Gourse, Leslie 1939-2004
Gourse, Leslie 1939-2004
Born January 1, 1939, in Providence, RI; died of respiratory problems, December 23, 2004, in New York, NY; daughter of Harry Andrew (a clothing store owner) and H. Zelda (a homemaker) Gourse. Education: Columbia University, B.S., 1960.
Writer. CBS Network Radio News, writer for Morning Report, 1966-68; New York Times, New York City, stringer, 1970-74; freelance writer, 1974—.
National Writers Union, PEN American Center, Writers Room.
Deems Taylor Award, American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, 1991, for a series of seven articles about women jazz musicians in Jazz Times; scholarship to Breadloaf Writers Conference at Middlebury College; Columbia-Doubleday Option Award and Book-of-the-Month Club recommendation, both for With Gall and Honey; Ralph J. Gleason Award nominations, Broadcast Music, Incorporated, New York University, and Rolling Stone, for Sassy: The Life of Sarah Vaughan and Unforgettable: The Life and Mystique of Nat King Cole; Billie Holiday: The Tragedy and Triumph of Lady Day was selected as a best young adult book of 1996 by the New York Public Library and Donnell Library.
With Gall and Honey (novel), Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1961.
Student Guide to New York, Hippocrene (New York, NY), 1984.
Louis' Children: American Jazz Singers, Morrow (New York, NY), 1984, updated edition, Cooper Square Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Every Day: The Story of Joe Williams, Da Capo Press (New York, NY), 1985.
The Best Guided Walking Tours to New York City, Globe Pequot (Chester, CT), 1989.
Unforgettable: The Life and Mystique of Nat King Cole, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1991.
Sassy: The Life of Sarah Vaughan, Scribner (New York, NY), 1993.
Dizzy Gillespie and the Birth of Bebop, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1994.
The Congress, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1994.
Aretha Franklin: Lady Soul, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1995.
Billie Holiday: The Tragedy and Triumph of Lady Day, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1995.
Madame Jazz: Contemporary Women Instrumentalists, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Mahalia Jackson: Queen of Gospel Song, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1996.
Pocahontas, Aladdin (New York, NY), 1996.
(Editor) The Billie Holiday Companion: Seven Decades of Commentary, Schirmer (New York, NY), 1997.
Swingers and Crooners: The Art of Jazz Singing, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1997.
Striders to Beboppers and Beyond: The Art of Jazz Piano, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1997.
Blowing on the Changes: The Art of the Jazz Horn Players, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1997.
Straight, No Chaser: The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk, Schirmer (New York, NY), 1997.
The Ella Fitzgerald Companion, Schirmer (New York, NY), 1998.
Deep Down in Music: The Art of Jazz Bassists, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1998.
Fancy Fretwork: The Great Jazz Guitarists, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1999.
Wynton Marsalis, Schirmer (New York, NY), 1999.
Timekeepers: The Great Jazz Drummers, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1999.
Gloria Estefan: Pop Sensation, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1999.
Jim Henson, Young Puppeteer, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2000.
Native American Courtship and Marriage Traditions, Hippocrene (New York, NY), 2000.
The Golden Age of Jazz in Paris, Xlibris (New York, NY), 2000.
Carmen McRae: Miss Jazz, Billboard Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Art Blakey, Jazz Messenger, Schirmer Trade Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Sophisticated Ladies: The Great Women of Jazz, illustrated by Martin French, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Also author of other books about New York. Author of liner notes for record albums and compact discs. Correspondent for Paris magazine, Jazz Hot, 1995. Contributor of articles to magazines and newspapers, including New York Times, New York Post, Village Voice, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Jazz Times, Jazz Iz, Keyboard, CD Review, Pulse, Diversion, American Way, Spirit, American Heritage, musicplayer.com, and Down Beat.
Leslie Gourse once told CA: "I have always wanted to write, ever since I was a little girl, when I first saw a beautiful first edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales. The illustrations were so magnificent, and of course I loved the stories, and I decided that if ‘they’ made books that beautiful, I wanted to be a writer. My father collected books, and so I had many inspirations in that library.
"I began by writing poetry, and as I matured, I turned to fiction, then nonfiction, becoming interested in what was going on in the world at large. I wanted to express my observations. I particularly liked writing about people, social trends, and the arts. My work about jazz was well accepted by magazines, and that welcome led me to spend more time writing about jazz. I began to seek out book contracts. Pretty soon most of my time was devoted to writing about jazz. I have done it for all kinds of publications—music magazines, general interest publications, liner notes for albums, books for adults. And I thought it would be a wonderful idea to do books on jazz for kids."
Among Gourse's works are biographies of such jazz greats as Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughan. In Unforgettable: The Life and Mystique of Nat King Cole, Gourse starts with Cole's beginnings as a groundbreaking jazz pianist and describes his decision to pursue a more lucrative singing career, which brought him fame and popularity. "This is a well-researched and readable biography," declared Tim LaBorie in the Library Journal. Anne Larsen, writing in Kirkus Reviews, asserted: "The early jazz pages are magnetic, and Cole practically sits in the reader's lap throughout." Sassy: The Life of Sarah Vaughan similarly covers the choir-singing beginnings of Vaughan as well as her varied musical career, in which she worked with such greats as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Gourse "evokes the voluptuous tone of Vaughan's signature songs," observed Leo Sacks in the New York Times Book Review, concluding that "Sassy is a deeply felt portrait."
A wide range of contemporary female jazz musicians is covered in Gourse's 1995 survey of the profession—Madame Jazz: Contemporary Women Instrumentalists. First explaining the prejudice that female jazz instrumentalists have faced in the past, Gourse goes on to describe the slow change in attitude that enables today's musicians to be a force. In addition to this historical background, Gourse profiles a number of well-known women jazz musicians as well as several newcomers. Donna Seaman related in Booklist that Gourse "brings lots of energy and knowledge" to Madame Jazz, adding that she "focuses most of her attention on the women themselves, describing their drive, confidence, and talent."
"I try to explain who jazz musicians are and what they do, whether I am writing for adults or children," Gourse once related to CA, adding: "I want people to be interested in jazz musicians as creative people and real people who have achieved a high degree of artistry in a very demanding field. And I want people to appreciate the history of the music within the context of American history."
Another of Gourse's biographical titles is her well-received Mahalia Jackson: Queen of Gospel Song. In this work, which School Library Journal contributor Tim Wadham described as a "touching, even moving, biography," Gourse examines Jackson's life from her early childhood in New Orleans through her involvement in the civil rights movement and eventual rise to fame as a gospel singer. Wadham praised the detail that informs Gourse's biography and commented: "Gourse tells the story with the passion that was Mahalia Jackson herself."
Gourse occasionally strayed from her jazz themes and profiles, such as her 1995 book The Congress, part of a series of books that provide an overview of branches of the federal government. Nevertheless, the author remained primarily a chronicler of American jazz. In her 1997 biography titled Straight, No Chaser: The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk, Gourse tells the life story of the jazz great known as the "High Priest of Bebop." The author delves into his youth, his career as a musician, and his final days as a recluse staying in the house of a patron. Known as a great composer, Monk was also extremely eccentric, even in the world of music. According to one apocryphal story, Monk was playing with a band in a club but, when it came time for his solo, he just stared off into space. When one patron complained, another commented: "Yeah, but just imagine what he was thinking." An Economist contributor called the biography "level-headed and informative, drawing on interviews with Monk's family and many associates." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the author's "poignant study focuses on the composer's personality and erratic behavior … and shows how people … believed in him." Several reviewers also commented on the author's academic referencing. For example, Sean A. Spence wrote in the British Medical Journal that "Gourse's text is closer to the life [than other texts about Monk], with well referenced quotes and clearly annotated interviews." Referring to the biography as "straightforward and traditional," Antioch Review contributor Grant Rich noted: "As an added bonus to serious jazz fans, Gourse offers a detailed sessionography."
Fancy Fretwork: The Great Jazz Guitarists and Timekeepers: The Great Jazz Drummers were both published in 1999 as part of the "Art of Jazz" series. Each book contains a "Tree" section, that is, a chronological overview of musicians and the music they played. Fancy Fretwork traces the history of jazz guitar and profiles many of its innovators and legends, including many relatively unknown artists. Timekeepers provides a similar treatment of noted jazz drummers. Roger Leslie, writing a review of both books in Booklist, noted that the author "paints a raw, not always flattering picture of the artists."
Gourse's biography Wynton Marsalis was called "a charitable but clear-eyed history of the trumpeter" by Michael E. Ross in the New York Times Book Review. The author traces Marsalis's life from a youth playing funk music in New Orleans to his transition to jazz. Exploring Marsalis's dismissal of jazz fusion, she also recounts his feud with fusion great Miles Davis. In ad- dition, Gourse writes of his personal life as a father and devoted sibling to an autistic brother. The book includes a comprehensive listing of Web sites, videos, and books concerning Marsalis. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the author "traces Marsalis's controversies … and musical development in detail." Writing in the School Library Journal, Linda Zoppa referred to Wynton Marsalis as "a well-researched title that will enhance any collection."
Sophisticated Ladies: The Great Women of Jazz, illustrated by Martin French, was published in 2007, two years after Gourse's death. The author provides short profiles of fourteen artists, from jazz legend Bessie Smith to modern jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted the similarities in the singers' life stories, including "growing up in grinding poverty, discovering music early, … [and] abusive relationships, alcohol and drugs." In addition to the similarities in life experiences of the singers, Gourse examines their distinctive singing styles and varied contributions to jazz. Bill Ott, writing in Booklist, called Sophisticated Ladies an "attractive and informative overview of female jazz singers." School Library Journal contributor Joyce Adams Burner noted that the author's "descriptions of their individual styles are particularly apt."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Gourse, Leslie, Straight, No Chaser: The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk, Schirmer (New York, NY), 1997.
Antioch Review, summer, 1998, Grant Rich, review of Straight, No Chaser.
Black Enterprise, August, 1987, David Lionel Smith, review of Every Day: The Story of Joe Williams, p. 37.
Black Issues Book Review, May, 2000, review of Wynton Marsalis, p. 25.
Booklist, January 1, 1995, Donna Seaman, review of Madame Jazz: Contemporary Women Instrumentalists, pp. 791, 811; January 1, 1995, Merri Monks, review of Dizzy Gillespie and the Birth of Bebop, p. 811; March 1, 1995, Ilene Cooper, review of The Congress, p. 1236; December 15, 1996, review of Dizzy Gillespie and the Birth of Bebop, p. 716; November 15, 1999, Roger Leslie, review of Fancy Fretwork: The Great Jazz Guitarists; November 15, 1999, Roger Leslie, review of Timekeepers: The Great Jazz Drummers, p. 611; December 15, 2006, Bill Ott, review of Sophisticated Ladies: The Great Women of Jazz, p. 44.
Book Report, May-June, 1998, Jane Cabaya, review of Blowing on the Changes: The Art of the Jazz Horn Players, p. 50; November-December, 1998, Patricia Bender, review of Deep Down in Music: The Art of Jazz Bassists, p. 75.
British Medical Journal, October 24, 1998, Sean A. Spence, review of Straight, No Chaser, p. 1163.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 2007, Elizabeth Bush, review of Sophisticated Ladies, p. 251.
Choice, November, 2001, C.M. Weisenberg, review of Carmen McRae: Miss Jazz, p. 520.
Down Beat, August, 1984, Frankie Nemko, review of Louis' Children: American Jazz Singers, p. 72; May, 1986, Chip Deffaa, review of Every Day, p. 50.
Economist, April 11, 1998, review of Straight, No Chaser, p. 68.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1991, Anne Larsen, review of Unforgettable: The Life and Mystique of Nat King Cole, p. 581; December 1, 2006, review of Sophisticated Ladies, p. 1220.
Library Journal, February 1, 1984, review of Louis' Children, p. 182; July, 1991, Tim LaBorie, review of Unforgettable, p. 98.
Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1984, Leonard Feather, review of Louis' Children, p. 9.
New York Times, April 8, 1984, Stephen Holden, review of Louis' Children, p. 21.
New York Times Book Review, April 8, 1984, Stephen Holden, review of Louis' Children, p. 21; January 24, 1993, Leo Sacks, review of Sassy: The Life of Sarah Vaughan, p. 16; November, 1999, Michael E. Ross, review of Wynton Marsalis.
Publishers Weekly, November 25, 1983, review of Louis' Children, p. 60; July 12, 1985, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Every Day, p. 41; August 22, 1986, review of Every Day, p. 91; September 22, 1997, review of Straight, No Chaser, p. 65.
School Library Journal, March, 1995, Robin Works Davis, review of Dizzy Gillespie and the Birth of Be-bop, p. 230; October, 1995, Robin Works Davis, review of Aretha Franklin: Lady Soul, p. 163; March, 1995, Robin Works Davis, review of Dizzy Gillespie and the Birth of Bebop, p. 230; October, 1995, Robin Works Davis, review of Aretha Franklin, p. 163; August, 1996, Tim Wadham, review of Mahalia Jackson: Queen of Gospel Song, p. 170; June, 1997, Tim Wadham, review of Swingers and Crooners: The Art of Jazz Singing, p. 134; July, 1997, Jack Forman, review of Striders to Beboppers and Beyond: The Art of Jazz Piano, p. 104; November, 1997, Renee Steinberg, review of Blowing on the Changes, p. 128; July, 1998, Allison Trent Bernstein, review of Deep Down in Music, p. 106; December, 1999, Linda Zoppa, reviews of Fancy Fretwork and Timekeepers, p. 150; April, 2000, Linda Zoppa, review of Wynton Marsalis, p. 148; May, 2007, Joyce Adams Burner, review of Sophisticated Ladies, p. 154.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1984, review of Louis' Children, p. 273; February, 1996, review of Aretha Franklin, p. 394; June, 2007, Mary E. Heslin, review of Sophisticated Ladies, p. 172.
Washington Post, May 13, 1984, Frank Tirro, review of Louis' Children, p. 4.
Allaboutjazz.com,http://www.allaboutjazz.com/ (January 2, 2005), "Leslie Gourse, Jazz Author Dies at 65."