Jazz: The American Theme Song

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Overview

Praised by the Washington Post as a "tough, unblinkered critic," James Lincoln Collier is probably the most controversial writer on jazz today. His acclaimed biographies of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman continue to spark debate in jazz circles, and his iconoclastic articles on jazz over the past 30 years have attracted even more attention. With the publication of Jazz: The American Theme Song, Collier does nothing to soften his reputation for hard-hitting, incisive commentary. Questioning everything we think we know about jazz—its origins, its innovative geniuses, the importance of improvisation and spontaneous inspiration in a performance—and the jazz world, these ten provocative essays on the music and its place in American culture overturn tired assumptions and will alternately enrage, enlighten, and entertain.
Jazz: The American Theme Song offers music lovers razor-sharp analysis of musical trends and styles, and fearless explorations of the most potentially explosive issues in jazz today. In "Black, White, and Blue," Collier traces African and European influences on the evolution of jazz in a free-ranging discussion that takes him from the French colony of Saint Domingue (now Haiti) to the orderly classrooms where most music students study jazz today. He argues that although jazz was originally devised by blacks from black folk music, jazz has long been a part of the cultural heritage of musicians and audiences of all races and classes, and is not black music per se. In another essay, Collier provides a penetrating analysis of the evolution of jazz criticism, and casts a skeptical eye on the credibility of the emerging "jazz canon" of critical writing and popular history. "The problem is that even the best jazz scholars keep reverting to the fan mentality, suddenly bursting out of the confines of rigorous analysis into sentimental encomiums in which Hot Lips Smithers is presented as some combination of Santa Claus and the Virgin Mary," he maintains. "It is a simple truth that there are thousands of high school music students around the country who know more music theory than our leading jazz critics." Other, less inflammatory but no less intriguing, essays include explorations of jazz as an intrinsic and fundamental source of inspiration for American dance music, rock, and pop; the influence of show business on jazz, and vice versa; and the link between the rise of the jazz soloist and the new emphasis on individuality in the 1920s.
Impeccably researched and informed by Collier's wide-ranging intellect, Jazz: The American Theme Song is an important look at jazz's past, its present, and its uncertain future. It is a book everyone who cares about the music will want to read.

Questioning everything we know about jazz--its origins, its innovative geniuses, the importance of improvisation and spontaneous inspiration in a performance--and the jazz world, these ten provocative essays on the music and its place in American culture overturn tired assumptions and will enrage, enlighten and entertain. A New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Mr. Collier mounts an impressive examination of Creole culture."—The New York Times Book Review

"A lively book....Collier writes knowledgeably about jazz culture and practice."—The Washington Post Book World

"Collier, who has written biographies of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, is an engaging and often controversial critic....Collier argues clearly and concisely that jazz was originally created by African Americans but has long been part of the cultural heritage of other races and classes; that jazz criticism is too deeply mired in adulation, not insight; and that race is not a criterion for appreciating jazz."—Publishers Weely

"Rewarding."—Booklist

"As he discusses jazz, race relations, and popular culture, Collier questions the notion that jazz represents a generalized 'black culture' or 'black experience' and argues that Sidney Bechet, more than Louis Armstrong, transformed jazz from an ensemble music to a soloist's music. Collier further traces the evolution of jazz from a scorned bordello music to its acceptance as a university-level discipline. This well-written and well-researched study shows wide reading and an attention to scholarly accountability. Collier is an important music critic, and his book will enhance large music collections."—Library Journal

"Among professional musicians and serious scholars of jazz, [Collier] is known for what he truly is—a poseur who attempts to elevate himself above his subject....Even his research is for camouflage, not illumination. No matter how many footnotes he uses, Mr. Collier is nothing more than a pompous social scientist who for too long has passed as a serious scholar of jazz music. That is why it is unfortunate that he was reviewed by a man apparently unaware of the contempt all who are seriously engaged in jazz feel for this viper in the bosom of blues and swing."—Wynton Marsalis

"Bound to blow fresh winds through the jazz academy—and to please those interested in watching the feathers fly."—Kirkus Reviews

"Provocative and engaging."—DISCoveries

From Barnes & Noble
One of our most insightful jazz critics offers his unique brand of incisive commentary in this collection of ten provocative essays on jazz and its place in American culture. Collier analyzes musical trends and styles and explores the most potentially explosive issues in jazz today. New York Times Notable Book of the Year-1993.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195096354
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 7/28/1995
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,530,286
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

James Lincoln Collier is the author of over fifty books. He has won a Newbery Honors Medal, a Christopher Medal, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. His books on music include biographies of jazz greats Armstrong, Ellington, and Goodman, and his articles on music appear regularly in many leading publications. Collier has worked as a jazz musician around New York for many years, and has played with groups in a dozen nations around the world.

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