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Chris Raschka

Chris Raschka

"Chris Raschka’s 'musical' audiobooks are so catchy, you won’t be able to get them out of your head. If ever books were meant to be heard, these are the ones—by kids and adults."

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Talking with Chris Raschka

Chris Raschka’s “musical” audiobooks are so catchy, you won’t be able to get them out of your head. Raschka remembers the exact moment that he conceived the idea of his first book about jazz, CHARLIE PARKER PLAYED BE BOP. “I was walking in Central Park,” the New York-based writer recalls, “and I knew I wanted to distill everything I knew about Charlie Parker into two ideas: Charlie Parker played bebop and Charlie Parker played saxophone. To build on those two facts, I suddenly came up with the idea of basing the structure of the book itself on a jazz piece. So I took those simple lines and manipulated and altered them the way a jazz musician does a melodic line.” One part of the text even resembles “scatting,” nonsense syllables used by jazz singers to “become” a musical instrument. Raschka started out as a graphic artist and a classical violist; after getting tendinitis, he put his viola down and concentrated on art. For a number of years he would work on commercial graphic arts in the afternoon and children’s book ideas in the morning. Some adults didn’t “get” the Parker book at first, he remembers. “Some reviewers felt that it was too sophisticated for children because it doesn’t have a traditional story line, and it repeats a lot, and it has those nonsense syllables.” But kids, of course, did get the book’s playfulness, and happily, it was a bestseller. Raschka’s second jazz book, Mysterious Thelonious, about pianist Thelonious Monk, features a color pattern in its art work that allows the listener to play the book’s music, Monk’s “Misterioso.” “If you get 12 pieces of colored tape that match the rainbow of illustrations and you place them on adjacent keys of a piano, you can follow the colors and play the piece,” Raschka explains. As for new projects, Raschka is thinking about books on John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and, particularly, Dizzy Gillespie. If ever books were meant to be heard, these are the ones—by kids and adults.
—Elizabeth K. Dodge

DEC/JAN 00/01

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Photo by Sonya Sones 

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