The last time I wrote about children’s books about jazz music and musicians, I overlooked a major part of their (potential) appeal: the fun to be had when a playful author turns the sounds of jazz into words on a page. Jazz has never seemed more joyful than in this new title (Harcourt, 11/06) by Karen Ehrhardt and illustrated by R. G. Roth.
A counting book set to the rhythm of “This Old Man” (I suppose the text could be read instead of sung, but why would you want to?), This Jazz Man offers two-page spreads devoted to each of nine late, great leading lights of jazz. Each included instrument gets one representative, which means snarly Miles Davis is left out in favor of cuddly Dizzy Gillespie. If you can’t think of nine major instruments, perhaps you’re forgetting about baton (Duke Ellington), feet (Bojangles Robinson), and congas (Chano Pozo, who I’m guessing is making his picture book debut here).
“Bop-bop! Beeeee-AAAAW!” and Roth’s bright art would be plenty, but at the back of the book Ehrhardt also offers succinct, informative, highly enjoyable biographies of each jazz man, with a welcome emphasis on personal details and musical techniques rather than on commercial achievements. Readers inspired to explore more on their own will soon discover what Ehrhardt no doubt knows: There are enough key instruments left over (clarinet, trombone, guitar) to make a decent start on an encore.
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