Duke Ellington by Joe Ciardiello
On the Snap: three decades of snapshots from the world of jazz, film and crime fiction
by Brian Case
Illustrations by Joseph Ciardiello. Foreword by Richard Williams.
Caught by the River, hardback. Out Now
Jeff Barrett writes:
We’ve stepped outside of the nature-zone for this one and some of our readers could well be feeling a little miffed by the shift. It’s understandable. This collection of conversations with the journalist Brian Case neither mentions nor features any of the established touchstones of Caught by the River – no rivers, no wildlife (debatable), no exploration of the great outdoors. But to dismiss this book would be to misunderstand us. We love all of the aforementioned but what we truly love is good storytelling and great writing, fuelled by passion and told with fire. We like people that give a shit and if they can make us laugh too then hallelujah, we’ve hit the jackpot. Brian Case is a supreme example.
Brian is a tremendous writer and a very skilled journalist. The reviews he filed as the books editor of Time Out in the early nineties were hugely influential. They were my introduction to the books of Elmore Leonard, Charles Willeford, David Goodis and Jim Thompson and lead me to the church of the hardboiled that was Murder One bookshop on Charing Cross Road where the proprietor Maxim Jakubowski was happy to sate my growing addiction to all things noir. James Oldham, the gentleman with whom the idea for this book was cooked up, has Brian to thank for his jazz obsession – Brian was a family friend who, a couple of decades ago, noted from James’s teenage rock ‘n’ roll hairstyle that what he obviously needed to do was “listen to some jazz”.
Here, the writer Paolo Hewitt, recalls his time spent working with Brian on the music press and tells us what On the Snap means to him:
Age ain’t got nothing to do wth hipsterism. I learnt that at Melody Maker. I signed on there in 1980. They gave me a desk by a window. In front of me and to the right sat young whippersnappers with some of the right words but all of the wrong clothes.
To the left, the jazz desk.
First, Max Jones, veteran jazz critic. He would stroll in at about four in the afternoon, beret on, open up his drawer and whisper, “Paolo. Little schnifter?”
Um. Don’t mind if I do.
Second, Brian Case. Two weeks into my stay at the MM, Case clocked my gears and said, “You do know about the Billy Eckstine collar don’t you?”
I didn’t but I knew straight away I was onto something. And I was. Throughout my whole time at MM, Brian was a source of deep knowledge, welcome smiles and great tips.
His writing I had to stand back and simply admire. Like the jazz he so adored, Brian’s words were tough, elliptical, inspired, always with a surprise. Brian wrote about jazz men. He also wrote about films and books but the jazz world was his beat and he covered it in high style.
This book of his memories on meeting jazz guys and film stars and writers (the Holy Trinity of ne’er do wells) is not only highly entertaining but more importantly – uniquely – serves as a link to a world now lost, a world filled with remarkable characters, all of them stylish in look and all of them carrying demons of some colour or other which would never get past today’s health and safety brigade in a million years.
Brian spoke to Pacino with bullets in his pocket, passed out on vodka in front of Dexter Gordon, watched Duke Ellington rehearse a gig which led to employment at the NME. Brian explains why director Sam Fuller thought actor Rod Steiger was a wimp, and how he ended up in bar in Copenhagen with Tom Waits and the local lesbian Hells Angels chapter.
And so on and so forth and so brilliant. On The Snap will be sending me to the British Library to read Brian’s articles now. I can think of no better compliment. Actually, yes I can.
Brian was a huge fan of Ian Dury and I wrote a big piece on the man for MM. When it was published Brian came to my desk and said, “Real good piece on Dury man, I like your style. All that, ‘he did that, he did this’ that you put between the quotes, cool stuff.”
That made my year. Or ten. And I don’t like this book. I love it. Enormously. At its launch I congratulated Brian for getting it published. “One more vomit, eh?” he replied. Priceless.
On the Snap is out now. Signed copies are availble in the Caught by the River shop, priced £15.
Brian will be discussing his life and sharing his many stories at a special launch event at The Social, London W1 on Monday 22 June. Richard Williams will be MC and records will be played by James ‘this is our music’ Oldham and James ‘saxophone collosssus’ Endeacott. Buy tickets here.
Paolo Hewitt’s But We All Shine On – The Remarkable Orphans Of Burbank Children’s Home is published by Jessica Kingsley Books and out now.