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Understanding Jazz: Ways to Listen by Tom Piazza

To the uninitiated (and sometimes even to those who are), jazz is mysterious, complex and difficult to comprehend. Unquestionably, this is one of the main reasons it barely represents a sliver of the popular musical pie. Author Tom Piazza makes “America’s idiom,” as coined by Duke Ellington, accessible. Wynton Marsalis wrote the foreword, and the book’s six chapters focus on history, formats/styles, improvisation and essential jazz elements. Most notably, Piazza tacks on extensive “further listening” addendums to each segment. Anyone who takes the time to listen to the recommended recordings will be well rewarded and able to hold their own in conversations with garden-variety jazz snobs.

But this book is definitely not a simplification along the lines of Jazz for Dummies and presents the material in a somewhat scholarly fashion. This aspect of Understanding Jazz is also its biggest detriment. Chapter synopsis and graphics are nonexistent, and there’s a minimal use of photography. Bottom-line: This isn’t a coffee-table book, and to get information from it requires old-fashioned and diligent reading.

Originally Published