Nov 18, 2014
"Throughout (Joan) Merrill's books, almost all of the characters, major and minor, are jazz people. There is on-going commentary on today's jazz scene and how it differs from yesterday. No preaching, just strong and well-argued opinions during realistic conversations between characters." -- Bruce Crowther, jazz writer and crime novelist
Fictional Detectives and jazz have always had a cozy, if not passionate, relationship. From TV’s Peter Gunn hanging out at Mother’s, a smoky L.A. jazz club, to literary sleuths like Harry Bosch, jazz music has been a major part of their lives. Check out this excerpt from the New York Times Sunday Book Review comments on the latest Bosch novel, Michael Connelly’s The Burning Room:
Sitting in a jazz club listening to a young woman performing a “plaintive and sad” saxophone solo of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” gives Bosch hope that “there was still a chance for him, that he could still find whatever it was he was looking for, no matter how short his time was.”
On this blog I’ve had a conversation with David Fulmer, the author whose novels set in Storyville at the turn of the century feature Creole detective Valentin St. Cyr. St. Cyr is friend and confidant to the likes of Jelly Roll Morton and Buddy Bolden, and Fulmer’s descriptions of early jazz performances are classic. There’s even a jazz musician-detective, Evan Horne, created by Bill Moody in a memorable series of mysteries, including Death of a Tenor Man and Looking for Chet Baker.
The queen of the detective-jazz milieu is Joan Merrill, whose fifth novel featuring San Francisco PI Casey McKie is entitled And All That Motive. The plot line grabs any jazz fan right away - America's number one male jazz singer, Sid Satin, is found dead in his dressing room at a jazz festival, police set their sights on Casey’s good friend, veteran jazz singer and club owner Dee Jefferson. She'd had a blow-up with Satin that afternoon and they believe her gun is the murder weapon. To remove suspicion from her singer friend, Casey sets out to find the killer.
Ms. Merrill has a lengthy and
varied career involving jazz. Joan had worked on
the jazz scene in talent management and booking, as a publicist,
and had produced radio shows for NPR’s award-winning Jazz
Profiles and PRI’s Smithsonian Productions. She also produced
CDs by jazz singers Nancy Kelly (Well, Alright!) and
Rebecca Parris (You Don’t Know Me),
wrote liner notes for CDs by the likes of Houston person, and
served as producer for a video documentary, Saying It With
Jazz. Joan is presently producer of Qué Sera! Celebrating
Doris Day, a stage show starring Kristi King that is playing
around and about the Pacific Northwest. And if all of that is not
enough, she may be the world’s number one fan of singer Carmen
McRae, and the keeper of a Carmen fansite,
I spoke with Joan about what she loves about jazz singing, who her favorites might be – hint: not too many of the “modern jazz singers” make the cut – and how she came to bring Casey McKie to life. An excerpt from the audiobook version of her novel And All That Madness, and appropriate musical selections from Ella Fitzgerald (“How High the Moon”), the “Peter Gunn Theme” from Henry Mancini; Carmen McRae (“Look at That Face”), and Doris Day (“Since I Fell For You”) accompany our conversation in Podcast 457.