Young Man with a Horn is the NYRB Classics Book Club selection for September 2012.
Rick Martin loved music and the music loved him. He could pick up a tune so quickly that it didn’t matter to the Cotton Club boss that he was underage, or to the guys in the band that he was just a white kid. He started out in the slums of LA with nothing, and he ended up on top of the game in the speakeasies and nightclubs of New York. But while talent and drive are all you need to make it in music, they aren’t enough to make it through a life.
Dorothy Baker’s Young Man with a Horn is widely regarded as the first jazz novel, and it pulses with the music that defined an era. Baker took her inspiration from the artistry—though not the life—of legendary horn player Bix Beiderbecke, and the novel went on to be adapted into a successful movie starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, and Doris Day.
Young Man with a Horn is a great book, beautifully conceived and masterfully written. There is little else that can be said in praise of any book.
—New York Amsterdam News
Young Man with a Horn is the story of a musician, a swing trumpeter who lives only for the pounding rhythms in his blood. Yet despite its subject matter, it is not the fragment of fervid impressionism that the jazz age used to produce; despite the irrationalism of swing, the book itself is a clear-minded, informed, coldly rational study of a swing-addict.
—The New York Times
Young Man with a Horn is practically perfect. You feel, and feel deeply, the atmosphere Baker describes, the music Rick and his friends make, the fanatic devotion of artists who can’t take their music or leave it but must take it and take it hard. Between the lines Baker somehow gets a great many true things said about American life, its tempo, its elements of frustration, its unique and unquestioning vitality.
—Clifton Fadiman, The New Yorker
I first read this book when I was twelve. I loved it because it did not condescend or sugarcoat. It took me inside the music—it made me want to find an instrument and learn it.