11/25/03

Three New Jazz Texts

We receive enough books at JazzTimes—we get almost as many books as we do vocal CDs—that we really should start our own book club (watch out, Oprah). We don’t have time to start that up, though. We have all those albums by vocalists to listen to, after all. But if you like to read and you like jazz (And why would you be here if you didn’t?), here’s the skinny on a few recent jazz texts that have tickled our fancy.

Scott Saul’s Freedom Is, Freedom Ain’t: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties (Harvard University Press) offers an interesting view on how jazz served as a sort of cultural front to the Freedom Movement of the 1960s—through musicians’ involvement with civil rights, black power and the counterculture. Saul uses the improvisations of artists like John Coltrane and Charles Mingus as an extended metaphor for the progression of the volatile decade. Here’s a particularly interesting excerpt:

“Mingus believed in the integrity of rupture … This attraction to volatility was perhaps best telegraphed in the phrase ‘the Jazz Workshop’ the name of Mingus’ multi-facted rebellion against the pressure of racial stereotype and the forces of musical stasis.”

It’s intelligent stuff. You can talk about it at cocktail parties and social get-togethers of that nature.

Cuban baritone saxophonist and author Leonardo Acosta’s Cubano Be, Cubano Bop: One Hundred Years of Jazz in Cuba (Smithsonian Books) chronicles the history of jazz in Cuba and documents the incredible musical exchanges between jazz players from Cuba and America over the past hundred years. The book’s foreword was written by saxophonist and clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera who says that “Leonardo Acosta belongs to a select group of musicians who also possess the ability to communicate through the written word. That’s why I’ve always thought he was the most appropriate person to tell the story of what happened in the past hundred years of jazz music on our island.” We’re just happy someone so informed has written an book on this popular music—and its glossary, which defines terms like descarga and guaracha, is a wonderful idea.

Lastly, another jazz-record reference guide by Scott Yanow. Jazz on Record: The First Sixty Years (Backbeat Books) heralds itself on its cover as “the complete history of all of jazz’s significant artists and their recordings through six decades of music” and tackles everything from the pre-recorded era to bebop to free jazz and fusion. And while the last thing we ever thought we’d need is another jazz guide, Yanow offers a strikingly comprehensive account of jazz history on record in the book’s 858 pages.

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