Ask For Blues by Malcolm Walton
|Ask For Blues by Malcolm Walton
|Reviewer: Kate Jones
|Summary: An often interesting, sometimes slightly self-indulgent, look at one young man's entry into the trad jazz scene of the late 1950's, early 1960's.
|Date: February 2018
Malcolm Walton's book is clearly a memoir about his introduction to the Trad Jazz scene of the late 1950's and early 1960's, but he has chosen to write it in the form of a novel, claiming in his prologue that this would give the book a different approach to the music memoir. His protagonist 'Martin' takes on Malcolm's mantle, and begins with his first discovery of the Salvation Army band with his grandfather. This catapults him into a love of music, initially taking piano lessons, and later delving into his true love – the trumpet.
Despite the author's claim that the book is set out in the format of a novel, it very much feels like a memoir, and once I started reading, I forgot it was supposed to be a novel or story. It has more elements of 'telling', as with a memoir or biography.
The progression of 'Martin' as he discovers skiffle and jazz bands, plays with some, has fallings out with others, felt very recognisable to me, growing up in a house with a musician father. Walton presents his protagonist narrator in such a way that, though at times selfish in his pursuit of music over all else, is likeable. In particular, 'Martin's' sexual awakening from a shy young man is enjoyable and reflects the morals of the time.
The book is peppered with references to musicians, bands and hit songs, and would interest any jazz or music enthusiasts, or even readers who are interested in recent social history. It effectively recalls a time and place – late '50's, early '60's London – and the cultural nuances and musical influences. There are various well-known musicians appearing throughout, such as Louis Armstrong and Acker Bilk.
The narrative flows well and coherently, but I felt the dialogue was a little stilted and staged. I found it difficult to imagine musicians in English pubs speaking to one another in the way portrayed. I also found the descriptions of 'Martin's' banking career a little dull, and felt the musical elements of the book, together with the touches of humour of his dating and family life, were the strongest parts of the story.
I think anyone with an interest in music, especially jazz, would find this an entertaining read.
If you enjoyed this, you might like Ronnie by Ronnie Wood
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You can read more book reviews or buy Ask For Blues by Malcolm Walton at Amazon.com.
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