Posts tagged ‘jazz’
August 17, 2018
As a small tribute to Aretha Franklin, this excerpt from Reach the Shining River, a novel by Kevin Stevens, writer and jazz connoisseur:
“A full house was tough on the nerves but easier to gather and please. If you knew what you were doing, and Arlene did. Had known from the beginning when, eleven years old, she sang “Go Tell It on the Mountain” in the Mount Zion church choir. Hitting the notes, yes. But plenty of singers could carry a tune. You had to get the audience involved. Start a conversation with them. You had to have soul.
Otis was at the piano, warming the crowd with a little boogie-woogie. Piney gave him the high sign and he segued into the first song.
The audience stirred, and faces turned stage left. Draymen, day laborers, housecleaners, cooks, domestics: these folks worked with their hands but knew their chord progressions. “Lady Be Good” was Arlene’s calling card – not the white-bread Fred Astaire arrangement but Bill Basie’s Kansas City version, up-tempo, swinging, with Lester Young soloing on tenor like he was making love to the long-legged gal serving drinks.
Arlene stepped into the light, singing just a shade behind the beat, her hands moving down along the sequins of her dress, from breasts to hips to thighs. It wasn’t the words that carried the soul but the ghost of Young’s saxophone, its sexy lines floating in her mind. Voices called out from the semi-darkness, filled with lust and admiration and surprise. Glasses clinked. The air was blue with cigarette smoke. Ecstasy and longing and gospel shouts. But this wasn’t church.
Listen to my tale of woe
It’s terribly sad but true
All dressed up, no place to go
Each evening I’m awfully blue.
The audience went with her from the start. Otis was just good enough. She followed with “All of Me”, “If You Were Mine” and “It’s Too Hot for Words”. Then another of her torch songs, “Body and Soul”.
My heart is sad and lonely
For you I sigh, for you dear only
Why haven’t you seen it
I’m all for you, body and soul.
Out of the lyrics he appeared. Unexpected. Looming in her mind, cool and easy, pork-pie hat pulled low over his brow and cigarette glowing between his lips. From between the lines of a song, like Young’s tenor sax.
Her heart lurched. She struggled to continue.”
January 16, 2018
Kansas City, 1935. Emmett Watson, a county prosecutor of Irish decent, is married to Fay, a high society woman, who is the daughter of one of the movers and shakers in the city, and unhappy in her marriage. At a closed-door meeting with his father-in-law, and other high rollers, Emmett is asked to investigate the brutal murder of a local black, jazz piano player, and he soon finds himself taking on a corrupt political machine, mobsters and cops on the pad.
All around Emmett, is fear and silence surrounding the murder, and blatant racial hatred, that puts his life and career at risk.
One of the most engaging characters in the novel is Arlene Gray, the jazz
singer whose voice can still the room in a smoky Kansas City nightclub.
Arlene, a woman of tremendous grace, and vulnerability, is the mother of Wardell, the young boy who found the bullet-ridden body on a bank by the river. She also was the murdered Eddie Sloan’s lover. She is determined to
protect he son at all cost, and her anguish at losing Eddie, is a deeply moving part of the novel.
There is a bluesy, jazzy ebb and flow throughout the novel. Swirling and dipping in language and imagery. While reading it I often had music by Billie Holiday, Bud Powell, Lester Young, and Bill “Count” Basie playing
across the room. The music supplementing the rhythm and phrasing of the writer’s words. The richness of the many characters, and the honest writing that cut right to the quick.
It is always a pleasure to discover a novel and a writer whose vibrant prose, and dialogue, make me reluctant to turn the final page. Reach the Shining River is such a novel.”
–Marvin Minkler, Modern First Editions
Link to the original review on Facebook: here.
August 18, 2016
“On the day of the big event I walked through the hours until seven like I was living in zombie land. I started dressing around five, making sure I wore a disposable polyester dress that wouldn’t leave any fibers scattered around the murder site. It was a plain black number purchased at Walmart for fifteen dollars and it didn’t look half bad when I got it on. I brushed out my hair and then sprayed it stiff and put it up in a tight French twist. The effect was très Catherine Deneuve, and I prayed no incriminating hair would get loose from the tightly coiled hair style. On my feet I wore flat shoes similar to the ones seen on Madame Sarkozy, but mine were not for the purpose of making a tiny politician seem slightly less miniscule; mine were for running away from a crime scene.
I prepared myself well, no perfume, no lipstick, no jewelry. When I looked in the mirror I was pleased with my image, and decided I would conduct myself as though I was in a French movie, a noir thriller starring Catherine Deneuve where she played a snaky bitch out to kill her double-crossing ex.
By the time I got to Terry’s I was well into my Deneuve persona, it was just as well; I probably couldn’t go on with the murder unless I was pretending to be someone else. The front door was unlocked and I walked down the hall to the sitting room. Terry was at the bar, drinking a shot of vodka. He looked fine and healthy, and when I kissed his cheek he smelled fresh.
‘I guess this is it, isn’t it, Martel?’
‘I guess,’ I said, pouring myself a shot.
‘What is it the Irish say?’
‘I think they say see you on the other side.’
‘Yes,’ he raised his glass and we clinked, ‘see you on the other side, Elizabeth.’ He used my first name, it sounded strange, but it also sounded correct in this solemn moment.
Just then the doorbell rang and we both knew it was Preston. I gave Terry another kiss, a final kiss, and ran out of the room to answer the door.”
“Patricia Ketola’s clever and sexy debut novel is an audacious genre mash-up, elevated and enlivened by the salty, up-from-the-heels voice of narrator Elizabeth Martel, a sort of lusty spin on Patricia Highsmith’s magnetic sociopath Tom Ripley. Dirty Pictures heralds the arrival of a clever, gutsy new voice that fearlessly swings for the fences.”
Craig McDonald, Edgar-Anthony Award Finalist
Dirty Pictures is available here
August 17, 2016
Following on from the success of “Francesca” by Donald Finnaeus Mayo, we are delighted to announce the new release of the Ebook edition of Kevin Stevens’ novel “Reach the Shining River” by the UK’s leading independent digital publisher, Endeavour Press.
Our own trade paperback is also available here: viewBook.at/REACH_Stevens
“Not only a solid murder mystery, but equally a colourful and thought-provoking study of a moment in time. With the rhythm and cadence of the prose, echoing the blues soundtrack that underscored the whole book, Stevens easily achieved that balance between crime fiction and literary fiction due to his exceptional characterization and engaging prose.” —Raven Crime Reads
Kansas City, 1935
The effects of the Depression are still being felt, gangsters are running the show, and the police are corrupt. Emmett Whelan, an idealistic county prosecutor who has left behind his Irish roots and married into the country club set, takes on the city’s corrupt political machine when he investigates the brutal murder of a black musician. Emmett starts poking around and soon finds that there has been no investigation into the man’s death. He starts to wonder why a gentle man like Eddie was murdered?
As Emmett probes the case and meets another outsider, black jazz singer Arlene Gray, he discovers the city’s underbelly of racism and criminality.
Emmett hires a PI to help him, Mickey McDermott lost his job as a cop when he wouldn’t play by the rules. Soon they see that Eddie’s death is connected to some pretty powerful men in town. But as Emmett works harder and harder for justice, his marriage starts to disintegrate. And the more he digs, the more he sees he’s being played.
The closer he gets to the heart of the corruption, the more he sees that it is deeper and closer than he has ever suspected. When the truth finally unfolds – about the killings, the machine, Emmett’s wife – a surprising and devastating climax reverberates at every level of the city…
Reach the Shining River is an urban crime drama about money, race, and class. Tense and full of memorable characters, it has the smell of a big river, the atmosphere of 1930s America, and a soundtrack that is pure jazz and blues.
May 29, 2015
Bill Call leaned over his coffee, peering at Arlene. “When was the last time you saw Eddie?”
Without answering him or even excusing herself, Arlene rose and went to the bathroom. She locked the door, splashed water on her face, and sat on the toilet. On the back of the door was a framed photograph of Paul Robeson. Leonora had placed little baskets along the rim of the wash basin, each filled with a different colored soap.
She covered her face with her hands and cried noiselessly. There was Eddie in her mind’s eye, standing tall in her front doorway on that last evening, molding the crown of his hat with forefinger and thumb, wearing the dark suit with pencil stripes that he favored when the sun went down.
“I’m not inclined,” he had said.
“Well, then, don’t bother,” she answered. “Don’t bother on my account.”
“Tomorrow night be better. Our customary evening.”
This last phrase Eddie spoke with a sly tone, his way of offering to end the spat on friendly terms.
But she was angry. “You rather spend time with Virgil than me then you go right ahead. See if I care.”
He frowned, put his hat on his greased head, and wandered into the night. See if I care. Her last words to him. Words he carried into the next world. Words she would carry through the rest of her earthly life.
And Virgil gone missing. Maybe murdered as well. What had they done? Who had they crossed?
She and Eddie had rarely argued. He was a peacemaker, even when he was unhappy with something (her wedding ring, not being able to come by the house when Wardell was home). The secrecy of their affair suited them both, and was easy to disguise because of their musical partnership. He liked to slide along the easy way, Eddie did, and keep his head low.
But lately he’d been prickly. He had to borrow a few bucks from her once or twice, which hurt his pride, and couldn’t find work outside the weekend gig at the Sunset (Emmanuel Baptist didn’t pay). His needs were modest, but he liked his reefer and new threads when he could get them, and bought her flowers every week. He was feeling the bite of hard times, she knew that.
Their songs would not leave her alone. Lyrics took on sharper meanings:
I don’t know why but I’m feeling so sad
I long to try something I never had
Never had no kissin’
Oh, what I’ve been missin’
Lover man, oh where can you be?
Kevin Stevens’ novel is available HERE
May 22, 2015
Cover art: Keith Mallett
Cover design: JT Lindroos
We hope you would agree that this is a striking new cover for Kevin Stevens’ novel REACH THE SHINING RIVER, with its soundtrack of jazz and blues.
The lady on the cover is, of course, Arlene Gray, wonderfully described in this reader’s review: “Arlene cleans hotel rooms by day and by night she sings of heartbreak in a blues club. Arlene knows what she is singing about…”
We would like to thank the artist Keith Mallet who has graciously allowed us to use his artwork “Jazz Café” and, as always, our favourite designer JT Lindroos.
December 4, 2014
From “The Return of Eddie Sloan” by Kevin Stevens:
“She checked on Wardell. He was fast asleep, dreaming of sugar plums. All the doors were locked. The backyard was deserted and the thin cover of fresh snow showed no footprints. In the parlor, the Christmas tree stood lightless and lonely, the angel on top askew. She pulled her robe tight around her shoulders and returned to bed. Passing the threshold, she examined the smudge of ash on the pinewood floor. It was in the shape of a heart.”
October 13, 2014
These days, big cities go out of their way to proclaim their cleanliness and safety. New York, LA, London, Paris…the city fathers of each note regularly how, compared with a few decades ago, their metropolises are much better to visit and live in. Crime rates have fallen. The cops are friendly. The streets are litter-free. What vice there is is socially acceptable or decidely unseedy. And who’d have it any other way?
Well, readers of crime fiction, perhaps. Crime novels and cities go together like guns and ammo. And traditionally, dirty, unsafe streets with heavy fog and crumbling neighborhoods not only create atmosphere but plot opportunities as well.
But fiction moves with the times. And these days noir is as much a state of mind as a physical phenomenon. The twenty-first century urban landscape is slick and anonymous, at least in the developed world, and writers now look to these characteristics – while not…
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October 9, 2014
There ought to be a room in every house to swear in. Mark Twain
I live near Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass, in a “Harlow buidling.” These beautiful brick structures were designed by Hamilton Harlow in the early decades of the twentieth century and were designed to blend in with the features of Harvard University buildings – red brick, elegant ironwork, and leaded glass windows.
It’s a cool neighborhood. A really cool neighborhood for a writer, partly because so many famous authors lived nearby. Two doors up from my building is where William Dean Howells lived in the 1870s, when he was editor of the Atlantic Monthly.
There is a great story in Justin Kaplan’s biography of Mark Twain which details Twain’s visit to this house in April, 1876, and the ill-fated attempt of Howells and Twain to get to Concord by train for centennial celebrations presided over…
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