October 1998

Lewis Porter
Jazz, a Century of Change: Readings and New Essays

This book appeared in print before Porter’s Coltrane study (see the June issue of JT) but arrived for review only recently. Though it is not the monument of scholarship represented in the Coltrane book, it is a fine addition to the ever-expanding library of high-quality jazz literature.

Jazz, a Century of Change is a collection of disparate articles, some complete and some condensed, organized chronologically and linked by Porter’s commentary. It complements nicely some earlier anthologies, such as Traill’s Concerning Jazz (1958), Hentoff/McCarthy’s Jazz (1959), Williams’s The Art of Jazz (1959), and Zwerin’s Close Enough for Jazz (1983).

Most of the articles, drawn from newspapers, periodicals and books are reprinted here for the first tme, though Billy Taylor’s 1957 article for Duke Magazine had appeared in The Jazz World by Cerulli, et al (1960). Many make fascinating reading: various writers’ speculations on the origin of the word jazz, Glenn Waterman’s 1924 instructions on how to play jazz, two important articles by Lawrence Gushee, some early explanations and defenses of jazz by black writers in the 1920s and 1930s, some perceptive early discussions of bebop written in the 1940s, an attack on Wynton Marsalis by Kevin Whitehead followed by Marsalis’ angry response. My only criticisms are 1) the index lists only the chapter headings, not the articles and authors quoted within the chapters, and 2) Schirmer could have done a clearer job of separating Porter’s narratives from the articles.

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