You Can't Steal a Gift


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Dizzy, Clark, Milt, and Nat

Gene Lees; Foreword by Nat Hentoff

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Price: $65.00
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In this wise, stimulating, and deeply personal book, an eminent jazz chronicler writes of his encounters with four great black musicians: Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Milt Hinton, and Nat "King" Cole. Equal parts memoir, oral history, and commentary, each of the main chapters is a minibiography, weaving together conversations Gene Lees had with the musicians and their families, friends, and associates over a period of several decades.

Lees begins the book with an essay that tells of his introduction to the world of jazz and his reaction to racism in the United States when he emigrated from Canada in 1955. The underlying theme in his book is the impact racism had on the four musicians’ lives and careers and their determination to overcome it. As Lees writes, “No white person can even begin to understand the black experience in the United States. . . . All [of the four jazz makers] are men who had every reason to embrace bitterness—and didn’t.”

Gene Lees is the publisher of the Jazzletter. He is also a song lyricist and the author of more than a dozen volumes of jazz history and criticism, including the highly acclaimed Cats of Any Color: Jazz Black and White.

“All four [subjects] had irrepressible genius: Gillespie’s humor; Clark’s expressivities; Hinton’s generosity; Cole’s compassion. Lees helps us hear it all better.”—Jeff Waggoner,

“The book is illuminating and memorable, with vivid, strongly personal profiles of Lees’s four subjects.”—Terry Teachout, music critic for Commentary and contributor to Time magazine

“I loathe writers who habitually say unexpected and provocative things I wish I had said. Lees remains a chronic and refreshing annoyance on that score in You Can’t Steal a Gift, honoring each of the four artists whose art was not embarrassed or reluctant to honor its audience.”—John McDonough, Down Beat, Wall Street Journal

“Lees’s anecdotes, stories, and observations are engagingly written. . . . Recommended for libraries with strong music holdings.”—Library Journal

“In this unusual book of criticism, longtime jazz critic Lees looks back at a lifelong friendship with four of America’s greatest jazz musicians. . . . Lees shares humorous anecdotes, little known biographical facts, and the genius of their musical innovations. He has a natural ease with words and a graceful prose style that captures the reader’s attention.”—Booklist

“[T]he book is a dandy that I recommend without reservation. . . . [T]ough-minded, appreciative, nostalgic, always knowledgeable, unfailingly accurate and, page after page, a joy to read.”—Don Freeman, San Diego Union-Tribune

“This warm, illuminating book is a homage to four great black jazz musicians. . . . Mr Lees’s telling of the lives of these four exemplary musicians is a gift to the reader as well.”—Economist

“Canadian-born Gene Lees is one of the very few cogent jazz critics who is also a great prose stylist. . . . In four very personal biographical essays, Lees does a lot more than discuss how racism affect four great jazzmen, he gets to the heart of how those jazzmen achieved greatness—both artistically and personally.”—Newark Star-Ledger

“You might know Dizzy Gillespie and Nat ‘King’ Cole, but you might not be as familiar with Clark Terry and Milt Hinton; no matter, for at book’s end all four, plus the 1950s jazz milieu, plus America’s racial threnody, will be unforgettable.”—George Yatchisin, Santa Barbara Independent

ISBN: 9780300089653
Publication Date: October 11, 2001
288 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
5 b/w illus.
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Gene Lees

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