I did learn a few things so I will give it three stars but as expected this book is really for a more novice jazz listener and I would call the book more of a history of jazz then a Jazz book. To view it, click here. The author begins with a wonderful disclaimer that gives the reader the proper expectation for how to interpret the information within. The first part of the book describes basics of jazz music: elements of its sound, musical composition, etc. I found this the most interesting part of the book.
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Writers, reviewers, and a local DJ all weighed in with opinion. Although at times the discussion grew heated, motivations were always focused: What can be done to earn the ear of the greater public? John F. The back cover blurb promises as much as it reveals. It claims to target the jazz neophyte as well as "anyone who thinks jazz stopped developing in the s. But the academic title would indicate a baedeker on the same footing as Jazz for Dummies and other moron-series books.
So: Which is it? The first chapter leaves no doubt. Szwed eschews a timid introduction, diving head-first into the fray of modern jazz debate. Neophytes looking for flowcharts, cartoon icons, and handy checklists will be disappointed. Jazz resources are delegated to some meager appendices. Hard advice on stereo equipment and finding live performances are absent entirely.
After the introduction, Jazz unfolds at a speed inappropriate for beginners. Still, gold nuggets are buried within. Szwed is an even-handed revisionist and a contrarian at heart. He spends all of one paragraph on harmony and melody "there is nothing especially unique about this element of the music" and rich seven pages on rhythm. He calls for a rethinking of ragtime and boogie-woogie in jazz history. New Orleans claim to birthright is disputed. The piano, not the marching band, is presented as the original modus operandi.
Organ trios and free jazz is lauded. Acid jazz is treated with dignity. His Third Stream recommendation is a concert by Stan Kenton. Although Szwed is a professor of anthropology, his prose is casual and coherent. Thoughtful recommendations and brief listening commentary are sprinkled throughout. Bottom line, Szwed and his publisher have targeted separate demographics.
Neophytes will shake their heads, still convinced jazz is too cerebral for daily enjoyment. Jazz will find a better home with a novitiate, one with a scattershot of albums and a thirst for some direction. Truth be told, Gerry Mulligan struts away a genius. And free jazz lovers will rejoice; the form is given a much-deserved fair shake.
The only mar on this otherwise complete package is a lack of focus on Latin jazz. Although the combination may not win converts, it should nourish a newfound curiosity.
Jazz 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Jazz
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