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The New Face of Jazz by Cicily Janus

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The New Face of Jazz begins with a simple premise: Jazz is neither dead nor stagnant. In the 21st century, innovation still drives the genre, and new practitioners of the art surface all the time, pushing it ahead. Author Cicily Janus, who is a musician herself in addition to having written for DownBeat and teaching jazz at Colorado’s Broadmoor Academy of Music, has interviewed dozens of musicians about their craft. Many of the names will be familiar to readers of this magazine: Vijay Iyer, Jane Monheit, Christian McBride, Esperanza Spalding, Kurt Elling, Maria Schneider, etc. For each entry-most running a couple of pages, give or take a few paragraphs-Janus offers a mini-bio and musical summation in a section she dubs “Background and Sound,” followed by “His” or “Her Story,” a self-reflective narrative from the artist. She also provides Web links, a single recommendation of the artist’s music and a brief representative quotation.

It’s the musings of the artists that give The New Face of Jazz its value, although most only go on for three or four paragraphs. Often the artists are outspoken and insightful. Vocalist Brenda Russell, commenting on the state of the music business, suggests that Aretha Franklin, were she starting out today, would have been passed over because “They wouldn’t have wanted to promote her, and it makes me wonder what we’re missing out on now.” Pianist Fred Hersch openly discusses coming out as a gay man with AIDS, and pianist Frank Kimbrough centers on camaraderie within the jazz community: “You’re not just reading music on the bandstand,” he says, “you’re keeping a ball in the air, creating a support system for each other.”

Where the book fails is in Janus’ own writing and in her misinterpretation of what constitutes a “new” face in jazz. Why would a book promoting the continuing vitality of jazz via fresh blood include many artists who’ve been successful for decades, among them McCoy Tyner (71), Toshiko Akiyoshi (80), George Benson (67), James Moody (85) and Randy Brecker (64)? And when she makes such confusing or generic statements as “For more than two decades Pete McCann has been driving his fast-moving, no-nonsense career into the ears and sound of the New York scene,” or “Award-winning pianist Michel Camilo’s hands have covered the world,” a little head-scratching invariably ensues. The New Face of Jazz is an informative read, but one that would have benefited greatly from some judicious editing.