Real Influences Behind Fictional Hot Time Swingers

The novel Half-Blood Blues explores the plight of black musicians living in Germany on the cusp of World War II. Guest host Jacki Lyden takes listeners on a musical journey through some of the sounds that might have been heard in the fictional clubs of Esi Edugyen's award-winning novel.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

As we mentioned, in Esi Edugyan's novel, "Half-Blood Blues," real life jazz stars like Louis Armstrong, Bill Coleman and Josephine Baker emerged in small hotels, around corners, sitting in on sets. That got us to thinking what life might have been like for the fictional hot time jazz swingers as they were in hiding in Berlin and Paris, what they listened to at the beginning of World War II.

In the novel, the fictional trumpeter Hieronymus Falk was sent to cut a record of Paris with Louis Armstrong before the Nazis marched in. Perhaps the real-life Louis Armstrong could have set the mood with "I Double Dare You."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DOUBLE DARE YOU")

LEWIS ARMSTRONG: (Singing) I double dare you to sit over here. I double dare you to lend me your ear. Take off your high hat and let's get friendly. Don't be a scaredy cat, say whaddaya care, can'tcha take a dare? I double dare you to kiss me and then. I double dare you to kiss me again. And if that look in your eyes means what I'm thinkin' of, I double dare you to fall in love with me. Hot mama, I double dare you.

LYDEN: The fictional Hot Times Swingers were also wowed by the real-life Josephine Baker, the African-American burlesque chanteuse. In real life, she made the song "J'ai Deux Amours" an international hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "J'AI DEUX AMOURS")

JOSEPHINE BAKER: (Singing in French)

LYDEN: In this song, Baker sings of her two great loves: her country and Paris. Perhaps Hiero and Sid might have encountered Josephine Baker walking down the streets of Paris with her pet cheetah, Chiquita, before an evening's performance at the Folies-Bergere.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYDEN: Another artist that novelist Esi Edugyan drew inspiration from was Bill Coleman. It's easy to hear why. Like her fictional Hieronymus Falk, Coleman was a master of the horn. He was born in Paris - Paris, Kentucky. But he ended up leaving the States in the mid-1930s for France. He never gained the fame that Louis Armstrong would, but Coleman's distinctive lyrical style and his consistent recording career helped him endure the test of time. According to Esi Edugyan, these were the real-life jazz heroes who created the musical backdrop of her narrative for the novel "Half-Blood Blues."

And that's our program today. I'm Jacki Lyden and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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