rating: 4 of 5 stars
In Low Down, A.J. Albany recounts her childhood growing up as the daughter of jazz pianist Joe Albany. A.J. was brought into a life where both of her parents were drug addicts and part of the 1960’s & 1970’s jazz and poetry scene in Hollywood. Amy Jo (A.J.) was named after her father’s two favorite characters from Little Women in the hope that she would have the best characteristics of each. After A.J.’s mother abandons the family when A.J. is only 5 years old., A.J. and her father move into a hotel on Hollywood Blvd, a place with lots of seedy characters. He drags her to his late night shows in smokey jazz clubs where she meets some jazz legends. A.J. is more often than not left to fend for herself as her father is often under the influence of heroin.
Albany uses a series of short vignettes to recount the gritty, emotional memories of her childhood. These memories include abuse and exploitation of A.J. by family, friends, and neighbors, yet A.J. tells her story without self-pity. The beautifully-written, honest memoir makes you wonder at how she survived such a childhood.
It reminded me of other “awful childhood” memoirs along the lines of “The Glass Castle” and “The Liar’s Club”. At under 200 pages, “Low Down” is a quick read full of raw emotion that lets you dive into the underbelly of the Hollywood jazz scene. Some famous folks such as Sinatra, Alan Ginsberg, and Thelonious Monk make cameos in the book.
Now, I am off to see if I can find some of Joe Albany’s music online…