Al Rose has known virtually every noteworthy jazz musician of this century. For many of them he has organized concerts, composed songs that they later played or sang, and promoted their acts. He has, when called upon, bailed them out of jail, straightened out their finances, stood up for them at their weddings, and eulogized them at their funerals. He has caroused with them in bars and clubs from New Orleans to New York, from Paris to Singapore—and survived to tell the story. The result has been a lifetime of friendship with some of the music world's most engaging and rambunctious personalities. In I Remember Jazz, Rose draws on this unparallelled experience to recall, through brief but poignant vignettes, the greats and the near-greats of jazz. In a style that is always entertaining, unabashedly idiosyncratic, and frequently irreverent, he writes about Jelly Roll Morton and Bunny Berigan, Eubie Blake and Bobby Hackett, Earl Hines and Louis Armstrong, and more than fifty others.
Rose was only twenty-two when he was first introduced to Jelly Roll Morton. He quickly discovered that they had more in common than a love of music. Something of a peacock at that age, Rose was dressed in a "polychromatic, green-striped suit, pink shirt with a detachable white collar, dubonnet tie, buttonhole, and handkerchief"—and so was Jelly Roll. About Eubie Blake, Rose notes that he was not only a superb musician but also a notorious ladies' man. Rose recalls asking the noted pianist when he was ninety-seven, "How old do you have to be before the sex drive goes?" Blake's reply: "You'll have to ask someone older than me." Once in 1947, Rose was asked to assemble a group of musicians to play at a reception to be hosted by President Truman at Blair House in Washington, D.C. The musicians included Muggsy Spanier, George Brunies, Pee Wee Russell, Pops Foster, and Baby DOdds. But the hit of the evening was President Truman himself, who joined the group on the piano to play "Kansas City Kitty" and the "Missouri Waltz."
I Remember Jazz is replete with such amusing and affectionate anecdotes—vignettes that will delight all fans of the music. Al Rose does indeed remember jazz. And for that we can all be grateful.