"Dance of the Infidels" is an account of jazz pianist Bud Powell ( 1924-66 ) written by his friend and onetime caretaker Francis Paudras. There are a number of reasons why it makes fascinating reading ( virtually mandatory for hardcore jazz fans ); prospective readers should, however, be aware the book focuses more on Powell's personality than it spends time detailing his groundbreaking role as bebop pioneer. Then again, given the notorious and shadowy caricature with which Powell *the legend* has been saddled ( helping to perpetuate his stigmatization, even posthumously ), the focus on Powell *the person* can only be counted a blessing. Above all, this reviewer was struck by their extraordinary friendship, all the more impressive considering the trying circumstances in which they often found themselves.
Paudras makes no attempt to render events in a self-consciously hip tone nor does he attempt to analyze Powell's music in theoretical terms. If occasionally he waxes effusive, he is far from slavishly uncritical or wedded to one particular party line concerning Powell's problems. For instance, while it is well known that the pianist suffered from a brutal beating he received ( from a policeman ) in 1945, which led to physical and mental breakdowns, Paudras also relates the strained relationship Powell had with an emotionally distant father, his marital/relationship strife, the barbaric treatment at the hands of doctors and various medical "professionals" ( administering shock treatments and dangerous drugs ) and from the very beginning of his career, the whole unsavory underworld ( gangsters, club owners and mercenary agents ) atmosphere in which he plied his trade. Trials and tribulations of this nature challenged the hardiest of men; for Bud Powell, unusually sensitive, they turned out to be nothing less than catastrophic. Powell, apart from playing music ( or getting drunk ), seemed to live most fully in the retreat of his mind, a remote and often haunted place. It was therefore no small measure of mercy that Paudras entered his life, first as a fan and later as friend ( "brother", as Powell himself referred to him towards the end ), allowing the older man to reveal himself ( in tones of poignant solemnity or raucous humor ) as he had to few others.
Another virtue: the author, no neophyte, is a diehard jazz fan who knows the music and its history quite well. His inside perspective, after years of living with Powell ( 1959-64), gives evidence of a certain smiling ( but never smug ) awareness of various myths and peculiarities propagated in the jazz subculture. From a purely musical point of view, he is quite convincing in defending Bud Powell from the received wisdom many critics regurgitate to this day; lionizing his output from 1947-53 while denigrating his later work. While the recordings from 47-53 do indeed remain the gold standard, listeners should, in evaluating his later output, rely on the only evidence that really counts, *recordings*; and in using them as criteria, Powell is often found in great form ( e.g., "Live at Lausanne", "Bouncin' with Bud', etc ). Furthermore, in asking for "consistency", critics overlook the fact that Powell, as much as any musician in jazz history, took risks. In the circumstances he found himself, Powell's digital equipment may have been less than reliable but the integrity of his expression ( ultimately what matters most in music ) never dimmed. Indeed, *no* musician played with more intensity than Bud Powell.
In the future, writers will focus more extensively on Bud Powell's music; fittingly so, for such a pioneering musician. But as far as Bud Powell *the person* is concerned, it is unlikely we will ever find an account more sympathetic or revealing than that rendered by his ( now deceased ) "brother", Francis Paudras.