A Note From the Publisher
“American Blues is a terrific collection. Evan Guilford-Blake has the rare gift of capturing the reader's imagination with the very first lines of these stories, and the characters leap off the page with all their griefs and small triumphs. The settings are gritty and grubby, yet Guilford-Blake has infused them with a tenderness that is irresistible. You'll finish the book wanting more.”
Lynne Sharon Schwartz, National Book Award nominee and author of Disturbances in the Field and The Writing on the Wall
“The characters in American Blues live in a world of bad choices and no choices. Whether a mentally disabled man explores his awakening sexuality or a middle aged woman reaches for her diminishing youth, each faces forces beyond their control, even when the force comes from within. Evan Guilford-Blake shows us a hard world, yes, but also the tender spots within it and thereby leads us into a place where we might see our shared humanity.”
Neil Ellis Orts, Writer and Performer,Author, Cary and John
Review of ‘American Blues’ in London Jazz:
This collection of five short stories from US playwright/poet/non-fiction
writer Evan Guilford-Blake focuses on people in extremis: a dying saxophonist
(‘Sonny’s Blues’), a mentally handicapped young adult and his psychopathic
brother (‘Tio’s Blues’), a victim of a racially aggravated assault
(‘Nighthawks’), an unemployed man unable to prevent his
life disintegrating (‘Animation’) and the self-deluding inhabitants of an apartment complex whose lives fatally intertwine (‘The Easy Lovin’ Blues’). Jazz provides not only the soundtrack for these lives, but also – more importantly – the emotional and psychic energy infusing them. Of most immediate interest to jazz aficionados will be the collection’s opening story, ‘Sonny’s Blues’, which fictionalises the final days of Sonny Criss, his last couple of gigs, his relationships with a topless dancer and a thinly disguised Hampton Hawes, his
[spoiler alert for those unfamiliar with Criss’s tragic end] eventual suicide while ‘Now’s the Time’ plays in the background. Although those who are allergic to what might, for (over-) simplicity’s sake, be referred to as the Geoff Dyer view of jazz musicians (doomed
geniuses and social misfits – see But Beautiful passim) may be initially suspicious, Guilford-Blake handles his material with enough sensitivity and verve (his ear for dialogue – unsurprisingly, given his track record as a playwright – fine-tuned) to allay such
The content of these stories may be uncompromisingly specific (sexual abuse, incest, sadomasochism, racist assault and murder are all unflinchingly confronted), but the humanity and tenderness with which they are imbued (jazz playing a crucial role here – ‘a great skein of notes woven into a crazy quilt of such otherwise-inexpressible beauty that it can only exist because he weaves it’) render them universally relevant and American Blues is, as a consequence, a compellingly readable evocation of a hard, unforgiving world fitfully illuminated not only by art, but also by small acts of solidarity and kindness.
Chris Parker, London Jazz
"Evan Guilford-Blake masterfully weaves a melancholy suite, which pops and crackles with the warmth of old vinyl recordings replete with hope, sorrow, life, laughter, death, love, loneliness & longing."
"American Blues" ebbs & flows like a classic LP, with a series of 5 short stories offering a soul stirring mix of passion, pain, pleasure, yearning and discord reminiscent of jazz & blue ballads by Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Clifford Brown, Monk, Bird, Miles, Mingus and others. Separate stories, each set in different decades, explore moody aspects of the American zeitgeist heard & felt throughout smoke filled clubs and well lit diners. Evan Guilford-Blake masterfully weaves a melancholy suite, which pops and crackles with the warmth of old vinyl recordings replete with hope, sorrow, life, laughter, death, love, loneliness & longing.
J. Scott Fugate, "The Jazz Evangelist"
Writing the Blues
American Blues by Evan Guilford-Blake
Reviewed by Casey Dorman
Every once in a while I make the rounds of the local music venues and bars, searching for some classic jazz or blues. I’m always disappointed. The jazz is usually something Latin and the blues is thinly disguised, or not disguised at all, rock and roll or grunge, sometimes with some rap thrown in for good measure. Earlier this year I took my search to New Orleans, which I was sure would reveal the sound I was yearning for, but it didn’t. I’d last been to the city in the early 80s and remembered open-front bars with Dixieland or barrel-house blasting from a dark interior, or solitary, ancient black men, picking their guitars and telling me about the life of the down and out. Thirty years later I might just as well have been back in LA. The music I was seeking had become a thing of the past.
So it makes sense, that, in his new collection of short stories, American Blues, Evan Guilford-Blake sets all but one of his stories at least 35 years ago. Guilford-Blake is known for his affection for noir fiction (his only novel is titled Noir(ish)). Even the collection’s one “modern” story, Animation, set in 2010 at the height of the recent recession, deals with the hopelessness of unemployment in middle-age—a suitable blues theme even without the central theme of music, which characterizes the other four stories..
I may not have found the classic blues I was looking for in New Orleans, but it resides in every page of American Blues. All of the stories are decidedly downbeat, with a gritty, noir flavor fitting the era in which each occurs. The author is at his best when using his poetic skills to describe the inner lives of his characters, such as Jimmy, the counterman in Nighthawks or Naurean in The Easy Lovin’ Blues. The plots are hardly original. Tio has enough of an urban Of Mice and Men quality to foreshadow the tragic ending. The Easy Lovin’ Blues is The Glass Menagerie transported to New York in the 60s. The familiarity of the tragic plots adds to the negative aura surrounding each story, and the reader reads them with a sense of foreboding, waiting for the final disaster to occur. Despite the unremitting moodiness of each piece, I found that the fine writing kept me reading. And after all, moodiness is what the blues is all about.