Blues Dancing

While I support Opal Moore's right to her opinion of Blues Dancing (Book World, Dec. 12) by Diane McKinney-Whetstone, I do believe that accuracy in reporting is essential. There are two glaring errors in Moore's critique. The first is her statement that the characters Verdi and Johnson went to a "good white state university." The University of Pennsylvania, the Ivy League private school located in Philadelphia, is not a state university. Second, Verdi is the principal of a school for special needs children, not "a special needs counselor for children."

The third is a failure to comprehend human behavior. Moore intimates that Verdi's cousin Kit, her Aunt Posie and a friend, Tower, all know of Johnson's addiction to drugs, yet fail to tell her. But the author makes clear, as the story unfolds, that these three people are in denial about Johnson's addiction. There is no indication from the narrator that they make a conscious decision to ignore Johnson's need for help or Verdi's need to know. They don't know that they know.

Finally, I am confused by Moore's conclusion that "the writer will, like the autistic child Verdi works with, find and accept the difficulty and complexity of her own voice." First, I am confused by the analogy to the autistic child since such children lack the capacity to manipulate language and have extremely attenuated communication skills. Second, the concluding sentence of her review, which is quite critical, contradicts her praise in the opening paragraph. She starts, "Her clean, well-shaped, rhythmic prose revealed a sophisticated, confident writer teasing out her subject . . . "

I agree. Whetstone is an exceptional writer. The beauty of Blues Dancing, Tumbling and Tempest Rising is that Whetstone's exquisite handling of the various subtexts allows the reader to relate to the characters on at least three levels -- superficial, gut and spiritual. Indeed that is the hallmark of a great writer, and Whetstone is well on her way.

-- K. BRISBANE, Washington, D.C.

Opal Moore replies:

K. Brisbane seems outraged that I failed to credit the African-American characters in Blues Dancing with having been admitted to a "private ivy league" institution, or note that Verdi is the principal of her school rather than a counselor. The neglect of details is a hazard, like overlooking two sequins on a busy garment.

Brisbane writes as a fan. I write in hopes that McKinney-Whetstone will more fully employ her talent and surpass the accomplishment of her first novel. It is true that my review does not reiterate the sentiments of reviewers in other venues. I simply disagree.

All That Jazz

Having followed jazz avidly from the age of 7 and being involved professionally withit since 1951, I was insulted when Jonathan Yardley, in reviewing my and Leonard Feather's The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz (Book World, Dec. 5), described it as "more than 700 pages of miniature biographies that may or may not be accurate -- what reviewer could check line by line?"

Even if he had checked every line, how would he know whether it was accurate or not? We know that he didn't try to check very deep because he was too busy measuring the lengths of certain entries. First he complains that Feathers's own biography is as long as John Lewis's and longer than Sir Roger Hannah's. He then adds that there are no entries for Whitney Balliet, Gary Giddins, Nat Hentoff and Hughes (sic) Panassie. It just so happens that none of these estimable men functioned as a professional musician. While Feather's piano playing never caused any sleepless nights for Art Tatum, he did write many pieces, some of them quite attractive and recorded by the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan and Phil Woods.

Yardley further grouses that the biography of Leonard's daughter, vocalist-songwriter Lorraine Feather, is almost as long as Anita O'Day's. Yardley just doesn't get it. It's not about length. Length can be overrated even in basketball (as in Manute Bol vs. Gheorge Murestan). It's about content. Proof is in Yardley's pudding of a review. It's not lengthy but wastes more than half its limited space in carping, myopically, about insignificant matters.

-- IRA GITLER, New York

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