I specialize in reviewing Print-On-Demand (POD) published books for my website and Midwest Book Review. Please query for a review by email to hgunther234@hotmail.com.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

HOOKED ON A HORN - Memoirs of a Recovered Musician by Gene Hull

Trafford PublishingVictoria, BC V8T4P4 Canada
Genre: Memoir
Rating: Highly recommended
ISBN: 1412067219, $22.00, 261 pp, 2005

As I specialize in reviewing POD published book, I regularly receive memoirs–twenty-five in the past four months, to be exact. In addition, I have reviewed novels based on the true-life experiences of the authors: Clouds Are Always White on Top by Nolan Lewis, Battle Downunder by Charles Rush and Fears Flutterby by Rose Lamatt, to name a few. Memoirs are written for many different reasons: to share a problem, loss and insight with others; to help work through the loss of a loved one; to share travel adventures and aspects of different cultures; to purge one’s soul–confess our human foibles; and, in the end, to remember and immortalize one’s own life.

Hooked on Horn is indeed a memoir, but in many ways, so much more! It’s a sea adventure, a musical adventure, a small insight into our greatest jazz musicians in eras past, a family adventure, a mother’s pride for her son’s success. It is the story of a young man’s dream, begun at age 10, and his disciplined ‘alpha’ efforts to make that dream come true.

The parts of Gene Hull’s life that he has chosen to share about his professional musical journey are entertaining, educational, humorous, musically enlightening, heart wrenching, poignantly inspirational and presented with a creative flair. Gene has been in the music/entertainment field just about all his life. He has put together a number of bands, been on the road with big-name bands, conducted bands and produced shows. Prior to retiring, he produced award-winning productions and ice shows for Royal Caribbean International.

Several stories conjured up a tear or two. The first is about the 1962 Newport Jazz Festival. Gene’s group, the Jazz Giants–a band of ex-professional musicians who wanted to play interesting big band arrangements, was selected to be the guest opening band. This was their big opportunity! Allow me to quote several passages:

"Months zoomed by with extra rehearsals, arrangements being polished, new ones written, PR mailings to hundreds of jazz fans, stories and interviews in local papers, even radio interviews. Interest in us steamrolled. We were becoming a household name in Connecticut. . . .

"We kicked off our program at 8:00 PM. I don’t remember a note we played; it went so fast. But I do remember the brass section screaming out into the night with colossal fire. The saxes steamed together like bonded brothers and took their ensemble sound to another level. From our first note, the energy and drive poured over me, almost putting me in a trance. The band was like a locomotive. Get out of the way everybody. Here we come.

"The applause was generous from the sell-out crowd who had come expecting to see the famous. . . . In reality most every player had managed to play close to his best at the same time. A rare moment for us. I was proud to stand up there in front of this real band of brothers, who had laid it out for all to hear. This is who we are, world."

They were expecting the album from the 1962 Newport Jazz Festival to be their "big break." But, as fate would have it, all the tapes were spoiled by an electronic quirk. There would be no album, and ultimately, the Jazz Giants’s sound was lost with no ‘recorded’ history. If Gene was 12 in 1941 when he received his first saxophone, he would have been 33 in 1962.

The second story took place over forty years after that Newport Festival. Peter, one of Gene’s eight children, tracked down the live recording of the 1962 Festival and contacted the Library of Congress.

"The Gene Hull Orchestra, The Jazz Giants," had been recorded at Newport '62. A single CD could be assembled from the tape and made available with permission of the producer and for non-commercial purposes only."

Peter chose a family reunion in 2003 to present Gene with the CD of the live recording.

""Just looking at the packaged CD placed before me gave me a jolt like a sudden electric current. Shivers came right from the stomach. Then I completely lost it.

"Dad," my daughter Amy whispered, "why are you crying? I’ve never seen you cry."

"I don’t know."

But I did know. I was seeing my yesterdays. My grown children as wide-eyed little kids, asking me where I was going. And me telling them, "Straight up." The Jazz Giants rehearsing at Bill’s Castle. A boy sitting on a bus on a cold winter night, clutching his first saxophone wrapped in a pillow case. All the jazz concerts the band had played. Katherine Hepburn scolding me. Benny Goodman captivating me. Paul Whiteman berating me. Woody Herman and Duke Ellington making me feel humble. Las Vegas dazzling and disappointing me. The years with Damone. Elvis greeting me with such honesty. The miles of piled-up travel. And saying good-bye to a teary young family on the front porch, as I’d leave to seek fame and fortune on yet another road trip. . . .

I tried to tell my family that this CD was more than just a recording, that their lives were in it as much as mine. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t find the words. They knew.

We listened to the CD together. The sound of the band–its energy and musicality–far exceeded the memories I had parked away. Now suddenly the sounds were alive and bright again, clearer than ever.

The look on their faces was worth the struggling years. The kids understood at last why the Jazz Giants had been one of the most important musical accomplishments of my life, and appreciated what it took to create it.""

So, if that doesn’t grab you, you’re either dead or nothing will. I highly recommend this delightful, entertaining memoir and hope with its next edition we find a CD included so that we too can enjoy the sound of the Jazz Giants.

Reviewed by Kaye Trout - August 11, 2006


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