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October 17, 2018

B. A. Shapiro's Playlist for Her Novel "The Collector’s Apprentice"

The Collector’s Apprentice

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

B. A. Shapiro's novel The Collector’s Apprentice is a compelling and rewarding look at the American and Eurpean art worlds of the Jazz Age.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Shapiro delivers a clever and complex tale of art fraud, theft, scandal, murder, and revenge. [Her] portrayal of the 1920s art scene in Paris and Philadelphia is vibrant, and is populated by figures like Alice B. Toklas and Thornton Wilder; readers will be swept away by this thoroughly rewarding novel."


In her own words, here is B. A. Shapiro's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Collector’s Apprentice:



The Collector’s Apprentice takes place in Paris and Philadelphia between 1918 and 1930, and thus covers “The Roaring '20s”, also known as “The Jazz Age.” Jazz originated in the US, but also really took hold in Paris in the '20s. The music spread through clubs, speakeasies and dance halls – as well as through the burgeoning recording industry. Broadway show tunes, blues and classical music were also popular during this period, and these too were often influenced by jazz.


Rhapsody in Blue (written by George Gershwin)
Written in 1924, this Gershwin song combined elements of the two most predominant musical genres of the era, jazz and classical, making it one of the most iconic songs of its time. I could certainly imagine Vivienne and other characters in the book—both in Paris and Philadelphia—listening to the tune on one of the new Victrolas (made by the Victor Talking Machine Co., which was founded in the Philadelphia area).

Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out (written by Jimmy Cox, performed by Bessie Smith and many others)
Blues and jazz singer Bessie Smith was born in Tennessee, but began living in Philadelphia in the early '20s. This blues song wasn’t released until 1929, but could certainly have described the status of young Paulien Mertens at the beginning of the book, when she fled to Paris after the revelation of George’s misdeeds.

Black and Tan Fantasy (written by Duke Ellington and Bubber Miley, performed by Duke Ellington and his Washingtonians)
Duke Ellington was one of the jazz performers who regularly played at the famous Fay’s Theater in Philadelphia in the '20s. Perhaps Vivienne Gregsby or other Philadelphia-based characters heard this 1927 tune at the club or on record.

Bolero (written by Maurice Ravel)
In the '20s and '30s, Ravel was widely regarded as the France’s greatest living classical composer. Bolero, released in 1927 and his best-known work, revealed a jazz influence. I could certainly imagine a recording being played at Gertrude Stein’s salon and enjoyed by her guests such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Matisse and Picasso.

La Creation du Monde (written by Darius Milhaud)
Like his classical compatriot Ravel, Milhaud was also influenced by the new jazz music. This influence can be heard in the 1923 composition La Creation du Monde (The Creation of the World). Again, Gertrude Stein and her band of famous American and European friends probably listened to Milhaud recordings such as this.

Dinah (written by Harry Akst, Sam Lewis and Joe Young, performed by Ethel Waters and many others)
Ethel Waters was another 1920’s-era blues and jazz singer with Philadelphia roots. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she became a star via her recordings on the New York City-based Columbia label. Vivienne and others may well have listened to songs such as the 1925 recording Dinah.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ (written by Fats Waller, Harry Brooks and Andy Razaf, performed by Louis Armstrong and many others)
This 1929 jazz standard could well have been a favorite of the Parisians in the '20s. But it could also represent Vivienne’s attitude toward her affair with Henri Matisse. “. . . Ain’t misbehaving, I’m savin’ my love for you. . .” Moreover, Waller claims that the song was written while he was in prison (for alimony violations), so it also resonates with the fact that Vivienne was in jail around this time.

The Man I Love (written by George and Ira Gershwin, performed by Marion Harris and others)
This 1928 Gershwin composition, recorded by Marion Harris and others, is another song that speaks to Vivienne’s feelings toward the great artist Matisse. The lyrics include: “Some day he’ll come along, the man I love. . . And when he comes my way, I’ll do my best to make him stay.”


B. A. Shapiro and The Collector’s Apprentice links:

the author's website

Publishers Weekly review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for The Art Forger


also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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