Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 13 Dec 2021

Hot Jazz Special by Jonny Hannah

When I first stumbled over this extravaganza of a book, first published in 2005, I just assumed it was one of those flamboyant American publications for younger readers that they are so good at, celebrating their cultural heritage. So it was something of a shock to discover that this is actually a British production courtesy of Walker Books and the author/artist Jonny Hannah who has, his jacket biography tells us, written regularly for The Independent on Sunday, works as a film animator and has done a number of book jacket illustrations.

Born in Scotland, Hannah is clearly bewitched by the period of jazz associated with the likes of Jelly Roll Morton, Django Reinhardt, Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman. This was the dancehall hot jazz that revolutionised American music and fashion – zoot suits, huge ties, porkpie hats (or maybe a beret).

Hannah celebrates his love for his favourite music and musicians in this large format book, mixing poster art with poetry to sing the praises of his favourite players. The reader is invited into the jazz café to be entertained and – still using the poster format – he blends the short, jazz-tinged poems into the posters themselves.

The energy fizzes off the pages as we check out the musicians, clock the audience and their fashions and everyone surrenders to the joy of the jazz.

At the end of the visit to the café we get a short biography of some of the big names we’ve encountered and we even get a recommended recording that we can go off and listen to. These are followed by a more traditional setting out of the poems that have been spread across the posters so that it’s possible to linger over their rhythms.

The book is a visual riot that tries to mirror the excitement and syncopation of the music Hannah adores. The best way to capture the way colour is used here is to compare it with the impact of neon signs on a dark urban evening outside a night-club that stays open to the early hours of the morning.

So as you’ll gather, this is a book that’s all about the illustration and taking in the detail and the atmosphere. This is Hannah’s first book aimed at introducing children to the jazz he loves and he says he wants to make it  “about the healing power of good music, music with soul."

Copies of the book can be found on internet sites for modest prices and you’ll find it’s a feast of visual foot-tapping excitement.

You can see more of Jonny Hannah’s work on this website:


Terry Potter

December 2021