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A New History of Jazz by Alyn Shipton

It is not surprising that an Oxford-trained scholar should produce a weighty volume of jazz history that exudes erudition throughout its 896 pages of text and 51 pages of notes. But Alyn Shipton also happens to be a talented jazz bassist, a commentator for BBC radio and the author of a spate of highly acclaimed books, including a biography of Dizzy Gillespie that was voted the 1999 “Book of the Year” by JazzTimes. Shipton, in short, knows the jazz world from the inside and the outside and is eminently qualified to undertake the gargantuan task of chronicling the history of this unique art form, from its 19th-century roots to the present. The real question, though, is whether there is anything new to say about this oft-told story.

The answer, it turns out, is yes. Though much of the material is familiar to jazz fans, Shipton manages to find fresh angles, skillfully embedding the music in its social and historical context, providing interpretations that often contradict conventional views and exploring areas-for example, jazz singing, the role of radio and film and the international aspects of jazz-that have received scant attention in many previous histories.

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