Book Review-The Last Jazz Band by Charles Boeckman

Title: The Last Jazz Band

Author: Charles Boeckman

Format: Paperback Edition by Jazztex Publishing Company

Published: 2011

jazzband

Charles Boeckman recently passed away, less than a month from the day I’m writing this review. For those who are not familiar with Mister Boeckman, he was 94 when he passed and had been writing since the 1930s, beginning in Pulp Magazines and moving to the digest magazines of the 1950s and on into books and collections, right up until last year when Pro Se Productions published his last fiction work.  Known largely as a writer of mysteries, crime stories, and westerns, Mister Boeckman was also quite well known as a jazz musician and band leader in Texas.  As a matter of fact, much of Boeckman’s fiction blended the genres of mystery and crime with his love for jazz, many of his characters actually being musicians of some type, everyone from Johnny Nickle who played the trumpet on a cursed song to Big Lip who solved a murder out of loyalty to a friend.

The Last Jazz Band in a way can be seen as autobiographical fiction to a point as it focuses on a Jazz band that forms shortly after World War II in Corpus Christi, Texas, Boeckman’s hometown.  Boeckman’s own life experiences definitely color every word, you can almost hear every peal of laughter and every note of music as the story of Charlie Niel unfolds. Neil, a veteran of the Second World War, returns home to find his wife has died. Without a life now, he returns to the one he’d known before flying dangerous missions overseas and reconnects with his old buddy, Ted Riley, a rounder of drinker who blows a mean tenor sax.  Along with Skinny Lang, a bass player, and Cemetery Wilson, the piano player who owns the car that will be their transportation, Niel and Riley put a combo together that really sings. And that’s just where the fun, pathos, and adventure starts.

The Last Jazz Band is a book that actually makes me think a lot of M*A*S*H, the Richard Hooker books, not the movie or tv series.  The way these two works are similar is the almost real life, accidental way that the characters in both come together and how they blend in unexpected, yet heart touching ways.  Boeckman not only nails the jazz musician aspects of these characters, but he really captures the emotional weight that their own individual lives leave them with and how their time in the band both relieves and adds to what they carry.

The only true negative to The Last Jazz Band is the feeling that Boeckman could have gone even further.  The disconnected way the story is told, sort of how real life happens, is engaging, but it also feels like that just about when the characters are on the verge of blossoming or collapsing, when it seems we are just about to get some really neat insight, Boeckman moves on to the next episode in their lives.  It is usually a desire of a reader to be left wanting more, but there were too many places in The Last Jazz Band where that feeling was one of emptiness, not anticipation.

Charles Boeckman’s The Last Jazz Band deserves four out of five pages. Even if you’re not a fan of jazz, there is something in this book for every person who has ever had that one friend that might not be the best person, but was the best friend you could have at the moment.  Combine that with Boeckman’s love for Jazz almost rising off the page and this is a winner.

The Last Jazz Band gets Five out of Six bullets in my gun as well.  Although I wish there’d been a bit more meat on the bone, it delivers fairly well as it is.

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