Tell me what you think.

Okay, friends and strangers, I could use your feedback.

Here’s a short, working synopsis of my book in progress. I invite your input (on content, style, or any nitpicking details) in the comment section below. To chime in, you need zero prior knowledge of the subject matter, just an honest gut reaction. I’d like to know what works for you here and what doesn’t, and what could work better—anything you think might better persuade a person to pick up and read this book.

Thanks for taking a look.


Magic City Bounce and Swing tells the story of one of American music’s most essential unsung communities.

In an era of pervasive segregation, African American educators in Birmingham, Alabama, created a pioneering high school music program that offered students a life outside the local mills and mines. After graduation, students trained under John T. “Fess” Whatley and other Birmingham bandmasters fanned out all over the country, joining the nation’s top jazz bands. They backed Bessie Smith on stage and on record and populated the bands of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong and others. The Erskine Hawkins Orchestra, an ensemble full of Birmingham players, became one of the swing era’s most popular and enduring dance bands, and their biggest hit—“Tuxedo Junction,” a tribute to their hometown scene—became an American anthem. When the country went to war, other Birmingham jazzmen filled the ranks of the Army, Navy, and Air Force bands that provided a soundtrack for the cause.

Often making their mark from the sidelines or behind the scenes—as composers and arrangers, sidemen, businessmen, mentors and teachers—Birmingham musicians exerted a broad influence on the popular culture of the nation. Drummer Jo Jones pioneered the shimmering, propulsive rhythm that came to define the sound of swing. Bandleader Teddy Hill helped launch the careers of some of the giants of modern jazz and, as manager of Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, became a catalyst for the bebop revolution. Sun Ra—one of American music’s most inventive, iconoclastic originals—pushed the jazz tradition to its furthest-out, most exploratory fringes, communicating a new music for the cosmos. Other players remained in Birmingham, shaping the local scene and passing the tradition to new generations. The contributions of these musicians and others meant more than mere entertainment: long before Birmingham emerged as battleground in the struggle for civil rights, its homegrown jazz heroes helped set the stage, crafting a unique tradition of achievement, independence, innovation, and empowerment.

Drawing on troves of previously untapped sources—interviews, news reports, home recordings, and more—Magic City Bounce and Swing reveals, for the first time, the story of this remarkable community. Tracing the intersecting lives of its unforgettable cast of characters, the story crisscrosses an America that’s been largely forgotten: from segregated high school band rooms to the swanky gala dances of the South’s black elite, from jazz-fueled religious revivals to smoky urban night clubs, from touring vaudeville tent shows to the world’s most glittering ballrooms. What emerges is nothing less than a secret history of jazz—and a joyful exploration into the hidden roots of America’s popular culture.


That’s it. Thoughts? 

P. S. Thanks for reading (and commenting)! If you’re curious about the book above, please in the meantime check out my previous book, Doc, which was just reissued in paperback. If you’d like to see more of this blog, look for the “Follow” option at the top of this page. If you want more music-related stuff, please check out my radio show. And if you just want to say hello, just say hello!

11 thoughts on “Tell me what you think.

  1. Burgin!

    I am SO deeply excited about your upcoming work! I think that this powerful story needs to be told, and it weaves together so many important strands that form together to create the tapestry of history. I love your approach of not just focusing on the outcomes in the music, but on the process of its creation as well as the social, political and cultural context of the time period. I could see this text becoming a landmark exploration of the history of jazz, of Birmingham, of the American South, and really of our country’s artistic and cultural soul. Bravo, my friend; I can’t wait to read it!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, John, that means a lot. Those are some weighty hopes for the book. I’ll do my best with it! It’s certainly a powerful story, and I’m working to do as much justice to it as I can.


  2. Great title for the book! It is very descriptive, rhythmic, and alive! Your summary is a tantalizing, succinct description of what lies ahead in the book’s pages and draws the reader to want to know more. Congratulations! This is a story that needs to be told, and you are the guy to do it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Not only did I learn something new in this brief synopsis, but I also feel that this book will be my wished-for antidote to “The Green Book”‘s portrayal of “Alabama’s music scene”. Obviously whites were in control of segregated, public presentations of music, but Alabama as a fertile womb birthed so much musical talent that directly impacted the rest of the country and that’s a story I want to know the details of…And through your telling to boot!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lillis! It really is a great, important story. A huge part of the story, too, are the places where black people did control public presentations of their own music, in Birmingham and across the South — places like Bob’s Savoy, the Grand Terrace, the Colored Masonic Temple, the Famous and Frolic and Hippodrome (and other!) Theaters — and that’s just to name a short few, here in B’ham! There’s a lot of road-tripping in this book, too.


Comments are closed.