Yale University Press (Inbooks), $34.95 hb, 213 pp
One morning in late June 2008 I was seated at the breakfast table in Oriel College, Oxford, with a small group of delegates at a conference devoted to Frederick Austerlitz, when a man approached, with a bulging briefcase slung from his shoulder, and asked if he might sit down. It emerged that he had walked from Oxford Railway Station (no mean trek) in order to get to the college in time for the conference’s first session, which he was hoping to attend. Directed to one of the conference organisers, he repeated his tale, was informed he’d be welcome, and was then asked his name. ‘Carmichael,’ he said casually. ‘Hoagy Carmichael ... Junior.’
It is not often that the chit-chat of a collection of academics can be brought to a complete standstill: but it certainly was this time. Was that an angel passing overhead, humming snatches of ‘Stardust’ and ‘The Nearness of You’? And just what does this have to do with a book on Fred Astaire? Well, the conference itself was the first devoted to the life and work of that figure, born Frederick Austerlitz in 1899; and while Epstein refers a couple of times to the links between Carmichael Sr and Astaire, would that the study’s arguments and ideas had come close to the class of any of the papers presented at the conference.