Friday, May 13, 2016

The Ghetto Swinger: A Berlin Jazz-Legend Remembers - Coco Schumann

Summary: A fine translation of Coco Schumann's vivid memoir of a life in music. From his early enthusiasm for American jazz in Berlin cabarets to his membership of Terezin's celebrated Ghetto Swngers, to surviving Auschwitz through his music, to post-war appearances with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, jazz remains a constant in a remarkable life story.  (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review:  Coco Schumann came from a loving, tolerant, incredible German family.  His father, everything the Nazis wanted in their rising regime came from a good family, although not a well-to-do one.  His mother, an incredible woman who came from an equally amazing and supportive family, happened to be Jewish.  Coco witnessed from a very early age his father’s courage as he told the rising regime he would be unwilling to leave his family for a more “Aryan” one.

Coco inherited that grit.  He also inherited a love of the nightlife from an uncle, and sought it out from early on.  The guitar fell into his life almost by happenstance, and he embraced it with gusto.  His relationship with his guitar was the only thing that could never be taken away, and that passion propelled him through the most harrowing circumstances.

This was an interesting and enlightening read.  The passion and the clarity with which Schumann recalls his past experiences, playing with some of the greats, surviving World War II, his internment, are all very evident.  I felt like I was listening to the gregarious great-uncle with stories almost too good to be true, other than the fact that they really are. 

This book very much feels like a conversation carried on between Schumann and anyone passionate about music.  His arrest, internment, and release are all such a brief and fleeting memory compared to his musical achievements that I feel like I was probably not the best target audience.  I like music, but I’m condemned to appreciate it, not to live for it.  I don’t know much of Jazz History, or of the History of Jazz in Germany, and this book would be perfect for the audiophiles in your life.  

Rating: Three stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Schumann was a Jazz player, with mentions of promiscuity, lots of drinking (seriously the drinking), and some mentions of the brutality and fear that he experienced during the War.

As a side note, please join me in wishing Herr Schumann ein herzlicher Geburtstag!!

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