Still Ramblin’, The Life and Times of Jim Beatty, by Jim Beatty. 605 pp., $20 on Amazon.com
Clarinetist Jim Beatty is one of the last living links to the jazz revival of the 1940s and ’50s. Remarkably he has worked professionally in music for five decades in clubs, festivals, and casual gigs as a leader, side man, guest artist, and recording artist—all without taking a day job. Most jazz musicians I have known say they are working on a book about their lives, but very few have followed through to publication. Jim managed to put it all down on paper, in a readable and entertaining 600 pages. Yes, you get your money’s worth.
Granted, this book will be of most interest in Jamestown, New York, where Jim grew up, and in Portland, Oregon, where he later spent most of his career. However, Jim recorded extensively, and performed from Vancouver, B.C., to Palm Springs, California, to St. Louis, Missouri, to Nassau, Bahamas, throughout England, and in China, so he has fans around the world.
In my large collection of jazz autobiographies, most are sanitized and self-serving. Not so with this book. Jim simply sat down for interviews with his friend Mike Bays and laid it all out with a rare frankness, naming names and telling story after story, warts and all. The first edition would benefit from another round of proofreading, but the errors are small.
Jim recalls the many famous jazz artists he knew and worked with, including George Lewis (his idol), Wild Bill Davison (a kleptomanic), George Brunis (a party animal), Jim Goodwin (a happy drunk), and Ernie Carson (a mean drunk).
My favorite anecdote is the time in 1968 that Jim was hired to perform for the Bobby Kennedy Presidential Campaign in Oregon. At a packed rally at the Sheraton Hotel, a hippy with long hair showed up on the bandstand with his guitar. Jim explained that they did not allow sit-ins, that he wasn’t dressed in the proper band attire, and probably would not know their tunes. The guitarist left. At the end of the event, Jim asked who that guy was. It was Bobby Darin, who was traveling with the campaign. Jim claims to be the only band leader to have kicked Bobby Darin off the stage!
To traditional jazz musicians today, the stories of the wild times, the smoking, the drinking, of performing seven nights a week from 9 pm to 2 am, of making a living playing their kind of music, now belong to another time and place. Jim Beatty does a remarkable job of taking us back there with him.
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