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Living With Jazz: A Reader by Dan Morgenstern (Pantheon)

This book is, believe it or not, the first and only selection of writings by the most influential of all active American jazz critic-scholars. A refugee from Nazi Austria, Dan Morgenstern plunged into the jazz life as soon as he arrived in American in 1947: digging the music and the jazz people, writing and editing three top jazz magazines and, since 1976, directing the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers.

There’s a lot of love in Morgenstern, especially in his extensive analyses of Louis Armstrong. He contradicts received opinion on the trumpeter, emphasizes that Armstrong spent the major half of his career in big bands, stresses the beauty of his later work, offers warm offstage glimpses and heartily debunks much nonsense. The love is also evident in his pieces about a multitude of other artists from Ellington, Parker and Ornette Coleman to “Hot Lips” Page, Houston Person and James Reese Europe.

These articles, interviews, liner notes and reviews were chosen to introduce most of the important jazz musicians to readers, and there are also wonderful surveys of the history of jazz recording and discography. Morgenstern is best known for his knowledge of jazz history, his skill at packing information into his journalism and his generosity. Even more than most jazz histories, this book is an ideal introduction to the joys of jazz as well as a provocative delight to veteran listeners.

Originally Published