10/10/09

Brian Q. Torff
In Love With Voices: A Jazz Memoir

Veteran bassist Torff states early in his memoir that he is “the last of the young players who came of professional age in the 1970s who had the incalculable honor of working with older giants of blues, Dixieland, swing, bop, cool and beyond.”, which serves as a very good summary of his recorded career. Torff’s talent and his decision in the early 70s to concentrate on the double bass instead of the electric bass created opportunities for him to work with older musicians and his book provides excellent portraits of several, such as Stephane Grappelli, Milt Hinton, Erroll Garner, George Shearing, and, most memorably, Mary Lou Williams.

Torff ‘s comfort with the accompanying role of his instrument carries over to his writing; he spends more time on the musicians that were important in his life than he does on himself. Torff started to move his musical focus from performing to teaching in the 80s and discusses the diminishing availability of live music since then and its effects on the way in which jazz is performed, experienced, taught and learned. His explanation of the factors that led him to professional success is well done, but, as he notes, the changes in the jazz business since the 70s make it unlikely that a young bass player will be able to follow his path today. His analysis of the decline in live music is accurate, and his feelings about it are well expressed, but not as original, distinctive, and memorable as the other aspects of his book.

Torff is a concise writer and his authorial voice is entertaining and reads often like speech. The book is short and reads quickly and uses the reader’s time well.

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