To the Editors:
I’m very grateful to Adam Shatz for drawing my attention to Tom Perchard’s After Django: Making Jazz in Postwar France [NYR, July 9] and for offering, along with Perchard, a provocative and useful introduction to a neglected subject. But I was brought up short by the following grotesque sentence: “[André] Hodeir eventually gave up jazz criticism to write novels for children.” In fact, this collapses and distorts a phrase from Perchard: “From the beginning of the 1970s to his death in 2011, Hodeir would devote himself to writing novels and children’s books, often with a musical theme.”
Indeed, to account for the two or three books for children and the half-dozen or so books of fiction that Hodeir published at the end of his career, and the singular evolution and development this represented from his former jazz composing, one has to factor in not only his last collection of jazz criticism in English, The Worlds of Jazz, but also his last two major musical works, Anna Livia Plurabelle (which is discussed over five pages by Perchard, but which Shatz fails to mention) and Bitter Ending, each drawn from and built around passages from Finnegans Wake. Perchard’s assessment of all three works — in keeping with his treatment of Hodeir’s contestable theories about jazz composing and the “inessential” roles played by improvisation and the blues — is mainly negative, and Shatz’s treatment of this portion of Hodeir’s career, without reference to its literary aspects, is simply dismissive. But I would argue that as fascinating hybrids between literary and musical forms, The Worlds of Jazz is a remarkable experiment and Anna Livia Pliurabelle remains an extraordinary, beautiful, and lasting achievement. It’s a pity that both Shatz’s inadequate summary of Hodeir’s later career and Perchard’s limited treatment of it manage to elide and confuse this important legacy.