Saturday, January 05, 2008
Since it came out I've been meaning to get my father Gary Giddins' Bing Crosby bio, "A Pocket Full of Dreams", but I could never remember if I had already done so. This year he broke the logjam and got it for me, and I've been digging it since Boxing Day. Giddins is one of my favorite jazz writers, and Bing is, it turns out, just about what he looked to be-- a hip guy with talent to burn and a great sense of humor, and, as Giddins argues, an important American cultural figure who was a synthesizer of black and white musical styles the way that Elvis would be. Giddins thinks he has been unjustly overlooked, and although the ubiquity of "White Christmas" might argue otherwise, the fact is that his significance may very well be something that has become so taken for granted that we have actually forgotten it. It isn't all that easy to find his important early recordings, for example- my shelves have an embarrassing dearth of them, even on vinyl, even on compilations, although I do have some. You're pretty good when Louis Armstrong says you are good, and Louis was a fan. Giddins says that Bing's style was informed by Armstrong, and that the rest of the male jazz singers out there, from Billy Eckstine through to Sinatra (and beyond) learned from Bing. Great stuff, and for once a biography that doesn't make me feel bad about its subject.