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Praise for the book

“With an incredible gift for helping you hear the surprising sounds he studies, Scott Saul brilliantly shows how the new music of hard bop in the 1950s and 60s amounted to a new stance toward the world—a kind of ‘direct action’ in musical form whose liberatory charisma tore through the U.S. cultural and social caste system. A truly great work of U.S. cultural studies.”
Eric Lott, author of Love and Theft
"A wise and trenchant study of a complex period in American culture....Unusually, it is a book about the sociology of music that lets the music breathe as well."
Brian Morton, Times Higher Education Supplement
"[E]ssential reading for anyone interested in the wider cultural and political issues that have affected jazz in the past 50 years."
Ed Hazell, Signal to Noise

“Scott Saul’s Freedom Is, Freedom Ain’t is that rarity in academic studies: a book one is tempted to read a second time purely for pleasure. Saul writes with a musician’s working knowledge of craft and a cultural journalist’s narrative and stylistic panache. Loosely organized around a history of jazz from ‘Birth of the Cool’ through the apotheosis of free jazz… Freedom Is devotes equal attention to jazz stylistics, politics, audiences, and resonances in the literary and visual arts.”

Adam Gussow, American Literature 

Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't: 
Jazz and the Making of the Sixties
(Harvard University Press, 2003)
Winner of the American Book Award

In the long decade between the mid-fifties and the late sixties, jazz became both newly militant and newly seductive, its example powerfully shaping the social dramas of the Civil Rights movement, the Black Power movement, and the counterculture. It was the age of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Charles Mingus’s The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, and a host of jazz-shaped experiments in fiction, drama, film, and politics. Freedom Is, Freedom Ain’t tells the broader story of this period in jazz—and American—history.



"The Jim Crow Shuffle, Then and Now" (Al-Jazeera America)


"Saturday Night Live's Edgiest Night" (excerpt from Becoming Richard Pryor) (Salon)


"Pimp's Progress: How Richard Pryor Made The Mack His Own" (excerpt from Becoming Richard Pryor) (Deadspin)


"Plugged into the Socket of Life" (excerpt from Becoming Richard Pryor) (The Nation)


"'What You See Is What You Get': Wattstax, Richard Pryor, and the Hidden History of the Black Aesthetic" (Post-45)


"Humanities in Crisis? Not in Most Schools" (New York Times)


"'Etc., Etc.': The Post-Punk Ballad of Rodger Young" (The Daniel Clowes Reader)


"Gente-fication on Demand: The Cultural Redevelopment of South Los Angeles" (Post-Ghetto: Reimagining South Los Angeles)


"Off Minor" (on Thelonious Monk) (Boston Review)


"A Body on the Gears" (on Mario Savio) (The Nation)


"Gridlock of Rage: The Watts and Rodney King Riots" (Blackwell Companion to Los Angeles)


"Suspended Sentences" (on Eliot Weinberger) (The Nation)


"Protest Lit 101" (American Literary History)


"Afternoon in Itapoã" (on Vinicius De Moraes) (Soul Sides)


"Off Camera" (on Thomas Sugrue's history of Civil Rights in the North) (The Nation)


"Sweet Martin's Badass Song" (on Martin Luther King Jr.) (The Nation)


"Brazil's Dreamer: The Enchantment and Disenchantment of Chico Buarque" (Boston Review)


"On the Lower Frequencies: Rethinking the Black Power Movement" (Harper's Magazine)


"Fade to White" (on Jonestown) (Bookforum)


"The Seductions of Caetano Veloso" (Raritan)


"Mirage or No Mirage: Reading Los Angeles" (Boston Review)


Becoming Richard Pryor

(HarperCollins, 2014)


Built on a mountain of fresh research and interviews, Becoming Richard Pryor tracks the life of the revolutionary comedian from his heartbreaking childhood in Peoria's red light district and his hungry years in Greenwich Village to his ascent in the 1970s as the most fearless of stand-up comics and the great crossover star of "New Hollywood." It offers an intimate portrait of an entertainer who, by bringing together the spirits of the Black Power movement and the counterculture, forever altered the cultural DNA of America.


Praise for the book

"Becoming Richard Pryor is a fascinating, exhilarating read. Scott Saul dives deeper and comes up with more treasure than previous biographers of Pryor; he deftly traces the stamp that Pryor left on American culture at one of its more impressionable moments. The great grace of the book, though, is how well written it is: it makes the worlds Pryor inhabited, and Pryor himself, come alive with a thrilling intensity. I didn't want to put the book down and couldn't wait to get back to  it."

Michael Chabon, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Telegraph Avenue and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay


"A compulsively readable book that sets a new gold standard for American biography. Scott Saul's research is extraordinary; his writing is taut, elegant, and insightful; and he captures both the hilarity and pain that made Richard Pryor such a towering figure."

Debby Applegate, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography and author of the forthcoming Madam: The Life and Times of Polly Adler


"Richard Pryor was the most talented of the obscenely talented generation of performers who burned through Hollywood in the 70s and 80s, before their flames flickered and died. Here he has had the good fortune to fall into the hands of a writer with the smarts to understand both his greatness and his madness. A first-rate biography."

Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls


"Becoming Richard Pryor takes you on a wild, tumultuous ride. Scott Saul's superb storytelling is a perfect match for his subject—he keeps you mesmerized, laughing, crying, stunned, hungry, and, above all, surprised. Pryor emerges as a genuine artist, one forged by a world that, until now, has been shrouded in myth and mystery. Saul brings that world and the man into clear view."

Robin D.G. Kelley, author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original


"With Becoming Richard Pryor, Scott Saul gives us the fullest picture yet of a great and puzzling American figure. What starts as a procedural on the making of an artist becomes a story of a man desperate to be free. Saul brings a complete set of skills to the task: he is a nuanced writer, a fine historian, a perceptive social critic."

R.J. Smith, author of The One: The Life and Music of James Brown



Historian and writer


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