Crime Novelist Michael Connelly on the Role of Jazz in Creating “Bosch”

Jazz88’s Peter Solomon spoke with award-winning mystery novelist Michael Connelly about how jazz played an essential role in establishing the character of Harry Bosch, the hard-edged loner cop with a penchant for bucking authority and a deep-seated love of jazz. Connelly himself became a jazz fan as he was doing the research for his books. (Image by Kat Westerman Photography).


PETER SOLOMON: I’m Peter Solomon for Jazz88. Since he started publishing murder mysteries in the early 1990s, Michael Connelly has become one of the most popular and prolific writers in the genre with 38 published books so far. His work has inspired several films and two Amazon dramatic series based on the character of Harry Bosch, a hard-edged LA Police Homicide Detective with a penchant for bucking the system and a deep-rooted love for jazz. This film noir inspired music by the Los Angeles band Caught a Ghost is the opening theme of the Amazon Bosch series. The muted trumpet gives a taste of the jazz that pervades the entire production, with occasional allusions to jazz artists like Ben Webster, and especially Frank Morgan and Art Pepper. I wrote to Michael Connelly asking him to talk about why he decided to make Bosch into a jazz fan, and what the music means to him personally. We’ll listen next to that conversation.

MICHAEL CONNELLY: I think my love of jazz – No, I don’t think, I know – it came late in my life. And it initially started as a construct of research for a character and then Harry Bosch. I had been writing books about Harry Bosch, a homicide detective  – a private eye now in his current state – for 30 plus years. And the first book I ever published in 1992, was called The Black Echo and introduced Harry Bosch. So pretty much my life as a writer has been wrapped up in Harry Bosch. And, you know, every writer will tell you they were a reader first. You know, they had to be a reader in order to become a writer. And so my years spent reading detective novels taught me that it’s all about character. People like reading mysteries and trying to guess who did it and and mysteries take you into all kinds of different parts of society and that’s what’s wonderful about them, but what they really come back for is to ride with a character and they will they want to spend their time with this character. And so you have to take care to provide a pretty full character, a layered character, and not  – everything says something about character. You know, whether the person’s left handed, whether they smoke, whether they listen to rock and roll or listen to jazz that says things about character and I kind of was schooled on the classics, the private detectives, you know: Dashiell Hammett, Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler, Philip Marlowe, Ross MacDonald, Lou Archer, these were all singular characters who kind of lead solo lives, lonely lives, and they were characters that were outside the system looking in.

That really hit me since I was a teenager. I love that idea. But I went into this idea that I want to someday write crime novels or detective novels by pursuing schooling and then a job and in journalism, because I thought that would get me in, you know, if I got a press pass, and I was covering crime, I would learn about the world I wanted to write about. And, you know, there’s there’s novelists that will at age 21, write a fantastic novel. I was more of the school like I have to live life, I have to experience things. And then I’ll hopefully be prepared to start writing books. And so when that time came, I was in my early 30s. And I said, I am going to write a book about a detective in Los Angeles. I had been covering crime in LA for the newspaper for seven years. And I thought, you know, yes, I love these private eye novels, but I know how the bureaucracy of the police department works. And I know, a baseline of how homicide detectives work. And so I said, I gotta use what I know that that can be my foot in the door. And so Harry Bosch was born, but I wanted him to be a lot like those private eyes that I grew up loving. So I wanted him to have this insider’s job. Yes, he’s he shows the power and light of the state. He carries a badge. He carries a gun. He has arrest powers. I wanted him to be an insider, but I wanted him to feel like an outsider. And so I took careful attention to things that I thought would make him feel like an outsider. And one of them was his music. And I just saw jazz is something that doesn’t have the biggest following of music lovers in the world. It’s more of a small group or a smaller group of people. And even though I grew up more of a blues guy – like Eric Clapton, Cream, that kind of stuff was my music growing up. My father loved jazz, and, you know, you got to reject your parents on some level as you grow up. So I went into a different direction. But when in the early 90s, when I was writing this Harry Bosch book, I thought jazz would be perfect for this kind of loner detective. To me jazz, when I would listen to this stuff growing up and my dad listened to it and my dad was a chain smoker, It just reminded me of cigarette smoke in a dark room.

I have to say, one of the hardest things I do as a writer is try to describe music. You have to describe how – what music does to a character. T hat is very difficult. I’d much rather write about a murder scene than write about Harry Bosch and his turntable, because it’s a challenge. But that was where that came from. And what was going on when I was writing this book was my dad, I mentioned, he’s a chain smoker, he had a terminal case of cancer. And I knew he wasn’t going to be around a whole lot. So one reason I chose jazz was because it fit to characterize writing. The other reason was, it was a nod to my dad. And it was my dad who came up with the idea that maybe 15 years before going into journalism, rather than English Lit as as a pursuit in college, I felt pretty strongly that it was going to pay off because I had all this experience and knowledge in the world of a crime that I was going to put into these books.

In the early books, it’s the staples. It’s like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and, and names that people know. And that was a lot of what my father listened to. But I as a newspaper reporter, I was a newsprint paper reporter for 14 years total in my life. And so I know how to research and I know how to find things. So I started doing research on what would be some obscure stuff, or more obscure stuff that Harry would stumble upon in his music. And because I know, I knew, again, from being a reader, that when you come across these little oblique things, in a book that you’re really into, that becomes part of the infatuation with character. You want to find out like what, who is Frank Morgan? I’ve never heard of him. Yeah, I’ve heard of John Coltrane. But I’ve never heard of Frank Morgan. And I know these are little things that help draw a reader into a book. So I was doing it more as research. I can’t say I was like following in writing about at characters and jazz musicians that I love. I was reading books about jazz musicians. And I was going to record stores into the jazz sections and trying to find stuff. But you can’t really do that. You can’t do that research and listen to the stuff and choose what to use without falling in love with it. So that’s what happened to me. I became my father in that regard. So Harry Bosch, his music initially wasn’t my music, but now it’s totally my music.

SOLOMON: You’re listening to a conversation with writer Michael Connelly, the celebrated author of mysteries featuring Harry Bosch and The Lincoln Lawyer.

(To Connelly) There’s a couple of musicians, one of whom you just mentioned, that I’ve noticed, you know, appear frequently in both the books and in the Amazon series as well. And it seems like there’s even some dialogue surrounding Art Pepper. I was wondering if you could talk about these two individuals Art Pepper and and Frank Morgan, and the way that you’ve experienced them and why you chose their music.

CONNELLY: Yeah, somewhere along the line, a publisher, a small press publisher, who did some, like limited editions on my books, and was a jazz guy said to me, probably the best book he had ever written (sic) (read) about jazz was Art Pepper and Laurie Pepper’s book, Straight Life. And so I got that book and I read it. And this goes back to what I already said. It’s so hard for me to describe it. I think it’s hard for any writer to describe music. But these were – that book was basically recordings Laurie Pepper made of of her husband Art Pepper, talking about the music he makes on the saxophone. And I just found that book to be, you know, a real head turner. And then it took me down in the rabbit hole into Art Pepper’s work and his connection to Los Angeles and he was this handsome guy who pretty much got destroyed by drugs, spent a lot of time in prison. And that worked for me on on two different levels because I had created this character Harry Bosch who didn’t know who his father was, and so he as a little kid, he built up this fantasy. His mother liked jazz and his – Harry Bosch’s joy from jazz is inherited from his mother, who also had a struggle in life. So I came up with this idea that Harry Bosch is white, Art Pepper’s white, Harry Bosch had this fantasy that that was my dad. I don’t know who my dad was. So he created a replacement. And it was this very cool cat named Art Pepper. And, you know, in the stories about him, you know, Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section is a fantastic album, and the story behind it about how he was junk-sick, and had a broken reed, and all these things he overcame to make music that was so gorgeous, so beautiful, was important.

You know, like, it takes me about a year, back then it took me even longer – to write books. You know, you got to find things that plug you in. It’s a long haul, it’s climbing a mountain, and you got to find things that mean something to you that keep you plugged in. They might totally escape the reader. But you need to be able to climb that mountain and get up every day and all that, but you need something to keep you in. And so the music was a lot of what kept me in. And so that’s where the, you know, the Art Pepper connection, came into play. And later on, I got to meet Laurie Pepper and spend time with her and talk to her about Art. And, you know, it was all part of the research, but also part of my growing reacquaintance and love with jazz.

The other thing is, you know, I’ve been married a long time and my wife – (I’ll) say, Hey, I’m gonna write a book – you know, (she’s) like, good luck. You know, I had a daytime job where I had to spend a lot of hours. You know, being a newspaper reporter on the crime beat is not necessarily a nine to five thing. And so I was already spending a lot of time making a living as a journalist. And I had to make a deal. Luckily, I didn’t  – we didn’t – have any kids at that time. But I made a deal with my wife that I need four nights a week to write (for) me to go to disappear. And we had a walk-in closet that I use as a writing room to disappear in there at night, and I went one of the weekend days. And I promise I’ll give this up if I don’t get published in X amount of time. And I blew that deadline, but she put up with me. But she was very much part of the team and aware of what I was doing and aware that I was this guy who you know, like going to see the Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton is now going to the Catalina Bar and Grill, which is a jazz club in LA and Hollywood. So she she knew what I was doing. And so one day she came into the closet with a copy of Newsweek magazine. And, and it was folded open to a full-page story on a guy named Frank Morgan. And the headline was something along the lines of “The Return of Frank Morgan” and it was about this guy and LA musician. At the time based I know he has a big connection to Minneapolis, he had his second album or first album in something like 27 years. Basically, it was almost three decades between his first and second album. And that was because a life of crime and drugs had landed him repeatedly in prison. And as at different times unreliable as a session guy. So it was a long time between the promise of this first album and the second album.

There wasn’t really the internet back then. This is probably in like ‘89 or ‘90. But I I went to the alternative newspaper that came out in LA and listed most of the jazz performances and coincidentally or lo and behold, he was playing three nights at the Catalina that week. And so I went to that I went to hear him play twice. He just became my guy. Yeah, something about his his sound really touched me beyond the guy doing research. Something about his music, and he spoke a lot between sets are between songs and he would talk about his life and the the path not taken or, the wrong path taken. And it just kind of struck me. And he played this one song and he was playing with George Cables, a pianist. They did a lot of work together and George wrote a song called Lullaby-  it’s only a minute long, and it’s on Frank Morgan – well I think he recorded it three different times on albums. That song just kind of pierced my heart. There’s something that was sad about it, but also resolute like, you know, I’m gonna persevere basically.

We’re getting into how hard is to write about music. This is a song obviously without lyrics. It’s basically a piano and saxophone that’s it. And it’s just a beautiful song. And that kind of became my writing anthem. And I got the record and I would play that every morning, or every night or more realistically, every night before I started working on my Harry Bosch novel. Those two musicians were pretty much the most influential in the kind of forming of the character of Harry Bosch.

SOLOMON: That’s author Michael Connelly. After Frank Morgan passed away. Connelly was instrumental in producing a documentary about the saxophonist called Sound of Redemption, The Frank Morgan Story. Michael Connelly’s latest book is Resurrection Walk. It features the characters of both Harry Bosch and his half brother Mickey Howard, The Lincoln Lawyer. You can find more information on Michael Connelly his books and podcasts at I’m Peter Solomon for Jazz88.

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