Alyn Shipton

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Biography

Alyn Shipton is a host and producer of BBC Radio music programs in the UK. He has written on music as a critic for the Times of London and also as author of many books, including award-winning biographies of Dizzy Gillespie and Harry Nilsson, and several oral histories. His New History of Jazz has become a standard in the field, winning him awards on both sides of the Atlantic. 

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Schedule

Noon to 12:45 p.m.
State Capitol Building, Senate Chamber
Discussion
A Life in Jazz

1 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.
Barnes & Noble Bookselling Tent
Book Signing

3:15 p.m. to 4 p.m.
State Capitol Building, House Committee Room 1
Book Talk
Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter

4:15 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Barnes & Noble Bookselling Tent
Book Signing


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A Life in Jazz

by Danny Barker, edited by Alyn Shipton, with introduction by Gwen Thompkins

Danny Barker (1909–1994) was born when jazz was still in its infancy, and by the time of his death he was known as both a master of the idiom and a guardian of its history. Storyteller, researcher, songwriter, performer, and mentor, Barker was a true griot—an elder statesman of jazz and an international representative of New Orleans and African American culture.

In more than 60 years as a working musician, he followed the evolution of jazz from its New Orleans roots to mainstream success during the swing era to canonization as America’s first wholly original art form. In his career as a songwriter, which yielded the hit “Don’t You Feel My Leg,” Barker combined traditional song forms with sly humor about sex and human nature. More than any other jazz artist, he worked to document the music’s history and to tell the stories of its people.

A Life in Jazz, first published in 1986 and edited by British jazz scholar Alyn Shipton, captures the breadth of Barker’s knowledge and the scope of his vision as a storyteller. His carefully crafted set pieces range from hilarious to harrowing, and he shares memories of jazz greats such as Jelly Roll Morton, Cab Calloway, and Dizzy Gillespie. Barker’s prose reflects the freedom and creativity of jazz while capturing the many injustices, both casual and grand, of life as a black man in midcentury America.

This illustrated edition of A Life in Jazz brings Barker’s autobiography back into print, accompanied by more than 100 images that bring his story to life. Journalist Gwen Thompkins, host of public radio’s Music Inside Out, reflects on Barker’s legacy in her introduction, and the complete discography and song catalog showcase the breadth of Barker’s work. Through his struggles, triumphs, escapades, and musings, A Life in Jazz reflects the freedom, complexity, and beauty of this thoroughly American, black music tradition.


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Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter

Paul McCartney and John Lennon described him as the Beatles' "favorite group," he won Grammy awards, wrote and recorded hit songs, and yet no figure in popular music is as much of a paradox, or as underrated, as Harry Nilsson.

In this first ever full-length biography, Alyn Shipton traces Nilsson's life from his Brooklyn childhood to his Los Angeles adolescence and his gradual emergence as a uniquely talented singer-songwriter. With interviews from friends, family, and associates, and material drawn from an unfinished autobiography, Shipton probes beneath the enigma to discover the real Harry Nilsson. A major celebrity at a time when huge concerts and festivals were becoming the norm, Nilsson shunned live performance. His venue was the studio, his stage the dubbing booth, his greatest triumphs masterful examples of studio craft. He was a gifted composer of songs for a wide variety of performers, including the Ronettes, the Yardbirds, and the Monkees, yet Nilsson's own biggest hits were almost all written by other songwriters. He won two Grammy awards, in 1969 for "Everybody's Talkin'" (the theme song for Midnight Cowboy), and in 1972 for "Without You," had two top ten singles, numerous album successes, and wrote a number of songs--"Coconut" and "Jump into the Fire," to name just two--that still sound remarkably fresh and original today. He was once described by his producer Richard Perry as "the finest white male singer on the planet," but near the end of his life, Nilsson's career was marked by voice-damaging substance abuse and the infamous deaths of both Keith Moon and Mama Cass in his London flat.

Drawing on exclusive access to Nilsson's papers, Alyn Shipton's biography offers readers an intimate portrait of a man who has seemed both famous and unknowable--until now.

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