Coming to New York to launch I Feel a Song Coming On, my new biography of songwriter Jimmy McHugh, was certainly quite a contrast to the way any of my previous books has entered the world. Leaving my home in Oxford, UK, at 5.30 am for London’s Heathrow airport was an early start on the first day, and by the time I reached the Zankel Hall for Michael Feinstein’s McHugh concert that same evening, it was half past midnightâ€”British timeâ€”when the show began. I mustered some kind of coherence for an onstage interview with Michael, helped by McHugh’s grandson Jim’s excellent and witty memories of the great songsmith.
By the time I left the after show reception at the Russian Tea Room, I had been awake for 24 hours. But after a brief sleep it was time to be up bright and early for a visit to WGBO in Newark. The same studio and the same interviewer (Andrew Meyer) whom I’d met on the promo tour for my New History of Jazz in 2001. That book had originally been scheduled to be launched on 12 September 2001 with a party at the Knitting Factory. Obviously the tragic events of the previous day made that impossible, and so my tour took place in October, with a launch party at a hastily cleaned up Knitting Factory club that still looked and smelt somewhat like a Pompeii exhibit.
Obviously traveling around talking about a jazz book in those somber times was light relief for some radio and tv shows, but I remember that entire fall book tour of 2001 had an air of unreality about it.
This time any air of unreality was to do with the marvelous events that had been organized in New York to get the McHugh book going. On the Friday of my brief tour, after a couple of other short interviews and much discussion of future marketing, there was a signing at Barnes and Noble, opposite Lincoln Center. Some of my author friends had been pessimisticâ€” “You won’t get many people along,” “If anybody is there they won’t be in a book buying mood,”â€”that kind of thing. They could hardly have been more wrong. A great, friendly crowd, marvelous music from Wesla Whitfield, and a gracious interview by Tom Santopietro. And judging by the ache in my right wrist afterwards, I must have sold and signed a lot of books!
Thanks to everyone at Illinois University Press, Barnes and Noble, and Jimmy McHugh Music for making this flying visit a musical, social and commercial success!
Alyn Shipton is a jazz critic for the Times of London and a regular broadcaster on BBC Radio. He is the author of the new book I Feel a Song Coming On: The Life of Jimmy McHugh.