The Old Familiar Places

Jazz novel traces the life of a young English pianist and illustrates the emotional support offered by music in general and jazz in particular


The significance of jazz in this novel was sufficient for it to be launched earlier this year in Ronnie Scott’s. That club unsurprisingly features in the book, together with such real-life musicians as Tommy Flanagan, Donald Byrd, Bobby Durham, Joe Pass and, near the beginning, Rolling Stone and jazz-loving drummer, the late Charlie Watts.

A major contribution to the quality of the book, which I read through without a break, is the narrative in the first person and the present tense. We are directly involved in the thoughts and experiences of a young English pianist, Sonny Jackson, as he discovers the pleasures of playing jazz. He also discovers other pleasures in the company of an older woman, who remains a significant friend when their early liaison is over. Such a friend, in fact, that she becomes godmother to his daughter in a closing chapter which leaps decades into the future.

The main narrative, with chapters dated as if from a diary, runs from a funeral in 1975 to the time in 1979 when Sonny is accepted for the jazz course at Juilliard in the USA. Naturally this acceptance is not straightforward and involves a certain amount of tension, as do his relationships with his father, the older woman mentioned above and a married piano teacher with whom he becomes involved emotionally.

Emotions in fact are near to the surface in much of this book, in relation to both people and music. Tears are shed but smiles and laughter abound as well and the pleasure and support that can be given by music in general and jazz in particular are made very clear. It’s an unusual book and one I found very enjoyable.

The Old Familiar Places by Sam Emony. Brown Dog Books, pb, 375pp. ISBN-978-1-83952-505-6