A good story about the world of Jazz musicians in the early fifties. It revolves around members of a sextet waiting to hit the big time. Rather than get bogged down with technical descriptions of Jazz, Gilbert uses names of real musicians to get across his point about the style of music.
Kip Nelson has played piano since childhood. He had a band in the army. Just before being discharged he was in an accident. The Jeep he was in had to avoid a dog and slammed into a pole. He was concerned about his hands. They came out okay. He didn’t. He can no longer satisfy a woman.
Now he’s in a sextet led by trumpet player Wade Stewart. He’s from Virginia and always has a picture of J.E.B. Stuart on his wall. He pretends the General is a relative. Kip put the group together and takes care of most of the work related to the band. The bass player Davey Berman is a friend from the army and the only one who knows what happened to him. Berman’s three brothers are lawyers and are angry that he didn’t follow in their footsteps.
The group plays in a small New Jersey club called The Music Box runs by the Nello Brothers. The rest of the group are Buzz the sax player, Red the drummer who likes to go to a Harlem club called Ritchie’s to jam and score some weed and Eli the guitar player who is a newlywed with a baby. Joe Nello thinks the band needs a vocalist. Wade finds Andie Chapman in New York. She wants to join them Now the rebellion begins.
Kip wants to move into Progressive Jazz and the band is with him. Wade is the exception. Kip is angry and thinks that’ll turn the group into a cocktail band doing standard arrangements of pop songs. He does what he can to sabotage Andie. Kip and Andie eventually fall for each other and he does what he can to cover up the results of the accident. Wade has designs on her and does his best to have her for himself.
Buzz’s girlfriend is Midge. Buzz constantly fools around on her. She becomes pregnant and Buzz says he wants nothing to do with her. Red keeps getting high and Kip warns him to stop. Wade’s ambition is to lead a society band in a hotel. He’s about to get a chance with a widow who owns a hotel. He has to romance her.
Through it all is the music. Andie’s friend Chet is a Jazz critic and his friend Abe is an illustrator who has new ideas for covers of Jazz albums. They really like the stuff Kip is doing even though Wade wants him to cut it out and just do the arrangements the way they’re written.
This is a good read and an even better one for Jazz fans who know about musicians frustrations in trying to play the music they like. Kip is a big fan of Lennie Tristano and a young former G.I. who is becoming successful, Dave Brubeck. This could have fallen into soap land but all the relationships and problems are handled well and it’s definitely worth picking up.