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

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Music Reviews
You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover
Wasn't That a Time: the Weavers, the Blacklist, and the Battle for the Soul of America
Once, folk singers faced jail time and worse for their political affiliations

Kevin Curtin, Dec. 21, 2018

You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover
Tori Amos's Boys for Pele
The cult of Tori Amos and how to navigate a life of writing

Rachel Rascoe, Dec. 21, 2018

More by Raoul Hernandez
Texas Platters
Grupo Fantasma
American Music Vol. VII (Record Review)

April 19, 2019

Texas Platters
Sydney Wright
Seiche (Record Review)

April 5, 2019


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

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle