Wednesday, December 02, 2009

New Music Books

Jazz by Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux (W.W. Norton and Company, 2009) Prominent jazz journalist Giddins and music scholar and author DeVeaux team up for a very ambitious book covering the length and breadth of the music's history and even offering a boxed set (sold separately) of associated recordings. Aiming the book at undergraduates and music listeners, they begin by explaining what jazz is and the concepts of the music and improvisation involved. Then the authors move into a detailed history of the music, done in chronological fashion. They can't hope to cover everything and some prominent musicians are left out, but overall the strategy is inclusive rather than exclusive (as the controversial Burns film was criticized for.) The writing is clear and lucid, and each chapter has examples of particular performances that exemplify that particular era. I think this book will be valuable to students learning about the music and people looking for a wide angle history of the music. Jazz -

Blues and Chaos: The Music Writing of Robert Palmer edited by Anthony DeCurtis (Scribner, 2009) Palmer is widely remembered as the author of the seminal Deep Blues but as this collection demonstrates, he was a well rounded music connoisseur, writing thoughtfully about jazz and rock 'n' roll as well. As critic at the New York Times and Rolling Stone, Palmer chronicled music from the mid 1970's to the mid 1990's with compassion and forethought. Some of his most striking essays in this book cover early rock and roll, interviewing Sam Phillips of Sun Records and musing on what makes rock and roll and the undercurrents of 1950's society that led to its development. Profiles of Robert Pete Williams and Lightnin' Hopkins anchor the blues portion of the book. Palmer was a skilled interviewer and presented a balanced account of the people he profiled. This volume makes excellent reading for those interested in music journalism or the development of music during the years 1975-1995. Blues & Chaos -

Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin Kelley (Free Press, 2009) The brilliant pianist and composer Thelonious Monk has been the subject of many profiles, but none have had the depth of Kelly's book. Often prevailing wisdom of Monk focused superficially on so-called personality quirks rather than the inherent musical genius that Monk brought to the table. Kelley wipes the slate clean and presents Monk as a man and musician in three dimensions. Paralelling his musicial development from community dances to Minton's and then eventual stardom with his personal life, what emerges is a fascinating re-evaluation of on of jazz's most well loved performers. The book takes quite a commitment, but is well worth the investment as the level of research Kelley conducted shines through. Never again will people think of Monk as an eccentric in a hat and shades, Kelly presents him as a well rounded musician, both as a composer and pianist, and a man of depth and knowledge. Thelonious Monk -

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