This is the book we have been waiting for since 1949. The glorious and sad life and times of Bunk Johnson as told by the two most competent persons to tell his story, Mike Hazeldine and Barry Martyn. As most of you know Mike, a distinguished member of our society, really is a New Orleans Jazz expert, editor of New Orleans Music and Barry besides his splendid New Orleans style drummlng is a long time associate of the George H. Buck Jr. record and book publishing enterprises.
On 276 pages with lots of excellent photos Mike and Barry take us along with Bunk from the late eighteenhundreds until his death in New Iberia In 1949. The main part of the book is written by Mike and deals with Bunk's rediscovery from the late 30's and on. Here we can follow Bunk almost day by day from the frequent correspondence that passed between Bunk, Bill Russel, Gene Williams, Bill Colburn, Dave Stuart, Wynne Paris, David Bell and others. They really could write letters in those days. And keep them too.
This way we are taken on an amazing journey with Bunk from New Iberia to New Orleans to San Francisco to Boston to New York and back to New Iberia.
The correspondence gives a fascinating and Iiving picture of the man behind the myth. Bunk certainly was an extremely complex person. Although proud and confident, always quick to exploit hts benefactors, he could yet be hurt by the slightest criticism or when he felt deserted by his friends. Sometimes creating the greatest music ever heard in this line of business and sometimes not even showing up at an agreed dance, concert or recording session. Sometimes thrilling the audiences like the Pied Piper and sometimes falling asleep on the stage. Adored by some of his fellow musicians and loathed by others. Worshipped almost like a God by some jazz fans and considered a fake by others not knowing better.
Mike gives us the whole picture, both the bright side and the dark side. And for that we shall be grateful. Maybe Mike's portrait of the man will enable us to appreciatie and interpret the wonderful world of Bunk's music even more.
Barry's shorter but equally important parts of the book cover Bunk's early wandering years, where we find almost no written documentation at all, and his last trip to New York. The sources are Barry's interviews since 1959 with people who knew Bunk first hand. Barry has also compiled the CD that accompanies the book. The playing time is almost an hour and here we find Bunk's AM talking records, some unissued AM recordings (AM 205, AM 844, AM 864), recordings with the Yerba Buena boys, Louis Armstrong, Doc Evans, Wild Bill Davidson and Don Ewell to name a few. A real treasury of unique Bunk material.
Included in the book are also a reprint from Jazz Quarterly - Fall 1942, Bunk Johnson by Bill Russel, and an interview with William Wagner from October 1993, "Bunk and my brother". As a matter of fact Bills younger brother, also a distinguished member of our society, met Bunk in person before Bill himself did. On a family trip to New Orleans in the summer of 1940 William made a short visit to Bunk In New Iberia.
To sum it up. Song Of The Wanderer is a real must for anyone with the slightest interest In Bunk Johnson and the New Orleans Revival. To Mike and Barry I can only take off my hat and say what a great job you have done, guys. A real piece of love, art and understanding. If you already have got Mlke Hazeldine's previous book from Jazzology Press, Bill Russel's American Music, and think that's enough, it certainly isn't. Song Of The Wanderer doesn't deal with the AM recording sessions, so the books complete each other. If you haven't got any one of them, get them both. And do it today.