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CY LAURIE AUTOBIOGRAPHY – LUCKY OL’ ME.  Pb, 258pp; b/w and colour photos, £12 + £2 p and p.  Sun-streamer Publications; ISBN 0-9550131-0-0.  Available from Lake Records, PO Box 40, Workington, Cumbria CA14 3GJ, www.fellside.com.

By the mid-1950s with his powerful intensely, expressive playing, and with characteristic serious-minded application and resolve, Cy had become a major figure on the British jazz scene, coining his well known sobriquet “blue-hot” to describe the classic black jazz of the 1920s on which he based his style.  By 1957 his own major jazz club at Gt. Windmill St. in London’s West End opened every night of the week, with a membership of thousands, and Cy was something of a celebrity, leading a very successful and busy professional band.  Traditional jazz continued to boom so there was widespread bewilderment and multiple rumours when, in 1960, Cy suddenly disappeared completely from the jazz scene.  Cy’s memoirs, subtitled “A Jazzman’s Quest for Meaning” at last explains all.  His friendly, warm and courteous demeanour was the outer manifestation adopted by a very serious minded and caring man, whose complex personality held contrasting elements; unusual self control and self confidence dogged by a nagging, doubting restlessness, professional pride tempered with instinctive humility. Cy’s life long quest for a deeper meaning to our existence, and how best to live, is explained with sometimes painful honesty as he tells of his struggles for enlightenment in the realms of meditation, yoga, and studies in new age philosophy.  As with Artie Shaw, success with the clarinet was not enough.  So in 1960, when Cy had met a visiting Indian Yogi, he cut all ties and left for India to pursue his studies.  From then on jazz was to play second fiddle to Cy’s broader interests and it would be eight years before he was to play again.

In the first part of the book, telling of Cy’s childhood and burgeoning career in jazz, an interesting and valuable picture is built up of the London Traditional jazz scene up to 1960, and of the musicians and clubs involved.  A lengthy section then follows dealing with studies and group activities back in England, which he explains at length, this being by now his major interest.  Those readers whose interest in Cy is solely as a jazz musician may find part of this section heavy going.  After 1968, with the formation of his re-union band, Cy remained active again in jazz (whilst maintaining his studies), and writer of a busy schedule of quest appearances and touring stage-shows, finally retiring for health reasons in 1999, and passing on in 2002.  His devoted long-time partner Veronica has now published his autobiography.  This is not a “literary” work, in terms of sophisticated writing styles; Cy’s thoughts are set down in very plain, direct English.  A good deal is not about jazz, but offers – as Cy would certainly hope – much food for thought.  As a jazz book, it gives a thorough and interesting account of the struggles and achievements of one of the major post-war figures in British jazz, a gentle-natured and caring man with deeply held principles.  The book is attractively produced, with many black and white and colour photographs and memorabilia.

Hugh Rainey.

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