Hope to Die: A Memoir of Jazz and Justice
by John Woodward
Hope to Die is the remarkable true story of Verdi “Woody” Woodward, a decades-long heroin addict, criminal and saxophone player. Beginning in 1940 and detailing Woodward’s adventures throughout the underworld of early ’50s California, life on the run in Mexico and in prison, Woodward has crafted a fascinating, fast-moving tale of recovery and redemption. Woodward has a gift for dialogue and description, and is able to recreate the feeling of desperation and danger he faced while planning a robbery or the aching pain of withdrawal.
Woodward is less successful in describing the importance of music in his life. For a book subtitled A Memoir of Jazz and Justice, jazz is rarely mentioned. Apart from a few flashbacks as to how he got into heroin while performing, and the standard “Round Midnight” which haunts him in solitary confinement, there is not much mention of music until he buys a horn in prison towards the end of his story. Woodward’s tale of redemption and rehabilitation is moving and vibrantly told, however, and the horrors of addiction and prison are terrifyingly vivid.