In Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela (Three Rivers; paperback, $14.95), the great jazz trumpeter tells his life story, with help from D. Michael Cheers. Masekela's roots go back to the indigenous aristocracy of South Africa, where he was raised mostly by his grandmother. He recalls having neglected the errands he should have been running for her in favor of another pursuit: "I spent many an hour leaning against the fence of someone's home, listening to their records," which they played on gramophones at high volume. "The music of Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey, who were all the kings of the swing era, had a very heavy influence on South Africa's big bands of that time," and indeed "the urban African-American lifestyle has never ceased to influence African urban life."
Now in his late sixties, Masekela has had his run-ins with drink and drugs and promiscuity. During his last drying-out period in 1997-98, he recalls, he was allowed to play his trumpet on weekends -- the first time he did so while sober since he was 16 years old. Masekela spent much of his adult life in the United States, but since the end of apartheid in 1994, he has been living in his homeland again, where he reflects on his sons' reaction to the wild life led by him and his friend Stewart Levine: "It warms my heart to know that they will not raise as much hell as [we] did when we were their age. . . . they look at us as if to say, 'What a couple of nuts you were.' "
-- Dennis Drabelle