Book Review: Texas Book Festival Reviews

Little known female jazz trombone player gets her due – with children

Texas Book Festival Reviews

No rhyme, but copious reason, Little Melba & Her Big Trombone doesn't read like kiddie lit. Melba Liston (1926-99) played, wrote, and arranged in a long, mostly unheralded career that included sharing bandstands with Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Quincy Jones, Randy Weston, Gerald Wilson, and more. Rather than dusting off that which barely rates a footnote in the great book of jazz, this first retelling of her life in the form of a children's book takes love at first sight ("Melba eyes a long, funny-looking horn") and gives it a happy, if abrupt, ending. A law professor and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations at the University of Florida, author Katheryn Russell-Brown writes in lawyer-ese: blunt prose. Pity, because when she indulges in tot tantalization, her gifts are obvious: "The thrum-thrum of a drum, the ping-pang of a piano." Meanwhile, Frank Morrison's illustrations hang like oils in a Kansas City jazz grotto. Even so, the true efficacy of Little Melba & Her Big Trombone involves its obvious $8.99 follow-up. That's the cost of Liston's sole available recording as a bandleader, 1959's Melba Liston & Her 'Bones, as an Amazon download. Swift, sly, swinging: Liston blows dance music as diaphanous as the age of jazz. (Sat., Oct. 17, 11am, Children's Read Me a Story Tent at 10th & Congress)

Little Melba & Her Big Trombone

by Katheryn Russell-Brown/illustrations by Frank Morrison
Lee & Low Books Inc., 40 pp., $18.95

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Melba Liston, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Randy Weston, Texas Book Festival 2015

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