Jazz: Bert Kelly

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Fri Sep 12 16:48:56 UTC 2003

According Peter Tamony's article in JEMF Q (1981) on the history of the word "jazz", Bert Kelly, the bandleader who figures in Gerry Cohen's recent summary of material on the work -- he played in San Francisco with Art Hickman in 1914, then went to Chicago in late 1914 with a band that came to be called a "jazz band" -- published an autobiography called "I Created Jazz" through Vantage, the notorious vanity press.

The book isn't in RLIN or WorldCat.  I have also tried searching ABEBooks for it.  I have just spent a deal of time in the Proquest Hist Newspapers file trying to find a notice of this book in the weekly advertisements that Vantage placed in the NYTimes and have found nothing.  It also seems that though Kelly became a more-or-less prominent NYC businessman, he did not get an obit in the Times or any mention while he was alive.

Tamony and Kelly had correspondence, so Tamony's information ought to be correct?

What happens to Vantage books?  Presumably the press produced a hundred copies or so or each title, most of which would have wound up in the hands of the author, sooner or later.  As Thoreau said of Walden, I have a library of 750 books, 675 of which I wrote myself (quoted from memory).  I suppose that the author would pretty soon run out of friends who would be willing to take a copy, suitably autographed -- maybe would run out of friends entirely.  Maybe the 25 or 50 copies the author died owning would wind up in the recycling bin, but surely some got into used book stores?  But as a test, I checked ABEBooks for 6 titles from various Vantage ads, and found only 2 of them: P. A. Alf's The Magic Power of Making Money and a book of essays called Poetaster's Scrapbook are available, 2 copies each.  I didn't find Y. C. Sturgis' Oh, My Son, Forgive Me, or Kandy Ashley's Teddy Bears, Tears and something else, I didn't copy the full title -- the life story of a nursery school teac
her -- or Marjorie M. Booker's To Hell with Male Chauvinism, or Fleming Martin's Despair in a Creole Garden.  Where'd they all go?  Personal narratives by women are all the rage these days in the academy, so Kandy's book would be highly relevant.  Anyway, wherever these books are, there we will find Kelly's book too, I suppose.

Speaking of personal narratives, I had forgotten to note the author and title of the life story of a driver-ed teacher and so couldn't look for it in ABE.  But it was by a man, and so of no academic interest.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

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