To my shame, I’d never heard of Brian before. This can partly be explained by the fact that, although he has covered film and crime writing throughout his career, his beat has, in main, been the world of Jazz and, whilst I’ve dipped a proverbial toe in the waters of The Blues as I’ve gotten older, Jazz has always seemed a step too far for me. That said, On The Snap has piqued my curiosity to the degree that I’m listening to something called New Orleans Suite by Duke Ellington as I type this and it’s not that bad, it fits the moment.
Case has interviewed all the heavyweights of the Jazz world, people even someone with as rudimentary an awareness of the scene as I will be at least aware of; the likes of the aforementioned Duke Ellington, Chet Baker and Art Blakey as well as actors of the caliber of Al Pacino, Richard Harris, Michael Caine and Jack Nicholson. He’s also managed to blag an interview with Norman Mailer (he asked nicely), they appear to have gotten on well, and he recounts a meeting with James Ellroy which, if I’m honest, unnerved me more than a little.
His writing style smacks of America. I like it. Whilst there are those who champion the great Irish writers as masters of the English language I’ve always felt more at home with the Yanks. I’d hazard a guess Case does too. His sentences read fresh and young, his vocabulary easy to understand. The beauty of his writing lies in its simplicity (only you’d be a fool to think writing with such clarity is easy). With that in mind, it’s fair to say I was more than a little surprised to learn then that he was actually born in Deptford.
Here’s an example of his style – while recounting a conversation with War Photographer Don McCullin, who did the stills for the film Hamburger Hill, Case describes McCullin’s upbringing as “…poorer than mine, fewer rooms, more in the bed, that type of thing.” No big words but we’re left with a vividly clear picture of hardship. To me that’s good, really good, writing.
There are great anecdotes about Ian Dury, who Case liked immensely and, it transpires, was himself a bit of a Jazz nut. Apparently Peter Blake would drop by and paint or sketch Dury and Case would try purloin Blake’s work, feigning ignorance of Blake’s credentials and the potential value of a Blake original. He paints an interesting picture of Gore Vidal who pretended to be his own butler. He recalls passing out drunk on the carpet while attempting to interview Dexter Gordon who he later accompanied to New York’s Rikers Island Correctional Facility for a gig. It wasn’t the first time Gordon had passed through the gates of Rikers.
Others may disagree but for me it’s not the celebrities Case has encountered over the years that are the stars of this book, it’s Case’s writing. My one criticism of On The Snap is it’s a wafer thin volume. It’s cliché to say a book left you wanting more but this one really did.
On The Snap is published by the good people at http://www.caughtbytheriver.net/
It is beautifully illustrated by Joseph Ciardiello, a great artist who does the portraits in The New York Times Book Review.
You can read an excerpt from On The Snap here -http://sabotagetimes.com/tv-film/interviewing-al-pacino-with-a-pocket-full-of-live-ammo