Tiger Rag: A Novel

Tiger Rag: A Novel

4.5 2
by Nicholas Christopher
     
 

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The acclaimed author of Veronica and A Trip to the Stars returns with a dazzling new novel based on one of the great legends of musical history.
 
New Orleans, 1900. The virtuoso cornet player Charles “Buddy” Bolden invents jazz, but after a life consumed by tragedy, the groundbreaking sound of his horn vanishes with him.

Overview

The acclaimed author of Veronica and A Trip to the Stars returns with a dazzling new novel based on one of the great legends of musical history.
 
New Orleans, 1900. The virtuoso cornet player Charles “Buddy” Bolden invents jazz, but after a life consumed by tragedy, the groundbreaking sound of his horn vanishes with him. Rumors persist, though, that Bolden recorded a phonograph cylinder, and over the course of a century it evolves into the elusive holy grail of jazz.
 
Florida, the present day. Dr. Ruby Cardillo’s life is falling apart. Her husband, a prominent cardiologist, has left her for a twenty-six-year-old. Her daughter, Devon, a once promising jazz pianist, has recently finished an enforced stint picking up trash along the interstate after a drug conviction. Ruby’s estranged mother has just died, but not before conjuring up ghosts that Ruby thought she had put behind her long ago. After a long career as a well-respected anesthesiologist, Ruby suddenly jumps the tracks, forgetting to eat and sleep, indulging her every whim, wearing only purple, consuming only bottles of 1988 Château Latour.
 
Then Ruby enlists Devon to accompany her on an impulsive road trip to New York, and both mother and daughter get more than they bargained for, discovering that their own shrouded family history is connected to the tantalizing search for Buddy Bolden’s long-lost cylinder.
 
Ranging from turn-of-the-century Louisiana to Roaring Twenties Chicago to contemporary Manhattan, Tiger Rag is at once a moving story of loss and redemption and an intricate historical mystery from one of our most brilliant storytellers.

Praise for Tiger Rag
 
“The structure here is like a long and complex jazz arrangement. There is a comparatively simple theme set up against what might be thought of as distinctive chord changes. And then, against this main story, the author sets up what might be seen as highly individualistic solos. The themes of the male performers and the female audiences come together, separate, then come together again. If you love the world of jazz, if it’s a little like a religion to you, you’ll love this ambitious, thoughtful novel.” The Washington Post
 
“Describing music in a book is a bit like trying to describe color to a blind person; it rarely goes well. The opening stretch of Nicholas Christopher’s latest novel Tiger Rag, however, paints a picture of a jazz recording session so vividly that the reader might want to keep a towel handy for mopping his brow James Brown-style.” —GQ.com
 
“Nicholas Christopher's new novel, Tiger Rag, is a New Year's treat that lovers of good music and good writing should not deny themselves. . . . Nicholas is a master at building a rich story populated with vivid characters on the bare foundation of historical record. Although no recording of Bolden and his band has yet surfaced, his sideman Willy Cornish, a trombone player, died claiming a recording session took place. Nicholas has imagined a satisfying and engrossing tale about what might have happened. He has fleshed out the lives touched by the wax cylinders that stored three versions of “Tiger Rag.” From the musicians who played with or followed Bolden, to the recording engineer and his assistant at the fateful recording session, Nicholas has created a colourful cast whose stories draw readers into their lives. . . . Nicholas is a poet as well as a novelist, and the book sings, thanks to his compelling descriptions and use of imagery. . . . [C]ompulsively readable.”The Toronto Star


From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Carolyn See
The structure here is like a long and complex jazz arrangement. There is a comparatively simple theme set up against what might be thought of as distinctive chord changes. And then, against this main story, [Christopher] sets up what might be seen as highly individualistic solos. The themes of the male performers and the female audiences come together, separate, then come together again. If you love the world of jazz, if it's a little like a religion to you, you'll love this ambitious, thoughtful novel.
Publishers Weekly
Poet and novelist Christopher (Veronica) mixes fiction with jazz history in this delightful dual narrative. In July 1904, Charles “Buddy” Bolden, “the father of all jazz trumpeters,” is in New Orleans recording “Tiger Rag” with his band on three Edison wax cylinders. Since the recordings were never released and Bolden never cut another track, their whereabouts are of great significance. Jump to December 2010, when, after a messy divorce, middle-aged Miami anesthesiologist Ruby Cardillo contacts her daughter, Devon Sheresky, a jazz pianist and recovering drug addict. Together they drive to New York City so an increasingly manic Ruby can deliver a professional association speech and Devon can meet with Emmett Browne, an elderly music dealer who attempted to contact her recently deceased grandmother. As the chapters alternate between narratives, the schizophrenic Bolden is locked away at age 29, and one of his recordings makes its way to Devon’s thieving grandfather, journeyman trumpeter Valentine Owen. Emmett tries to conspire with Devon to retrieve the recording from its present owner, the psychic Joan Neptune, who knew and banned the unsavory Valentine. Based on the real-life rumor the recordings exist, Christopher’s intriguing yarn lays out how their zealous guardians have preserved Buddy Bolden’s jazz legacy. Agent: Anne Sibbald, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Tiger Rag

“The structure here is like a long and complex jazz arrangement. There is a comparatively simple theme set up against what might be thought of as distinctive chord changes. And then, against this main story, the author sets up what might be seen as highly individualistic solos. The themes of the male performers and the female audiences come together, separate, then come together again. If you love the world of jazz, if it’s a little like a religion to you, you’ll love this ambitious, thoughtful novel.” The Washington Post

“Describing music in a book is a bit like trying to describe color to a blind person; it rarely goes well. The opening stretch of Nicholas Christopher’s latest novel Tiger Rag, however, paints a picture of a jazz recording session so vividly that the reader might want to keep a towel handy for mopping his brow James Brown-style.” —GQ.com

“Nicholas Christopher's new novel, Tiger Rag, is a New Year's treat that lovers of good music and good writing should not deny themselves. . . . Nicholas is a master at building a rich story populated with vivid characters on the bare foundation of historical record. Although no recording of Bolden and his band has yet surfaced, his sideman Willy Cornish, a trombone player, died claiming a recording session took place. Nicholas has imagined a satisfying and engrossing tale about what might have happened. He has fleshed out the lives touched by the wax cylinders that stored three versions of “Tiger Rag.” From the musicians who played with or followed Bolden, to the recording engineer and his assistant at the fateful recording session, Nicholas has created a colourful cast whose stories draw readers into their lives. . . . Nicholas is a poet as well as a novelist, and the book sings, thanks to his compelling descriptions and use of imagery. . . . [C]ompulsively readable.”The Toronto Star

Full of outsize charm and drive . . . a moving, page turner of a story that spans a century . . .  [P]arallel stories, well-syncopated in Christopher's skilled hands, soon begin to merge, at times in fascinating, unexpected ways. . . . With Tiger Rag, Christopher has reached into jazz history to produce a novel that enriches the Bolden story and is a suspenseful modern drama about a fractured family as well.”Associated Press

“This book is a threefold success: a compelling family drama in the sections set in the present day, a well-controlled piece of historical fiction in the others, and a worthy tribute to jazz music and all its attendant liveliness and messiness throughout.” The Daily Beast

“Poet and novelist Christopher mixes fiction with jazz history in this delightful dual narrative. . . . [an] intriguing yarn.” Publisher’s Weekly

Compelling . . . should appeal to jazz buffs eager to read about Bolden, Bechet, Bunk Johnson, et al., however imagined; to the coterie of readers of Bill Moody’s similarly themed jazz mysteries; and to fans of the talented and prolific Christopher.”Booklist

“Based on a legend that jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden made a long-lost recording in 1904 New Orleans of a song that came to be know as “Tiger Rag,” Christopher has created a pair of compelling contemporary characters who search for the old Edison cylinder. Dr. Ruby Cardillo is an anesthesiologist who’s taken to wearing only purple after her doctor husband dumps her for a 26-year-old. Her jazz-pianist daughter, Devon, is a recovering addict. Together, they try to uncover the secrets of — and family connections to — the Holy Grail of jazz.” New York Post, *Required Reading*
 

Library Journal
The exquisite writer Christopher should be better known; perhaps this juicy new novel will do it. Dr. Ruby Cardillo's cardiologist husband has left her and her estranged mother has died, so she drafts her gifted jazz-musician daughter (just out of rehab) for a trip to snowbound New York, where they hunt for a recording Edison was said to have made.
Kirkus Reviews
The story of history's most enigmatic jazz trumpeter becomes a touchstone for a troubled doctor and her daughter. Talented poet and novelist Christopher (The Bestiary, 2007, etc.) returns to the rich vein of early-20th-century American history for his elegiac and expressive sixth novel. The book opens on a hotel room in New Orleans circa 1904, where seven musicians huddle over their instruments in stifling heat. Christopher captures this long-whispered moment perfectly, as Charles "Buddy" Bolden and his boys lay down three inspired recordings of a song known as "Number 2"--aficionados know it as "Tiger Rag" today-- before fading into the night. From this point, the author folds this rumored bit of jazz history into a modern-day search for the lost cylinders. His protagonist is Ruby Cardillo, a hot mess of a divorcee who's taken to only wearing purple and downing numerous bottles of Bordeaux. She recruits her daughter, jazz pianist and recovering addict Devon, to drive with her to New Orleans so that Ruby can deliver a speech about anesthesiology. In New York, they meet with music dealer Emmett Browne, who believes that Devon's grandfather Valentine Owen was a compatriot of Bolden's who may have squirreled away the legendary recordings. The manic Ruby and damaged Devon's journey makes for fine drama, and Christopher delivers well-drawn and convincing characters in all their screwed-up glory. But the book's wonder comes from Bolden's downward spiral into alcoholism, schizophrenia and dementia, even as Christopher captures one brief moment of clarity. "In 1931 Charles Bolden picked up where he had left off in 1906, just that once stepping back into real time by way of his music, which had thrived in the outside world while he himself was wasting away," he writes. "It was as if, for a few minutes, without being remotely aware of it, much less imagining the possibility in such grand terms, he had been allowed to participate in his own immortality." Red hot and cool.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679645344
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/01/2013
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
413,263
File size:
2 MB

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR TIGER RAG

“The structure here is like a long and complex jazz arrangement. There is a comparatively simple theme set up against what might be thought of as distinctive chord changes. And then, against this main story, the author sets up what might be seen as highly individualistic solos. The themes of the male performers and the female audiences come together, separate, then come together again. If you love the world of jazz, if it’s a little like a religion to you, you’ll love this ambitious, thoughtful novel.” The Washington Post

“Nicholas Christopher's new novel, Tiger Rag, is a New Year's treat that lovers of good music and good writing should not deny themselves. . . . Nicholas is a master at building a rich story populated with vivid characters on the bare foundation of historical record. Although no recording of Bolden and his band has yet surfaced, his sideman Willy Cornish, a trombone player, died claiming a recording session took place. Nicholas has imagined a satisfying and engrossing tale about what might have happened. He has fleshed out the lives touched by the wax cylinders that stored three versions of “Tiger Rag.” From the musicians who played with or followed Bolden, to the recording engineer and his assistant at the fateful recording session, Nicholas has created a colourful cast whose stories draw readers into their lives. . . . Nicholas is a poet as well as a novelist, and the book sings, thanks to his compelling descriptions and use of imagery. . . . [C]ompulsively readable.”The Toronto Star

Full of outsize charm and drive . . . a moving, page turner of a story that spans a century . . .  [P]arallel stories, well-syncopated in Christopher's skilled hands, soon begin to merge, at times in fascinating, unexpected ways. . . . With Tiger Rag, Christopher has reached into jazz history to produce a novel that enriches the Bolden story and is a suspenseful modern drama about a fractured family as well.”Associated Press

“This book is a threefold success: a compelling family drama in the sections set in the present day, a well-controlled piece of historical fiction in the others, and a worthy tribute to jazz music and all its attendant liveliness and messiness throughout.” The Daily Beast

“Poet and novelist Christopher mixes fiction with jazz history in this delightful dual narrative. . . . [an] intriguing yarn.” Publisher’s Weekly

Compelling . . . should appeal to jazz buffs eager to read about Bolden, Bechet, Bunk Johnson, et al., however imagined; to the coterie of readers of Bill Moody’s similarly themed jazz mysteries; and to fans of the talented and prolific Christopher.”Booklist

“Based on a legend that jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden made a long-lost recording in 1904 New Orleans of a song that came to be know as “Tiger Rag,” Christopher has created a pair of compelling contemporary characters who search for the old Edison cylinder. Dr. Ruby Cardillo is an anesthesiologist who’s taken to wearing only purple after her doctor husband dumps her for a 26-year-old. Her jazz-pianist daughter, Devon, is a recovering addict. Together, they try to uncover the secrets of — and family connections to — the Holy Grail of jazz.” New York Post, *Required Reading*
 

Meet the Author

Nicholas Christopher is the author of five previous novels: The Soloist, Veronica, A Trip to the Stars, Franklin Flyer, and The Bestiary; eight books of poetry, including his new and selected poems, Crossing the Equator; and a book on film noir, Somewhere in the Night. He lives in New York City.

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Tiger Rag 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
cakes1BB More than 1 year ago
very interesting--especially for jazz fans.
WriteReason More than 1 year ago
Excellent mix of history and mystery!  Well orchestrated!  The author welds the pen over several decades without missing a beat.  He blends the chapters from one time period to the next, and back again so well you hardly notice the shift--just enough to know exactly where you are in this tale of early jazz masters, and the present day drama.  A surprise lurks in this masterful novel, and it works itself in so well.  Highly recommend to anyone who desires a good book.