One of the most memorable RAG articles for me was J Lee Anderson's profile of "PoPsie" Randolph in the October 1990 issue, describing the transition of a young Greek-American bandboy into the New York music scene's pre-eminent photographer. It made for fascinating reading, and I learned some Greek words which have remained in my vocabulary.
Michael Randolph, PoPsie's son, produces of boxing shows for cable television and is the custodian of the 100,000 negatives PoPsie left behind when he died in 1978, several years after he retired to Arizona. Michael went through PoPsie's entire file and selected what he felt were the best and most representative photos to illustrate this beautiful book.
When PoPsie Randolph started taking photos in the late Forties, he worked mostly with jazz and swing bands -- only natural since he had worked with them during his pre-photographic days when he traveled with Ina Ray Hutton, Woody Herman and Benny Goodman, making sure everything happened on schedule as the bands moved around the country at the height of the Swing Era. The earliest images therefore are of jazz bands and are probably the most interesting to RAG readers. The photos are basically grouped by decade; by the 1970s he was photographing mostly pop and R&B groups, though the last section includes beautiful photos of Sy Oliver and Roy Eldridge.
As a photographic hustler (translation: paparazzo), he was not above making photo opportunities out of thin air. One of his trademarks was grouping unlikely people together. His Odd Couples include Trini Lopez and Sammy Davis Jr, Peggy Lee and Jimmy Durante, and pioneer rock DJ Alan Freed with Salvador Dali.
This is a beautifully produced book, and it provides as good a history of the New York music scene between 1945 and 1975 as one could want. Almost anyone who performed during that era wound up in PoPsie's negative files. Randolph was an American original, one of those bigger-than-life characters who populated the New York scene during the golden years of pop music.
Michael Randolph has done us all a great service by placing a large sampling of his father's prodigious output in a book that is a pleasure to page through. I'm sure Benny Goodman had no idea when he gave his departing bandboy a camera as a wedding present that it would lead to a lifetime vocation. This is a very enjoyable book and a good addition to anyone's library of jazz photo books.
Available from Hal Leonard Publications, www.halleonard.com
The Memory of All That: The Life of George Gershwin, by Joan Peyser, paperback reprint, Hal Leonard, New York, N.Y., 2007, 320 pages, 32 pages of photos, $17.95, www.halleonard.com. The hardcover version of this book was reviewed in the December 1999 RAG.
In Search of the Blues, by Marybeth Hamilton, Basic Books, New York, N.Y., 2008, hardcover, $24.95, www.basicbooks.com
High Hat, Trumpet and Rhythm: The Life and Music of Valaida Snow, by Mark Miller, The Mercury Press, Toronto, Ont., Canada, 2007, 192 pages, $17.95 U.S., $18.95 CDN, www.themercurypress.ca
How to Play Blues Guitar: The Basics and Beyond (2nd Ed.), by the editors of Guitar Player, Backbeat Books, New York, N.Y., 2007, 120 pages, softcover, $29.95, www.halleonard.com
Annual Review of Jazz Studies 13: 2003, by Edward Berger, Henry Martin, Dan Morgenstern, Evan Spring and George Bassett, The Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Md., 2007, 250 pages, 120 illustrations, $$80 cloth, $50 paper, www.scarecrowpress.com