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Why Jazz Happened by Marc Myers

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Although Marc Myers begins Why Jazz Happened with an account of the first jazz recording (by the Original Dixieland Jass Band, in 1917), his book is not a comprehensive history of the music. Rather, this study focuses on a 30-year stretch, 1942 to 1972, outlining 10 developments, both within and outside jazz, that were instrumental to the music’s evolution.

Each chapter of Why Jazz Happened has the classic thesis statement/supporting evidence/concluding statement structure of a term paper, with the final paragraph segueing into the next developmental factor Myers covers. The book is chronologically organized, which sometimes gives the reading experience an unfortunate fits-and-starts quality; rather than steadily building reader engagement, the book rises or falls based on the inherent interest of a given chapter’s subject. It thus gets off to a fairly dry start, with a detailed but un-dramatic account of the 1942-44 American Federation of Musicians recording strike. This led to royalty payments to a union trust fund for musicians, undeniably valuable to financially strapped performers, but it does not make for the most explosive possible curtain-raiser for Myers’ book.

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