Welcome to my Sunday Book Review. Today I’m reviewing Frank Prem’s new release – Ida: Searching for the Jazz Baby. In this story of historical fiction written in free verse poetry, Frank touches on the life of Ida Pender, aka Jazz Baby, and her wild lifestyle in the 1920s. Complete with newspaper clippings and stories to accompany.
Who is Ida Pender? Is she the elderly woman – Ida-Spider – rumoured to be resident in a 1970’s Mental Asylum?
Is she Squizzy Taylor’s teenaged gangster moll of the roaring 1920’s in Melbourne? The woman the police declared had shapely legs? She is Ida. The Jazz Baby.
Frank Prem explores the story of Ida Pender, largely forgotten now, but once the notorious associate of a 1920s Melbourne gnagster. From the young girl sneaking out of her bedroom window to go dancing at the Palais de Danse, companion, accomplice, then wife and mother to Squizzy Taylor’s child by her early twenties, Ida is an extraordinary woman and a marvellous story.
My 5 Star Review:
A freeverse poetry collection about a jazz dancer and true crime in 1920s Melbourne, Australia where Jazz baby, Ida, daughter of a horse trainer, falls in love with Melbourne’s notorious underworld criminal, Leslie ‘Squizzy’ Taylor, once a horse jockey. The story begins in the 1970s where the author, Prem, as a young student, was a pyschiatric nurse at the Lunatic Asylum where several elderly women were called Ida. ‘Rumor’ had it that one of these Idas was Ida Pender, the gun-moll of Squizzy Taylor.
Prem researched the story of Ida Pender and Squizzy Taylor, who was eventually killed in a shootout, leaving Ida a widowed, single mother at the tender age of 23. Ida loved to dance since a child and was discovered to be part of a competitive dance group who loved to dance to jazz at the Palis de Dance. Prem brings back to life the story of Jazz Baby in prose and poetry. With each newspaper clipping headline, Prem tells the story in poetry through the character’s minds. An introductory poem to the elusive Ida:
the company (she keeps)
The pair are “Squizzy” TayJor, and his paramour, Ida
Pender, who has been associated with him since she
was a mere child of sixteen
“Squizzy” Taylor——As He Is! The Mirror, Perth 05/07/1924
a bad girl
does she just choose
poor company . . .
might be a
but still be nice
if I love him . . .
I do love him . . .
should I be
is she a bad
or is she
just . . .
just . . .
just keeping company
If you enjoy a ‘different’ kind of story-telling, you will enjoy this well-researched story combined with the author’s imagination, written in poetry, accompanied by headlines. All the author’s research resources are listed in the book.