Thursday, July 12, 2012

Books: As Serious as Your Life by Valerie Wilmer

As Serious As Your Life: The Story of the New JazzAs Serious As Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz by Valerie Wilmer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As Serious as Your Life is one of the few books to chronicle the “New Thing” in jazz, free jazz that developed in the 1960’s and continued into the Loft Scene of the 1970’s. British writer Wilmer focuses on American musicians, primarily in the New York City region, and succeeds in putting together a portrait of the musicians and the scene that is extremely valuable. The first part of the book is made up of portraits of some of the leading lights of the scene, both living and dead. John Coltrane, the guiding light for many of the musicians mentioned here is profiled not only for the progressive nature of his music, but for the positive and mentoring effect he had on other musicians. Sun Ra and Albert Ayler are portrayed as enigmas, the former due to his DIY approach to the music and the record industry and the latter due to his radical sound and ever changing nature. She also moves beyond strict biographies of the musicians into looking at the social and philosophical nature of the musicians and how this affects their creativity, the women who live with them (this was an almost completely male dominated scene) and the politics and issues of race that are ever-present in jazz and improvised music, especially during this period where predominantly African-American musicians were attempting to break free from traditional means of disseminating music and building audiences and developing a more DIV aesthetic. This was an excellent book, very highly recommended to jazz fans, and sits well with Arthur Taylor’s Notes and Notes and A.B. Spellman’s Four Lives in the Bebop Business as a thoughtful and blinder-free look into the trials and tribulations of musicians trying to create original music during the 1960’s and 1970’s. As Serious As Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz - amazon.com

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