Little Melba and Her Big Trombone
By School Library Journal
Music lovers will enjoy this picture-book biography of Melba Liston (1926-1999), child prodigy and virtuoso trombonist who collaborated with most 20th century jazz greats. An excellent match of breezy text and dynamic illustrations tells an exhilarating story. Always in tune with music, seven-year-old Melba chose her first instrument from Joe’s Music Truck. Self-taught and determined, she survived the gender-based taunts of high school boys while playing in Alma Hightower’s after-school music club (using her horn to “turn all those hurt feelings into soulful music”) and racial discrimination while touring with Billie Holiday’s band. In the end, Liston “[made] her trombone sing” for audiences around the world and was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts. Russell-Brown’s text engages the senses (“[Melba] especially loved Fats Waller, with his growly voice and booming piano”), while Morrison’s distinctive illustrations, stretched out like a slide trombone, draw the eye across each spread to the page turn. Back matter includes a detailed afterword with two photographs and a bibliography of books, articles, interviews, radio broadcasts, and websites, including a Jazz Café, where students can view Liston performing with Dizzy Gillespie’s band. Pair this book with Jonah Winter’s Dizzy (Scholastic, 2006) and Marilyn Nelson’s Sweethearts of Rhythm (Dial, 2009) to explore more fully the jazz culture of the time. A celebration of the talent and success of a little-known African American female musician, this title will enrich library collections.