Wail: The Life of Bud Powell

Wail: The Life of Bud Powell

by Peter Pullman

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Wail: The Life of Bud Powell by Peter Pullman

*Wail* is the exhaustive exploration of the life and times of an extraordinary musician. Pianist-composer Powell's classical training and upbringing in Harlem in the midst of its great renaissance prepared him well to emulate the solo virtuosity of Art Tatum and to become Thelonious Monk's most loyal disciple.

The biography examines all aspects of Powell's career but, more at, looks at the struggles that all modern musicians (Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis, among others) had, in trying to put across their ideas in a jazz world that had become stuck in its swing-band conventions.

The book situates Powell not only in the nightclub milieu, first in uptown New York City and, then, in midtown; the story also quotes dozens of musicians on the informal scene, of what went on offstage -- in the recording studios and, privately, in people's homes.

Then, as Powell's success brought with it unwelcome attention, the narrative doesn't flinch from documenting his involvement with alcohol and heroin. Further, through requests made of the police, FBI, and New York State health-department officials, Powell's life in psychiatric hospitals is detailed, the story carefully narrating his years in detention.

Powell's fortunes improved when, at the end of the Fifties, he moved to Paris. The book has the same eye for detail here, as many French musicians and fans spoke to the author of the more public, and easygoing, life that Powell led there.

Throughout, *Wail* provides the colorful anecdotes of the jazz musician's life, as based as it is on so many eyewitnesses' accounts.

But it is a fair-minded, demystifying, complete biography, one with constant reference to Powell's recording sessions and live appearances -- but also as these events took place against the larger, social milieux of New York, Paris, and the other cities where Powell performed.

A scholarly appendix examines the bizarre, punitive regulations that hampered many performers from appearing in New York nightclubs. This story unfolded uniquely in New York, against the backdrop of the evolution of the nightclub and its unique brand of entertainment.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940013951877
Publisher: Peter Pullman, LLC
Publication date: 02/15/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 588,207
File size: 941 KB

About the Author

Peter Pullman worked in the music industry throughout the Nineties. One of the projects that he shepherded to publication was a 150-page booklet, which accompanied five CDs of Bud Powell performances. The booklet canvased the opinions of a dozen musicians who had known Powell personally or who had been much influenced by him.

The project got Pullman a Grammy nomination. From that time, he sought to understand as much of Powell's life as he could. After 300 formal interviews and 500 informal ones; research in private archives, the police record, and FBI files; successful petitioning of New York state psychiatric hospitals; and a series of fact-finding trips to Europe -- this last, including visits with Powell obsessive Francis Paudras, and scouring of his archive -- finally yielded *Wail*, the culmination of a dozen years' effort.

*Wail* is Pullman's first book.

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Wail: The Life of Bud Powell 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Michael_K_S More than 1 year ago
A Great Biography of a Tragic Genius for all Fans of Modern Jazz Anyone who is a fan of bebop music is likely to be a devotee of Bud Powell, who – along with Bird, Dizzy, Monk, and a few other greats – brought into being a whole new sensibility, a new dimension, and a new musical language for jazz; one that we continue to hear played out today, more than 60 years after its birth in Harlem. Apart from the dazzling technical virtuosity, perhaps only surpassed by Art Tatum, it has always been Powell’s deeply emotive playing that brings me back again and again to his music. At his best, it felt as though he channeled his whole heart and soul through his fingers and into his instrument. Yet, I knew little of Powell’s life beyond the superficiality of liner notes. After reading Peter Pullman’s magnificent life of Bud Powell, his genius seems all the more miraculous to me, given the tragic circumstances chronicled so comprehensively in the book. To listen again, as I did, to a recording session Powell made when he was given a single day leave from an insane asylum, is to not just hear the soaring music, but the transcendent spirit of a man who was able, for a time, to overcome one painful, destructive obstacle after another (external and internal) and still make the most glorious art. Such is the nature of this book, you will likely want to stop and hear the music it describes from each period of Bud’s life, and you will inevitably hear it in a far richer way. The biography is not merely a definitive account of Powell’s life, but is peopled by a colorful and, in some cases, deeply disturbing cast of characters; it is also a fascinating account of the rise of bebop music, both in the U.S. and Europe where Powell spent much of the end of his life. In fact, the five years Powell spent based in Paris is the most “novelistic” portion of the book, given the rich source material and first-hand reporting the author engaged in. Also, for the first time, Powell’s years in sanitariums is closely chronicled, due to a court case won by the author to gain access to state mental health records. The resulting narrative of his incarcerations is stunningly revelatory of the primitive treatment methods of the time. One can only speculate on how much more brilliant and original music we would have had from Bud, if only he hadn’t spend so many years effectively imprisoned for unjustified lengths of time and subjected to barbaric shock treatments. It’s not that Powell wasn’t a mentally ill person; obviously, he was, and Pullman does not pull punches when it comes to Bud’s mental problems and physical addictions. Another rather astonishing achievement of this biography is the fact that Powell, unlike his more voluble peers, rarely spoke or revealed much of his inner life or thoughts to anyone. Yet Pullman wrings every ounce of insight one can imagine from the life and art, despite his nearly mute subject. In sum, if you want to understand a jazz giant, and want to understand this seminal jazz era, I whole-heartedly recommend this deeply felt, richly detailed, and very moving book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BiffBaker More than 1 year ago
This is a stunning piece of scholarship, not only in Jazz history but also in the social history of the United States. The author stays painstakingly close to first-hand accounts of the events, providing a grittily detailed picture of the times and places in which Powell's life unfolded. The descriptions of the brilliant jazz scenes in Harlem and Paris are particularly vivid, with a great deal to say about the other musicians and entrepreneurs whose lives intersected with Powell's. There are very few heroes in this story. Powell emerges as a highly contested "property," at least after he broke out as one of the leading exponents of bebop, and the many would-be "protectors" of this child-like genius, socially immature, crippled by illness and abuse, are often self-interested. Only a handful remain at his side throughout his final illnesses, creative decline, and tragically early death. Much of the narrative, on the other hand, is from the perspective of a few sensitive observers, unlikely participants in Powell's tough world, who were genuinely touched by both his gifts and his vulnerability. Seeing Powell through their eyes, we see him with compassion and attachment. These are also qualities of the biography itself. A significant part of the book is taken up with detailed analyses and appreciations of particular recordings of Powell's work, both in the studio and in live performance. These are "close readings" of the music, following the ebb and flow of its ideas and energy from bar to bar, chorus to chorus. Not every jazz neophyte will follow with complete understanding, but they will certainly come away with heightened sense of jazz as an art form and its possibilities. Readers may wish to have the recordings on hand while reading, especially the landmark set of the Complete Bud Powell on Verve, for which Pullman wrote the liner notes. Wail: The Life of Bud Powell is a tremendous accomplishment. No serious student of jazz or of its formative decades can afford to pass this biography by.
HerbR More than 1 year ago
masterful biography of 'Bud' I am an avid jazz fan and have read much of what has been written about the jazz greats. Out of all of the books written on jazz artists, Peter Pullman’s biography of Bud Powell most effectively captures the heart and soul of Powell, his colleagues and his contemporaries. Growing up in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem, I lived in the midst of jazz history and listened and learned from the musicians themselves, as well as the children and grandchildren of some of the jazz greats of the time, including Andy Kirk, Jonny Hodges, Al Hall, Don Redman, and Jackie McLean (affectionately known on ‘The Hill’ as Jackie Mac). It is remarkable that Pullman, who did not grow up in our neighborhood, listened so closely and sensitively in his interviews, that he is able to capture the untold story of what these jazz greats endured against insurmountable odds, while continually creating a supremely high level of art. Other authors often don’t unearth the truth, and report the stories in a sanitized, patronizing way, focusing on the cliché of the addiction of jazz artists, without digging into the sociological background soil of these musicians of color. Pullman masterfully portrays Powell as a genius of the highest order and he goes way beyond the stereotypical storyline. Peter Pullman is a fantastic listener, master researcher, and gifted writer, and he has captured the richness of the jazz culture of Powell’s time. He tells the story from the mouths of the people who lived the jazz scene of the era. I was particularly impressed by how the story of Powell’s psychiatric and drug history and multiple hospitalizations are placed in its proper historical context, and Pullman sensitively describes what happened without sensationalizing it. For those who have followed jazz for generations, or for the reader new to the exploration of the art of jazz, this book is not to be missed. Wail: The Life of Bud Powell is an art form in itself.
donaldclarkemusicbox More than 1 year ago
"The parallel world, of the times when musicians just hung out and shared musical ideas, was a much larger one than that in which the records were made or the nightclub gigs took place." Peter Pullman's Wail! The life of Bud Powell is already one of the best jazz biographies I have ever read, and I'm only a third of the way through it. Powell was a profoundly troubled genius, and being beaten over the head by cops and having electroshock therapy didn't help. Gene Benedetti was going around recording Charlie Parker with portable equipment in nightclubs, and Thelonious Monk lived long enough to make quite a few albums on Columbia, as well as recording concerts, but we have relatively little of Powell's brilliance: onstage he was intensely, maniacally brilliant, in another universe, but nobody was recording him. He could not/ would not even hold conversations with other people, except other musicians on his level, but Pullman has painted a picture of a magical era, even discovering talented witnesses to the scene who we've never heard of because they did not pursue musical fame. He brings the whole exciting era to life so well that our hearts ache at what we have lost. Pullman wrote the book (and conducted the interviews) for the excellent book that accompanied the 5-CD set The Complete Bud Powell on Verve back in 1994, and having done that he couldn't stop; after all these years' work he has created a classic. I am one of those who would rather have a physical book to read, but with this download Pullman has been able to do without the whole rigmarole of agent, publisher and all the rest, and his book is a great bargain at the price.
BrianPriestley More than 1 year ago
I'm excited that this long-awaited book has finally appeared. I have to be biassed, not only because I was one of the hundreds of people who were interviewed by the author, but also because I read it in draft before it went to publication. It's a major step forward in jazz biography, and in addition it's the first such work to be available as an e-book. Don't miss out!