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Young Man with a Horn

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  272 ratings  ·  49 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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3.86  · 
Rating details
 ·  272 ratings  ·  49 reviews

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Dec 10, 2014 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
Mar 14, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa
Non sono proprio tre stelle. Mi aspettavo più atmosfera jazzistica, mentre é incentrato solo sulla storia personale, di formazione più che altro, di Rick Martin.
Nov 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Dorothy Baker's first novel follows the short life of Rick Martin, a virtuoso jazz musician at a time when jazz was not taken seriously. Rick Martin is white, but most of his friend and fellow musicians are black: Martin intuitively understand that black musicians play the best and most innovative jazz, and this allows him to move beyond the prejudices and racism of the 1920s. The novel is narrated by an unnamed man, a friend and admirer of Rick, although the focus is exclusively on Rick's life. ...more
Nicholas During
Nov 02, 2012 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
Dec 03, 2012 rated it liked it

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
Come Musica
Raggiungere quella nota, simbolo della perfezione, una nota che non esiste, che non può essere suonata con la tromba. Rick Martin si avvicina così al burrone, prima dello schianto finale.
Una vita brillante, con un talento, che lo conduce alla deriva.
Daniel Polansky
Hoo! Excellent! Wait, this is the same Baker who wrote the likewise excellent but otherwise in tone, structure, character and story entirely dissimilar Cassandra at the Wedding? Weird! Weird world! You haven’t even written one stellar novel, and she wrote two! WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?

Right, well, basically every jazz cliché was, so I gather, created in this book, so much so that later generations (this came out in 38) of Jazz aficionados were prone to look back on it with some contempt
Apr 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A beautifully written love letter to jazz music.
Lars Meyer
Feb 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Deze roman is als een dubbele espresso: mijn hart gaat er sneller van kloppen.
lucas spiro
Jan 09, 2017 rated it liked it
I had no expectations when I picked this book up. All I knew was that the back cover said it was the "first jazz novel," and that was good enough for me.

It's an odd little number, but manages to reflect the artistic striving that the jazz form embodies. It's incredibly well crafted with moments of raw humanity and feeling, but still manages to convey the idea that that Baker couldn't quite hit that high, previously unheard of note, just as her protagonist falls short of a note that everybody say
Apr 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Young Man with a Horn. The novel catapulted Baker into the literary limelight – and for many years it remained her best known work having been made into a film starring Doris Day, Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall. I read her later novel Cassandra at the Wedding (1962) a few months ago – and loved it. Cassandra at the wedding remains my favourite of the two – but Young Man with a Horn is a brilliantly assured novel, wonderfully atmospheric, it simply oozes jazz. Although not in any way biographical ...more
Apr 06, 2015 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
Nov 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Excellently written account of the life of Rick Martin, a young jazz trumpet player who is devoted to his music.

It's not easy to capture the essence of music with just the written word. It's hard to capture the atmosphere of the swing era, the banter and comradeship of the musicians for an audience that hasn't experienced it first hand. Dorothy Baker manages both in an easy and accessible style that drew me in from the first page.

The main character, Rick, dies young. We are told this in the fi
Leonard Nakamura
Dec 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What is it like to have a talent that takes you higher and higher? I am not sure Dorothy Baker exactly knew, but she does an amazing job of giving you an idea of it that seems like the real thing. Short and on point.
Apr 02, 2016 rated it it was ok
Disappointing. I didn't quite buy into the tone, and a bit hollywoodish. It could be it was just me, though.
May 04, 2014 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.
Bill FromPA
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nyrb-classics, 1930s
The voice comes at you strong, confident, individual:
What I'm going to do is write off the story of Rick Martin's life, now taht it's all over, now that Rick is washed up and gone, as they say, to his rest. (1)
Rick Martin is a white jazz trumpeter, whose meteoric career takes him to the top of his profession in New York City leading to a precipitous and somewhat enigmatic fall, as Martin walks away from his headlining job with a major band.
And that split a combination that had seemed as solid
Pop Bop
Jun 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
Reaching for That Pure Unattainable Note

This is an almost impossibly perfect book. If you look at the back of the dust jacket on the first edition you'll learn that "[i]n 1935 Houghton Mifflin Company inaugurated their Literary Fellowship plan to award annually the sum of $1,000... to two promising writers in need of financial assistance to bring projected books to completion". This novel was the fourth of the Fellowship books to be published. Dorothy Baker wrote only two other novels, (both wel
I picked this up (at a posh bookstore in Bangkok, of all places) simply because I had no idea that Young Man with a Horn had been a novel before it became the great 1950 Michael Curtiz/Kirk Douglas movie; besides, there are precious few novels about jazz, so when I find one I feel I have to read it. Seemed like it would be a fun little distraction. So I was hardly expecting to be gobsmacked by some of the leanest prose and incisive characterization I've read in a while.

She was wearing a raincoa
Dec 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I first read this as a kid, and committed paragraphs to heart that I can still recite. I read it again approximately every 15 years or so. Baker's style is amazing, when I read the sentences I feel like I'm eating them. I call it the best 3/4 book ever, because the ending doesn't work: it's such a strong story about an artist, that Rick should be undone by his jazz or his failure to be true to jazz--because that's what the novel is about, his total pursuit of his art--but instead Baker had him u ...more
Justin Echols
Jun 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: anglo-lit
"He thought it out without words, the way music thinks - in depths and currents that have nothing to do with linguistics. In these gracious terms he knew that there was good in the world, and tenderness, and sadness; and when it can be said of you that you know anything at all, you will know what these things are... Rick Martin walked back to the house, troubled slightly, as if he'd missed something big by a very little."

If nothing else, this story is about artists struggling with the music indu
Mar 15, 2019 rated it liked it
I worry that Young Man With a Horn’s “first jazz novel” label hurts more than it helps, perhaps relegating it to historical relic status. This is a surprisingly smart novel about not just music but race, showing how musicians both blacks and white navigated an awkward, tense social landscape in order to sit back and enjoy the pleasures of making art together.
Christopher Renberg
Jan 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nyrb, music
Very good story. Even though I have seen the movie version with Kirk Douglas, I kept picturing a quite young Frank Sinatra as Rick.
Baker seems to have really captured the drive and devotion of jazz musicians to their particular craft. The interplay between black and white musicians was also of interest to me given the time of publication (30s).
Good movie, better book.
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
The soul of the musician in the form of a novel.
Andreas Steppan
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ein toller Jazz-Roman und eine Hymne auf Lebensentwürfe abseits der Konvention.
Meine ausführliche Rezension:
Jul 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Dorothy Baker’s Cassandra at the Wedding was one of my reading highlights of 2014 and ever since then I’ve been looking forward to trying her debut, the jazz novel, Young Man with a Horn. I’m glad to say it did not disappoint, far from it. This novel is a modest triumph, finely crafted and deeply felt.

First published in 1938, Young Man was inspired by the music, but not the life, of Leon (Bix) Beiderbecke, the legendary cornetist and pianist of the Jazz Age. The novel opens with a prologue in wh
Jun 23, 2013 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
May 06, 2015 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
belva hullp
Mar 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 27, 2013 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
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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