Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book review: Ben Ratliff - The Jazz Ear (Times Books, 2008)

The most recent book by the New York Times jazz reporter Ben Ratliff collects the Listening With columns he files with the paper over the past several years. The premise of the column is that musicians would pick some of the songs that had influenced them over the years and then Ratliff would listen to that music with them and get their reaction to it as a conversation over music, rather than a traditional interview. He ties each interview together with a brief biography of each musician, and a list of the music they listened to. This format and structure brought out some interesting comments and revelations about the music, for instance hearing Joshua Redman's awe in listening to the music of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane is fascinating, particularly when they are discussing "Transition", one of Coltrane's fiercest avant-garde performances. Rollins himself also sticks to his heroes with interesting comments about the music of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. The Ornette Coleman section is a trip, with Coleman listening to everything from a famous Cantor to field recordings from Central Asia. Ratliff was wise to interview musicians in this format, it seemed to put them at ease, and allowed them to talk about musicians that they admired. He thoughtfully lets the musicians do most of the talking and keeps things flowing briskly.
The Jazz Ear -

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