Prepared by Tom Connors
[Booknotes is an occasional feature that highlights new book and pamphlet acquisitions of special note.]
The Blue Note: Seattle’s Black Musicians’ Union – A Pictorial History by David Keller (Our House Publishing, 2013) 224 pp., illustrated, paperbound.
Though subtitled ‘A Pictorial History’, David Keller’s The Blue Note is that and much more. Including over 100 photos and other images, this book not only covers the history of American Federation of Musicians black Local 493 (originally Local 458) but it serves as a community and cultural history of Seattle as well. On the page facing each image is a detailed textual narrative that describes the image and more importantly places it in a broader context of American jazz history, the history of 20th century race relations and labor history. The Blue Note follows a generally chronological course from the early years of the 20th century to the mid-1950s. It chronicles Local 493 and its ‘parent’ whites only Local 76 from their origins to their merger ca. 1958. Not only are the major union players noted but the great names in jazz and swing who came to play Seattle music venues are depicted, figures such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Lionel Hampton and several artists who got their starts in Seattle: Ray Charles, Quincy Jones and Ernestine Anderson. Keller’s extensive notes and source list add to the book’s historical depth.
While The Blue Note is a fascinating read from page one to the end, a reader can pick up the book and enjoy the photos-cum-text at random, deriving a vivid sense of jazz’s unstinting creativity over time and the practical challenges of the jazz life. Here and there Keller throws in delightful tidbits such as noting that in a baseball game between Count Basie’s and Benny Goodman’s big bands saxophone master Lester ‘Prez’ Young hit an inside-the-park home run. If you know anything about Prez’s drug and alcohol intake this is an image that will stay with you for a while. (I can see him sliding into home clutching his iconic pork pie hat!)
David Keller is an archivist for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. In a prior occupational incarnation he worked as a booking agent and manager for West Coast jazz greats like Bud Shank, Buddy Collette and Horace Tapscott. The Blue Note is based on Keller’s Master’s Thesis, “Seattle’s Segregated Musicians’ Union, Local 493, 1918-1956,” Western Washington University, 1996. David Keller lives in Orange, California, and is a proud member of AFCSME Local 1902.
For information on obtaining The Blue Note got to www.kellerjazz.net.