Blue Bossa

Blue Bossa

by Bart Schneider

View All Available Formats & Editions

As this evocative novel opens, former jazz great Ronnie Reboulet hasn't picked up his horn in more than five years. Ronnie, a charming but emotionally distant man, struggles to make a life free of drugs and outside the music business. With the support of his soulful companion, Betty, and his once-estranged daughter, Rae, an aspiring singer, Ronnie attempts a comeback…  See more details below


As this evocative novel opens, former jazz great Ronnie Reboulet hasn't picked up his horn in more than five years. Ronnie, a charming but emotionally distant man, struggles to make a life free of drugs and outside the music business. With the support of his soulful companion, Betty, and his once-estranged daughter, Rae, an aspiring singer, Ronnie attempts a comeback that will have readers rooting for him every step of the way.

Set against the backdrop of Patty Hearst's kidnapping in 1970s San Francisco and composed in short, sensual scenes that segue into one another like a song-man's medley, Blue Bossa sparkles with a swinging, lyrical prose that reflects the protagonist's lush playing style. In the tradition of jazz literature such as Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter and John Clellon Holmes's The Horn, Schneider's debut is also a family story that explores how parents, children, and lovers support each other in the ceaseless struggle to rebuild broken lives.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Peter Kurth

Of all the arts, music is probably the most difficult to write about successfully -- to capture, that is, in anything resembling its original form. In Blue Bossa, the story of a jazz trumpeter down on his luck and looking for a comeback both as an artist and man, novelist Bart Schneider takes the wisest course and doesn't attempt to imitate or simulate the sound of the horn. Rather, he mirrors it in a stylish, lyrical narrative, told in a series of free-floating vignettes only vaguely concerned with actual time, that make you feel that you've listened to a particularly rewarding set of notes, alternately gentle, mournful, erotic and ecstatic.

The scene is San Francisco and the year (when the actual year is made to matter) is 1974, at the time of Patricia Hearst's kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Ronnie Reboulet, a former star musician and national heartthrob now living in a state of comfortable disenchantment with his wise and loving mistress, Betty, is confronted with the daughter he abandoned years before, when he broke free of family obligations and took a slide straight down the tubes into heroin addiction. Ronnie is a prodigy, a musical Wunderkind, and a white boy in the world of black men's music; his daughter, Rae, turns up at his door with a black child of her own, the offspring of one shiftless punk or another who's taken advantage of her wistful good nature as she endeavors to put together her own halting career as a lounge singer. Blue Bossa is the story of Ronnie and Rae's rises and falls, past and present, musical and otherwise, and of Ronnie's effort to take up the horn again in a world without dreams and without drugs.

"It was in Florida that he made the point of banishing music," Schneider observes. "He cast it out, isolated it like a disease from the rest of his one-foot-before-the-other life. He slipped it into an unlined case, the strongbox for all things gathered that would not of themselves dissolve. He tried to reenter the world with the peculiar posture of the tone-deaf. He felt confident that he could join the tribe of shambling gracelessness without incident." The measured calmness and sure control of Schneider's prose is the saving grace of his novel, turning a story that might have been salacious and ordinary -- "Raffish Wastrel Seeks Love and Redemption in the Love of Two Good Women" -- into something truly memorable, soft and fine. The casting of the story against the backdrop of the Patty Hearst saga, with its too deliberate commentary about fathers and daughters, is the only aspect of the novel that doesn't quite work. It seems forced and somehow irrelevant. But the characters are beautifully drawn, utterly believable and, in the end, as true to each other as their natures allow them to be. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ronnie Reboulet, the Chet Baker-esque hero of this coolly passionate debut, has lost a lot: his teeth, his looks, his wife, his daughter and his career as a singer and trumpeter. On the positive side, he's beaten a heroin habit and found Betty, a girlfriend who forgives his weaknesses and admires his soul, no matter how far he wanders or how hard he tries to keep her at a distance. Then, one evening in the 1970s, his teenage daughter Raean aspiring singer who is struggling to give her own baby son the care Ronnie never gave herappears on his doorstep, desperate for direction and love, and forces her way back into his life. Under her sway, Ronnie starts playing again, first alone, later in a club where the local San Francisco press rediscovers him. The masterful passages that follow Ronnie through his slow relearning of music are full of frustration, beauty and moments of elation. The individual dramas of Ronnie, Betty and Rae are all set against another family crisis that gripped the nationnamely the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. The contrast between the image of Randolph Hearst on TV, forced to make public declarations of his love for Patty, and Ronnie's battle against the urge to flee his family is particularly poignant. With grace and dexterity, Schneider cuts to the heart of the matter, his characters' losses and redemptions, outlining their lives in deceptively simple terms. By the end of the novel, just Ronnie's gesture (described en passant) of slipping off his shoes moves us because we know that it means he's using drugs again. Ronnie's singing style is described as "intimate, and yet free of affect." The same could be said about this smooth first novel from the editor of the Hungry Mind Review.
Library Journal
In the late 1960s, Ronnie Reboulet was a brilliant but drug-wrecked jazz trumpeter who had blown notes of aching beauty for decades and then laid down his instrument for good. Five years later, all he has to show for his hard-won sobriety is ruined good looks, a nowhere Bay Area job, and the steadfast love of Betty, wise from her own sorrowful chapters. In 1974, Ronnie's life undergoes a sea change. His long-estranged, too-young daughter shows up on his doorstep with a child of her own just as Ronnie follows his troubled heart back to the freedom only music can bring him. Schneider, editor of the Hungry Mind Review, pulls the reader into the rhythm of this tale with vignettes of lovely artistry that weave back and forth throughout Ronnie's life. The standard formula of drugs plus musical wizardry equals heartbreak does not necessarily apply to this poignant tale of good-hearted people working hard to carve a life, hopefully with each other. Highly recommended.Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., Mich.
Kirkus Reviews
A heartfelt debut, by The Hungry Mind Review's editor, about a burnt-out jazz musician who's obviously modelled on the brilliant, self-destructive trumpeter-vocalist Chet Baker. The story occurs in and around San Francisco in 1974, when Patricia Hearst was kidnapped—an event that absorbs Schneider's characters almost obsessively. Protagonist Ronnie Reboulet, "pushing fifty," is drug-free at last but left with a mouthful of false teeth and a horn that's been locked away for some five years. Ronnie's ex-wife "Cat" willingly crashed and burned along with him. Now their daughter Rae, herself beginning a career as a jazz singer, struggles also to raise her racially mixed four-year-old, the product of her affair with a handsome black kid she met at Altamont. Ronnie's currently quiet life (working at a golf course, living with Betty Millard, a goodhearted nurse who has survived mastectomy, unhappy marriage, and bereaved motherhood) is disturbed when Rae and son reenter it, and as he's gradually persuaded that he's "frozen inside a tree of unplayed music." Following this extended exposition, the novel riffs through short chapters describing Ronnie's, Rae's, and Betty's experiences and reminiscences, and the relevance of the Patty Hearst theme grows clearer, hinting at the question of whether people can separate themselves from their loved ones so decisively that there's no way back. Schneider knows his subject, and all the right tunes, but the account of Ronnie's imperfect rejuvenation is miked, as it were, too high. There are actually scenes that suggest both Christ's agony in the wilderness, and a "baptism" that accompanies Ronnie's return to playing in public. Conversely, thestory does trail off into a perfectly modulated downbeat ending. A better-than-decent try, but more emotion than technique is displayed in this first solo effort.

Read More

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.18(w) x 7.72(h) x 0.48(d)

What People are saying about this

Bart Schneider
From the Author

The Soundtrack to a Novel

BLUE BOSSA is inspired by the music and life of jazz trumpeter and singer Chet Baker. I was familiar with Baker's music and the basic lore about his life, when I started work on the novel. I'd also seen Bruce Weber's stunning documentary film about Baker, "Let's Get Lost," in which the filmmaker followed the ruined-face Baker around just before he died, in 1988, juxtaposing his late, broken appearance with countless stills from Baker's pretty-boy youth.

I didn't want to write Baker's life, nor luxuriate in the atmosphere of the fallen icon, as it seemed Weber had. I wanted to create a character that personified Baker's condition as a canny, drug-addicted trumpeter who brought a native ease to his playing. I also wanted to give the character a soul.

I was particularly drawn to the period in the trumpeter's life after he'd lost his teeth and was forced to quit playing. What happens to a musician who no longer plays music? As an amateur jazz musician, and the son of a longtime symphony violinist, I know that I would find living without some form of music making a difficult prospect. What would it be like for a master musician? Can a man alter his nature? Is it possible to save a man's life by cutting out his heart? Given the central role drugs and music play in this character's life, who does he become when he cuts both out of his life? And how can he possibly add one back without the other?

Early on, I was trying to figure out what kind of nonmusical job to give my character. It came to me while listening to Chet Baker sing one of his favorite songs, "Everything Happens to Me," which begins with the lyric: "I make a date for golf and you can bet your life it rains." The wry commentator suggested that it was hard to imagine Chet Baker on a golf course, and I knew immediately that I wanted my character to spend some time, at the beginning of the novel, as a golf hustler.

While inventing the supporting characters, I wondered about the legacy of a man who plays breathtakingly intimate music yet remains emotionally apart, always at the point of leaving. Ronnie Reboulet's daughter Rae inherits from her father, if nothing else, this instinct for leaving.

The novel seemed to organize itself into short scenes that segued, one to another, like a song man's medley. I set it primarily in San Francisco, where I grew up. Oklahoma-born Chet Baker cut his teeth and made his early reputation in southern California, but he lost his teeth in San Francisco. It seemed natural to imagine Chet Baker and, now, Ronnie Reboulet formed in a city of such beauty and austerity.

--Bart Schneider

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >