surrogate family, the (black) boys in the band, at the age of fourteen. Throughout the story, the reader gets the impression that Rick was born the wrong colour and this is the root of his problems. He's a misfit. Although his trumpet-playing is sublime, he feels ill-at-ease in the commercialised world of "sanitised" white dance-band music, and in his hasty marriage later to a society medical student and "It Girl", Amy. Sadly, Rick's talent is not enough to keep him from the downhill spiral of too little sleep and too much booze, with the inevitable unhappy end.

The story is by turns witty and wistful, reckless and philosophical, capturing the Zeitgeist of the Jazz Age every bit as well as F.Scott Fitzgerald. The (unknown) narrator tells Rick's story but peppers it with the odd reflection on music, and genius and living. The book feels very modern in its treatment of race and sexuality in comparison to other writers of that era, such as Hemingway.

As an added extra, the Afterword by Gary Giddins on Dorothy Baker makes interesting reading.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 6 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Over the years, I've read this novel a dozen times 28 Sept. 2012
By Jesse Kornbluth - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
See if this grabs you: "What I'm going to do now is to write off the story of Rick Martin's life, now that it's over, now that Rick is washed up and gone, as they say, to his rest." That's the first line. It's a story about genius and glory and doom, about a boy who taught himself how to play piano and trumpet and was, at 20, bound for glory, and well before his 30th birthday, was dead.

The great novel of the 1920s is The Great Gatsby. A `20s story that's almost as good is this one --- the fictionalized story of Leon Bismarck "Bix" Beiderbecke (1903 - 1931), who rocketed out of Davenport, Iowa with a sound so distinctive his only competition was Louis Armstrong. Bix was as shy as he was talented, damaged in a way that's still not quite clear. But he could play --- Lord, could he play.

In a big band, Beiderbecke was the trumpet player with the spectacularly clear sound. As a pianist, he was an innovator. On both instruments, there's a combination of cool distance, hot jazz and the new kind of music coming from Europeans like Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. Louis Armstrong said it best: "Lots of cats tried to play like Bix; ain't none of them play like him yet."

No one could pin Bix down. An 8-measure solo here, a short phrase there --- he seemed to be making it up as he went along, but he couldn't be, no one was that inventive. Listen for yourself:

Dorothy Baker, who also wrote Cassandra at the Wedding, conjures all of it --- the life, the music, the recklessness, the shyness, the loneliness, the booze. She writes wonderful scenes: the afternoon in a mission that young Rick Martin teaches himself Hymn 14 ("He stayed there until dark, and I can scarcely believe it myself, but the story goes that he could play the piano by dark; he could play number 14 on the piano by dark"), and how he sits outside the Cotton Club night after night, in his early teens, listening to bands and memorizing their songs ("It wasn't that they were loud; it was that they were so firm about the way they played, no halfway measures, nothing fuzzy"), and the night he gets to sit in with professionals ("Rick laid his cigarette in a groove above the keyboard where another cigarette had been laid sometime, sat down again, and said, `What do you think of this?'"). He gets hired to play in a band that caters to college kids in the California summer ("Rick dressed like a college boy, his hands were clean, and there was nothing much wrong with the way he talked, but there was something in his face that marked him as no college boy").

From there, it's the top of the mountain and down the hill. Baker can see what's discordant in Rick Martin: "the gap between a man's musical ability and his ability to fit it to his own life." She can editorialize: "He expected too much from music and he came to it with too much of a need." And she can nail a truth in the fewest possible words: A bandleader is "handsome in a way that doesn't mean anything."

And she knows the price of fame. Imagine the white version of Jimi Hendrix --- a good-looking lad in a world dominated by black artists who do it, he feels, just a bit better than he ever will. That's Bix Beiderbecke's relation to Louis Armstrong, and that's Rick Martin's sense of himself in comparison to his black idols. Is it surprising, then, that he never sleeps? That he drinks and drinks and drinks? That his romances are duds?

I first read this book when I was 12. I loved it because it did not condescend or sugarcoat. It took me inside the music --- it made me want to find an instrument and learn it. So I got myself a trumpet and tried to be Bix. Never made it. But then, no one ever has.

Got a kid who's into music? This is the book. Interested in the Jazz Age? Ditto. Or just looking for a short novel that you can't put down? Here you go.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
"The way to know what happens in music is to hear it, to hear it from the inside out." 1 Aug. 2013
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In this newly reprinted, remarkably "fresh" novel from 1938, considered the "first jazz novel" ever written, author Dorothy Baker takes the reader into the mind and heart of a young white boy in the 1920s whose desire to excel as a creative jazz musician is so overwhelming that he lets nothing get in his way - not the fact that he is only a child when he begins to pursue his interest, not the fact that he is an orphan, not the fact that he is supposed to be in school, and not the fact that he has no instrument to play.

Compelled by forces he does not understand, young Paul Martin, at fourteen, teaches himself to play the piano by skipping school and practicing during the day on the piano at a black mission church, later switching to the trumpet when he discovers that with luck and hard work, he can afford to buy one at a pawn shop. It is at the bowling alley where he works setting up pins that he meets Smoke Jordan, an eighteen-year-old black man who gets so caught up in the rhythm of sweeping the alley's floor that he forgets the purpose of his job and dances instead to his own inner music. Smoke and Rick become best friends, inseparable, both totally committed to their interest in jazz. Their relationship is one of the treasures of this novel as these two come to trust each other completely, sharing their lives in unexpected ways.

Before he is even twenty-one, Rick is working in New York, but here life becomes much more complicated, and it is in these last two sections of the novel that the author's insights make Rick's jazz life and the conflicts that sometimes arise with his personal life come fully alive. Basing the musical career (though not the life) of Rick Martin on that of the real jazz trumpet player Bix Beiderbecke, Dorothy Baker performs the remarkable feat of getting inside the musician's head, sensitively describing the details of how it FEELS to take a simple melody and then twist it, turn it upside down, and even inside out, so that it takes on a completely new life. She allows the less creative reader to appreciate a jazz musician's ability to recognize and savor that magic moment when his creativity with a particular solo or piece of music has reached its peak, while also recognizing that this moment with this piece of music will never happen again in quite the same way.

The compulsion for a creative artist like Rick to continue going and going and going in search of the perfect sound, the perfect arrangement, and the perfect combination of instruments and thematic elements, no matter how exhausted he may be physically, is presented with sympathy and understanding, and it is here that Baker shows her full recognition of the possible hazards of the obsessed life. In order for Rick to stay up virtually around the clock in search of continuous "perfect moments" with his music, he begins to rely on alcohol, both on and off-stage. Vividly, she shows the toll that this destructive pattern takes on Rick's body, as it also did on that of Bix Beiderbecke, a sad but not unexpected result in this story of two shooting stars, one fictional and one real.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Great story and terrific storytelling 9 Mar. 2013
By Michael Denny - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
This book was recommended to me by a very successful Hollywood screenwriter. Baker is obviously fluent regarding the world of jazz music, the lifestyle, race relations and more. The words flow so easily as the story unfolds. Dorthy Baker deserves more recognition. Highly recommended.
Like reading ice chips 22 Jun. 2014
By Carrie in Holland - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The story is so sparsely written, it reminds us of how subtlety used to be an art form. Written in 1938, by Dorothy Baker inspired by the life of Bix Beiderbecke, the jazz cornetist, the story is gripping from start to finish. How art and the total control it takes of a person leads to the end.
Dorothy Baker manages to do with words what her fictional ... 11 Jan. 2015
By Nina Handler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dorothy Baker manages to do with words what her fictional character Rick Martin does with a trumpet. The very writing itself is evocative of jazz. The plot is minimal and there are no surprises; the Prologue lays it all out beforehand. But this book makes you feel the way musicians must feel about the music they play, and that's quite a feat.
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