1929 by Frederick W. Turner

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In a briefly affluent and deeply disenchanted post-war America, the Jazz Age erupts in gaudy glory. It and one of its most colorful icons, Bix Beiderbecke, are celebrated in this fine first novel by an acclaimed nonfiction writer.

By 1929, the brief, brilliant career of Bix Beiderbecke--self-taught cornetist, pianist, and composer--had already become legend. From the summer of '26 at Hudson Lake, Indiana, when his genius blazed forth with a strange, doomed incandescence, Bix's career tragically reflected the chaotic impulses of a country suddenly awash in wealth, power, and a profound cynicism. Shy, elusive, inarticulate, Bix was beloved by both the raccoon-coated campus crowd and the men who nightly played alongside him. He is still celebrated in a yearly festival in his hometown of Davenport, Iowa.

And that is where the novel begins, in Davenport, at the Bix Fest. It then travels back in time to focus on the highlights of a meteoric career: the early jams at the Blue Lantern Casino, a Capone-controlled nightclub; the grueling cross-country tours with Paul Whiteman's "Symphonic Jazz" orchestra; the disastrous Whiteman trip to California to make the first all-color talkie musical; the stock-market crash of 1929, which finds Bix in an asylum, victim of the era's signature product, bootleg gin; and finally, Bix's dying efforts to combine his piano compositions into a suite that would be the pinnacle of his life's work and his evocation of his time and place.

Colored by some of the age's most popular characters--Bing Crosby, Maurice Ravel, Al Capone, Louis Armstrong, and Clara Bow--1929 brilliantly illuminates a period in history, personified in the gifted, compelling, and melancholy figure of Bix Beiderbecke.


About Frederick W. Turner

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Turner writes on cultural history, literature and landscape.
Published May 1, 2003 by Counterpoint Press. 416 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

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Doctorow’s Ragtime is everywhere apparent, creates some terrific set pieces, ranging from 1926 Chicago under the murderous thumb of “Scarface” Al Capone and minions like “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn (who’ll become Hellie’s lover, and nemesis) to Hollywood, where the Paul Whiteman orchestra (in which...

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Publishers Weekly

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Bix Beiderbecke was one of the great jazz musicians of the 1920s.

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Entertainment Weekly

Drawn in by the memories of a former road manager as he sits on Bix's grave, we're transported to Depression-era Chicago run by nicknamed gangsters: ''With Capone hiding out, Greasy Thumb holds the fort at the Metropole while Decent Dever thunders from the mayor's office...'' Then on to Hollywoo...

Jun 20 2003 | Read Full Review of 1929

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