A remarkable piece of academic literature on jazz. Sizeable, its title says it all: Jazz and Death
: Medical Profiles of Jazz Greats.
In this 300-page volume, Professor Frederick Spencer conducts an inquest on how the legendary jazzers lived and died pursuing their art. To accomplish the task, the author resorts to carefully checking the musicians' medical records. In his research, the scholar goes beyond the frame of typical analysis focused on one's inspirations and talent pointing instead to the significance of other, extra musical factors – be that a birth defect, trauma, peculiar (over)diet, dental disease, syphilis or madness. These issues might just as well be contributing to their genius. Part of this medical investigation, and perhaps most interesting from the point of non-medical readership, concerns the relation between jazz (in its early developmental phase, which was also most boisterous) and organized crime. To quote:
Jazz flourished in the gang-war days of Prohibition, so it may seem surprising that more musicians did not perish from gunfire – but sometimes they were unwitting accomplices before the fact: "In those days a hood would come into a joint with a few well-armed friends, slip the bandleader a C-note [$100], and tell him to play very loud. That way nobody knew anything happened till some guy would fall out of his chair not dead drunk, just dead." Playing in a mob-controlled club was not hazardous to band members unless they ignored the advice of one gangster-owner, who told them to get behind the piano when the shooting started. But drummer George Wettling remembered what could happen: "We would see those rods come up – and duck. At the Triangle Club, the boss was shot one night but we kept playing…"
Jazz and Death: Medical Profiles of Jazz Greats
Book by Frederick J. Spencer
University Press of Mississippi, 2002.