Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Book Review: The Book of Bilk * Peter Leslie & Patrick Gwynn-Jones * MacGibbon & Kee, London * 1961

Of all the books written on the subject of jazz clarinet and jazz clarinetists, this one is probably the most absurd, entertaining, and downright ingenious. The full title of this slim, 96 page volume is The Book of Bilk: 41 Characters in Search of an Acker, the front cover featuring a photograph of a dapper Mr. Acker Bilk, in striped waistcoat and bowler hat, raising his glass in a toast to the reader. The back cover delivers blurbs from the Daily Mirror ('A huge success...')  and Francis Newton of The New Statesman, who said the contents of the volume 'Makes most open fun of tradition, of pompousness and history, while simultaneously implying the moral certainties of an older, stabler, epoch.'

I don't know how Newton arrived at such a conclusion from the book itself, or even whether the blurb was an actual quote or a fabricated part of the bizarre, satirical illusion of the book itself, but it does capture something true not only about the sketches inside, but Bilk's music as a whole. There is something ridiculous, but also something stable, unlike any art out there.

Reading the book itself like watching Monty Python, though it predates that Flying Corps by nearly a full decade, which just goes to show that no art is created in a vacuum. The Book of Bilk is comprised of literary and historical parodies from prehistoric man to the present, including (but not limited to):

Pithecanthropus Ackererctus
KingAckery VIII
Johann Sebastian Bilk
Edgar Acker Poe
Buffalo Bilk

...and more, all the way to Mr. Acker Bilk himself, descended of these esteemed forefathers (and mothers). The writing is hilarious--filled with satires of Chaucer, Longfellow, Shakespeare, and various historians).

Get one while they're still out there: it's the perfect tonic for an age of solemnified ignorance.

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