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Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Frederick Turner's 1929 would be one of the most remarkable novels published in any year of our time. I found the book a stunning performance of grand dimension. The writing is beautifully controlled and elegant, giving ever-greater tension to the often lurid and violent contents. Historically, I can think of no finer portrait of an American artist and his times." Jim Harrison
"Frederick Turner's 1929 has many moving and exciting episodes and wonderful period detail." Peter Matthiessen
"A Faulknerian chronicle of American adolescence and how one voice, one clear-toned transcendent horn, drew us closer to the promise of the dream....1929 is such a great slice of the American journey. So beautifully rendered, I gave it five stars before I was halfway through." Paul Winter, composer
"Though there's no plot per se, Turner does present a sequence of events that add up to a portrait of Beiderbecke's life and musical contributions....Long-winded and at times frustratingly circuitous, this is nonetheless a rich tribute to a Jazz Age icon." Publishers Weekly
"[T]his extraordinary first novel has to be accorded first-rate status....Bix's was a meteoric life, caught here in full flame." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Written in a period-appropriate overheated, romantic prose, and incorporating memorable appearances by Capone, Bing Crosby, Maurice Ravel, Paul Whiteman, and Clara Bow, the book is by turns corny, intoxicating, and ineffably sad, like the 'hot' music it is designed to evoke." The New Yorker
"A rip-roaring, entertaining image of a bygone era that deserves Pulitzer consideration." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
In a briefly affluent and deeply disenchanted postwar America, the Jazz Age erupts in gaudy glory. It and one of its most colorful icons, Bix Beiderbecke, are celebrated in this first novel by an acclaimed nonfiction writer.
About the Author
Frederick Turner is the author of seven books of nonfiction and the editor of three others. His literary journalism has appeared in numerous national and international publications. The recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, he is currently at work on a new novel and a new nonfiction book. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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