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Young Man with a Horn

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  133 Ratings  ·  25 Reviews
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 y ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published September 11th 2012 by NYRB Classics (first published 1938)
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New York Review Books - Classics
231st out of 410 books — 475 voters
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Classic Film Books
50th out of 291 books — 60 voters

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Community Reviews

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Dec 22, 2014 Sara rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011, 2014
I picked this up because a) Dorothy Baker and b) there were some interesting stories attached to the film adaptation; namely, the Jean Spangler disappearance, and Lauren Bacall's oft talked about role as a mad lesbian femme fatale.
What a marvelous book and so startlingly different from Cassandra at the Wedding. Take that, writing workshop art police! Even more proof that you can write about gays and jazz and alcoholism and shockingly not be gay or an alcoholic or a jazz musician, although maybe
Nicholas During
Nov 12, 2012 Nicholas During rated it really liked it
Young Man with a Horn takes a long hard look at the individual whose life is controlled around art, and then of course must suffer for it, in a very American way. What makes it good, is it acknowledges this, and even admits that writing is not necessarily the best form of art that creates a national culture. In this case, and Baker I think is saying in America's case, it is jazz.

Which is pretty cool for a reader who isn't really that in to jazz. In fact, I hadn't heard of Bix Beiderbecke before

Underrated, arguably the first Jazz novel in America ever.

Subtle, tough-minded, racially wise, and stylistically concise to the point of terse, which is kind of the problem for me. I'd have appreciated it if Baker had cut loose to describe Rick Martin and the band's cutting loose. I appreciate the power of understatement, but if you're writing about early 30's jazz, why not go all out? Make it sing on the page. Oh, write that thing!

Here's a couplea clips from the tragic, brilliant Bix Beider
Apr 15, 2015 Larry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Among this book's distinctions are that it is the very first jazz novel, as well as one of the rare novels up until then by a white author to portray black people as just people, without misspelled dialect or caricatured actions, and without trying to make a political point. It also alludes to drugs and homosexuality in a straightforward, matter-of-fact way that was revolutionary for the time.

On top of all that, it is a very good novel. A young white man from a troubled background finds friendsh
May 16, 2015 Grace rated it it was amazing
Five stars seems a little strong but I more than "really liked" this book.

A beautiful book about jazz and art in general, this book primarily won me over through the narrative voice, which was strong and unique. There was some slang and some great turns of phrase which stood out to me over and over again, but which I never bothered to underline or copy down because that would have been half the book.

Then there's the writing about the music itself, things like:

"Anybody could have understood th
May 05, 2014 Bert rated it it was amazing
Shelves: orgasmic
Full of zing, it practically comes with a gin fizz, a dingy stage and a band, it makes you feel and hear every single note of the music and the telling of it feels like you're reading scripture.
Jul 14, 2013 Stenwjohnson rated it really liked it
I’ve always been a big fan of the 1950 film “Young Man with a Horn,” the jazz melodrama starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, and Doris Day (along with the behind-the-scenes, heavily-vibratoed trumpet of Harry James). It’s an evocative, solid period entertainment with excellent music, but there’s nothing to suggest that it has a literary source or narrative underpinnings of any serious ambition. Only the performance of Hoagy Carmichael as the narrator and oracular piano player Smoke embodies a t ...more
Belva Hull-pendergrass
I have completed Young Man With a Horn by Dorothy Baker and loved the way it was written, the storyline; just everything about this book. I found it to be quite marvelous. I do think that one would possibly have to like music and understand obsessions to perhaps not be bored. Reading it is rather like listening to Miles Davis, Gorden Dexter, Chet Baker & others of their caliber. I absolutely loved it.
The storyline is about a youngster named Rick Martin, who in just passing by pawn shops and
Marilyn Di Carlo-Ames
Oct 19, 2014 Marilyn Di Carlo-Ames rated it it was amazing
Loved this book until the very end. Dorothy Baker had phenomenal insight into the world of music, particularly jazz, and fed it to us in a way that was natural to understand, but her swift ending of the book, and Rick Martin, was abrupt and untimely. It was disturbing and highly disappointing, as death is. Prior to the ending, the book was a strong read and most eloquently written. Fabulous find for an avid fan of jazz, such as myself.
Aug 02, 2014 Katlyn rated it it was amazing
The race relations presented in the book were interesting and made me curious to know more about Baker's politics, but even with concessions for the racism of the period the language was still hard to get past. Other than that it was beautifully written, capturing the depth of moments in a loose, rhythmic style without falling to loftiness.
Aug 04, 2013 Peter rated it really liked it
This book suffers from being being a first - a first novel about jazz musicians, a first about amicable, equal relations between whites and blacks (although there are echoes of Finn and N. Jim here), a first about a white protagonist learning about jazz from black mentors - and therefore fails to portray these things in a manner that we might now consider sophisticated. But there are some great scenes here, and most importantly Baker's love of Dixieland jazz is contagious. The book lets us here ...more
Feb 23, 2014 Jessica marked it as to-read
Shelves: maybe
Recommended by shelf talker at City Lights
Aug 01, 2015 Ayreon rated it liked it
Abimelech Abimelech
Dec 19, 2013 Abimelech Abimelech marked it as to-read
I read the first couple of pages of this at least ten times before realizing that ten years ago I would have liked it ten times more when things like jazz history were still new to me but now they're not and I hope the next time I get heavy back into jazz culture/etc I revisit Dorothy Baker and she proves me wrong I'm sure it's a swell book and all but I just don't give a shit about a young man or a horn fuck at the moment.
Jan 21, 2016 Verónica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel, usa, america
Jazz, Estados Unidos, anos 30, vidas intensas. Ten os mellores ingredientes que Dorothy Baker sabe como mesturar, cociñar a lume lento, e presentalo do modo máis adecuado. Desde o principio este plato cheira que alimenta mais é logo cando vai tendo sentido na boca, disfrutando cada matiz e sobrevivindo a lembranza dunha gran comida.
Aug 30, 2013 Jeffrey rated it it was amazing
A great jazz novel first published in 1938 and beautifully re-issued by the New York Review of Books and so perfectly captures that elusive feeling of jazz music - like Ondaatje does in Coming through Slaughter!
Dec 17, 2012 Ken rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The best tiong about this loosley-based-on-Bix-Beiderbeckes-life novel is that it sends you back to Bix's wonderful records. You can listen to his entire ouvre in the tome it takes to read this.
Jun 21, 2009 Kim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 06, 2013 Alastair rated it really liked it
Didn't speak to me as much as 'Cassandra at the Wedding', which I found phenomenal & phenomenally funny. Still, a very nice meditation on 20s jazz & life.
Sep 24, 2012 Corey rated it really liked it
3 1/2 stars. Interesting story about early jazz musicians, based loosely on the life of Bix Beiderbeck, told in uneven prose.
Jake M
Nov 28, 2012 Jake M is currently reading it
I love that this edition has the afterword by Gary Giddins - a major writer/thinker/critic!
Aug 29, 2010 Trudie marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Movie with same name based on this book, jazz subject matter, rec. by Pamela E.
Jan 06, 2016 Katy rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-books
Quick, interesting read. An engaging look at how music captivates.
Feb 09, 2014 Sean rated it really liked it
I enjoyed Rick's passion to push himself and his art forward. His friendship of Smoke and admiration for Jeff and Art illustrate the difficulties of working across races at a time of direct and open prejudices (in fact to a modern mind the racial epitaphs are jarring in there casual use).
Only quibble would be that end is well telegraphed and a little rushed.
Ian Donnelly
Ian Donnelly marked it as to-read
Feb 07, 2016
Elena marked it as to-read
Feb 02, 2016
Ronny added it
Jan 28, 2016
Johnathan rated it it was amazing
Jan 25, 2016
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NYRB Classics: Young Man with a Horn, by Dorothy Baker 1 6 Oct 30, 2013 09:49PM  
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Dorothy Baker (1907–1968) was born in Missoula, Montana, in 1907 and raised in California. After graduating from UCLA , she traveled in France, where she began a novel and, in 1930, married the poet Howard Baker. The couple moved back to California, and Baker completed an MA in French, later teaching at a private school. After having a few short stories published, she turned to writing full time, ...more
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