Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World [NOOK Book]


The definitive biography of Alan Lomax-from John Szwed,"the best music biographer in the business" (L.A. Weekly).

One of the most remarkable figures of the twentieth century, Alan Lomax was best known for bringing legendary musicians like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Muddy Waters, Lead Belly, and Burl Ives to the radio and introducing folk music to a mass audience. Now John Szwed, the acclaimed biographer of Miles Davis and Sun Ra, presents ...
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Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World

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The definitive biography of Alan Lomax-from John Szwed,"the best music biographer in the business" (L.A. Weekly).

One of the most remarkable figures of the twentieth century, Alan Lomax was best known for bringing legendary musicians like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Muddy Waters, Lead Belly, and Burl Ives to the radio and introducing folk music to a mass audience. Now John Szwed, the acclaimed biographer of Miles Davis and Sun Ra, presents the first biography of Lomax, a man who was as influential as he was controversial-trailed for years by the FBI, criticized for his folk- song-collecting practices, denounced by some as a purist and by others as a popularizer. This authoritative work reveals how Lomax changed not only the way everyone in the country heard music but also the way they viewed America itself.

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Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
…keenly appreciative, enormously detailed…Mr. Szwed is an ideal match for his fretful, protean subject.
—The New York Times
Mark Berman
[Szwed's] biography is rich in detail, thoroughly explaining Lomax's methods of music collection as well as his movement into crafting books, concerts, festivals and radio programs…Lomax helped reconnect American music with its roots in folk traditions, and his story is an important one for anyone with an interest in cultural history. Szwed admirably captures the efforts of a man who seemed determined to honor what came before him.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In this busy biography, Columbia music professor Szwed (So What: The Life of Miles Davis) recounts Lomax's six decades of field trips seeking out and recording folk music untainted by commercial jazz and pop influences, especially in the American South, where he discovered blues luminaries Muddy Waters and Lead Belly; his radio shows, concerts, lectures, books, and films; and his impecunious bohemian existence with the likes of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Szwed presents Lomax (1915–2002) as a major intellectual force who championed the cultures of impoverished and racially outcast groups against a homogenizing modernity, and developed wildly ambitious sociopsychological "cantometrics" that theorized a Freudian link between a culture's level of sexual repression and the vowel patterns in its songs. Lomax was an indefatigable promoter of music and ideas, but Szwed's breathless, swirling chronicle of his activities can be fatiguing. One also wishes he had probed more deeply into Lomax's problematic notion of a pure, primitive musical culture sprouting organically from the lives of rural people in isolation from urban entertainment elites. (Jan. 3)
Kirkus Reviews

Overdue, hagiographic biography of the folk-song collector.

Szwed (Music and Jazz Studies/Columbia Univ.; Crossovers: Essays on Race, Music, and American Culture, 2005, etc.) piles up mountains of research on the prolific career of folklorist, author, producer, radio host, filmmaker, musician and impresario Lomax (1915–2002). Son of Texas scholar John A. Lomax, he put his father's life on a new track in 1933, when, at teenaged Alan's urging, the pair undertook a Southern recording expedition for the Library of Congress, which climaxed with the discovery of singer-guitarist Lead Belly. The younger Lomax went on to extensively document the music of Haiti, conduct famous sessions with Woody Guthrie and Muddy Waters and rescue jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton from obscurity. As the government scrutinized his leftist affiliations during the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s, Lomax left the United States for eight years in European exile, and he recorded a celebrated series of albums on the music of the British Isles, Spain and Italy. Upon his return, he revisited the South in 1959 to cut a storied series of albums for Atlantic Records. Lomax later developed Cantometrics, an ambitious cross-disciplinary system aimed at classifying world folk music. Szwed delineates Lomax's work down to the last detail; even unfulfilled projects are discussed at stultifying length. But the author observes that work uncritically and tartly dismisses others' reservations about his subject's endeavors—e.g., his self-serving managerial dealings with Lead Belly, or the romanticism and inaccuracies of his 1993 book The Land Where the Blues Began. Mystifyingly, Lomax's personal life gets scant consideration. His fraught, oft-competitive relationship with his father received deeper treatment inLast Cavalier, Nolan Porterfield's 1996 biography of John Lomax. The younger Lomax's life with two wives, lover and collaborator Shirley Collins and companion of 23 years Carol Kulig and his apparently chronic philandering are also left unexplored. Lomax emerges as a brilliant, driven and often conflicted man who revolutionized the study of folk music, but in the end the interior sources of his genius remain unplumbed.

Despite its wealth of detail, this is a portrait left half-painted.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101190340
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 12/30/2010
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: United States
  • Edition number: 448
  • Pages: 448
  • File size: 789 KB

Meet the Author

John Szwed is the author of So What: The Life of Miles Davis and Space Is the Place: The Life and Times of Sun Ra, among other works. He is a professor of music and jazz studies at Columbia University. He lives in New York City.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 From Chisholm Trail to Harvard Yard 5

2 Road Scholars 31

3 The Saga of Lead Belly 59

4 Travels with Zora Neale Hurston and Mary Elizabeth Barnicle 77

5 Honeymoon in Haiti 93

6 Doctor Jazz 116

7 Bohemian Folklorist 140

8 A Bourgeois Town 168

9 The People's War 189

10 The Century of the Common Man 217

11 Living on the Black List 244

12 The Grand Tour 268

13 Skiffle: From Folk to Pop 290

14 The American Campaign Resumed 306

15 The Science of Folk Song 324

16 To Hear the World in a Grain of Sand 340

17 The Culture War 360

18 The Global Jukebox: "Got the World in a Jug, the Stopper in My Hand" 379

Acknowledgments 393

Notes 397

Index 425

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