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BOOK REVIEW

HARLEM JAZZ ADVENTURES:
A European Baron's Memoir,
1934-1969

By Timme Rosenkrantz

Adapted and edited by Fradley Hamilton Garner
 
Scarecrow Press 330pp.
ISBN 978-0-8108-8209-6

 

 

In Music is My Mistress, Duke Ellington wrote: "Baron Timme Rosenkrantz was of noble Danish blood, but he was not known to us by his formal title in Harlem, on Broadway, the Champs Elys‚es, State Street, or Central Avenue. To us he was known simply as Timme".

Rosenkrantz himself wrote: "Let me say from the start that I am not a musician myself, I am not a critic. I'm just a little layman with an ear for music and a heart that beats for jazz".

Timme Rosenkrantz was one of those people on the fringes of jazz, whose enthusiasm helps to promote the music. Although he was a Danish baron, he would have described himself simply as a jazz fan. As such, he spent much of his life in New York, where he lived for long periods, mainly to meet and listen to the great jazz musicians. He was also the first European journalist to report on the New York jazz scene. This memoir records his experiences of jazz between 1934 and 1969.

On his first visit to New York in 1934, he was a bit like a naive child in the big city. But he had a sense of humour which helped him through: "I could just glimpse the faint outline of the Statue of Liberty, standing there in her maternity dress and guarding the holy city with what looked like a mug of beer held high in her right hand".

When everybody warned him not to go up to Harlem, as white men could get their throats cut, he immediately took the "A" train up to Harlem. At the Apollo Theatre he heard and met Don Redman and John Hammond. Hammond took him to the Savoy Ballroom where he heard Chick Webb's band. Thus started an almost endless round of hearing and meeting jazz musicians nearly every night. For instance, he heard Billie Holiday, who "sang in a voice that ached with all the agonising beauty, the heaven, the hell, the joy, the pain of being a Negro in America".

He found that, although things were swinging in Harlem, many musicians found it hard to get work. Many of them had to play in dance bands to earn a crust. Perhaps because he was a genuine baron, he found it easy to meet most of the foremost jazzers in New York, from Willie "The Lion" Smith to Benny Carter, from Eddie Condon to Benny Goodman. Goodman "did say a few flattering things about Denmark, which he knew was somewhere in Norway, with Stockholm as its capital". Timme even got a job as a paid dance partner (a "gigolo") at the Casino de Paree so that he could hear the Goodman band for a month.

Timme eventually started up a jazz record shop which, like most of his enterprises, made little profit. But its first customer was Louis Armstrong. who wanted to buy more records than the shop stocked, and Timme had to go to the wholesalers to get some more. Louis knew what he wanted: "I want five copies of my favourite record, and that is "I Can't Get Started" by Bunny Berigan...he's the greatest trumpeter in the world".

Timme Rosenkrantz makes some revealing observations about various jazzmen. He notes that Duke Ellington didn't like travelling, and couldn't sleep in cars, trains, planes or ships. "He doesn't like to go to bed at home, either. Life fascinates him so much, it seems a terrible waste of time". Timme was instrumental in launching the career of Erroll Garner, whose playing he describes thus: "He would start a ballad with a long, discordant introduction that didn't even hint at the melody to come. At last when he swung into it, his left hand lay down chords like a guitar, keeping up a steady pulse, while his right hand never seemed to catch up, improvising chords or playing octaves that lagged way behind the beat for the rest of the number".

Timme's memoir is full of observations like this, plus plenty of anecdotes about the musicians he met. It is also a record of numerous jazz sessions which went on until dawn, usually accompanied by plenty of whisky-drinking and smoking (two of Timme's hobbies). His affable personality and good humour come clearly from these pages, which also enshrine his total devotion to jazz. Jazz needs musicians but it also needs devoted fans like Timme.

Tony Augarde
www.augardebooks.co.uk



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