Dec 6, 2009
This has been an exceptionally good year for books about jazz, so if you have a fan on your list (hint, hint, honey!) think seriously about grabbing one of these titles:
Ellington Uptown: Duke Ellington, James P. Johnson, and the Birth of Concert Jazz by John Howland. The writing is a bit studious for the casual fan, but it tells a fascinating story of a time when jazz was on jukeboxes, the pop charts, and in the concert halls.
Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong by Terry Teachout. The critic and bassist has written what may be the definitive tome on the most important jazz musician of the Twenties and Thirties, tracing his life from brutal poverty in New Orleans to his trailblazing playing and singing to becoming on of the great good-will ambassadors of the world.
But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz by Geoff Dyer. Dyer co-wrote the Ken Burns series on jazz, and here he mixes fact and fiction is covering key moments in the lives of jazz musicans like Chet Baker, Lester Young and Duke Ellington.
Jazz by Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux. Giddins is my favorite critic and writer about jazz, and in collaboration with historian DeVeaux he tries - and succeeds - in covering the sweeping history of the music, from New Orleans backstreets to Smooth Jazz on the radio. Don't miss the mult-CD companion set for the book as well.
The Jazz Ear: Conversations over Music by Ben Ratliff. My second-favorite critic and writer about jazz collects conversations he had with contemporary jazz greats about what makes the music they love so great.
Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life by Wynton Marsalis. Marsalis mixes biography, criticism and philosophy in what has been called "a master class on jazz and life". If you think he's pompous in the press, you might want to skip this one.
The Ghosts of Harlem: Sessions with Jazz Legends by Hank O'Neal. As much a history of uptown New York as it is of the musicians who made it their home and musical stimping grounds.
From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz: The History Of The UK Jazz Dance Scene by Mark Cotgrove. Mark "Snowboy" Cotgrove takes you on a tour of the history of the British jazz scene, concentrating on the sounds that became the "acid jazz scene" of the seventies and eighties.