Reading Jazz

Overview

Has jazz become a white invention, "neutralized" by the attempts of white critics to describe, define, and even defend a black form of expression? Such is the provocative argument that emerges from David Meltzer's compilation of controversial and thought-provoking writings on jazz from the early decades of this century to the present. This diverse anthology of writings on jazz not only charts the evolution of a musical form, it also reflects evolving racial and cultural conflicts and stereotypes. An unusual ...
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Overview

Has jazz become a white invention, "neutralized" by the attempts of white critics to describe, define, and even defend a black form of expression? Such is the provocative argument that emerges from David Meltzer's compilation of controversial and thought-provoking writings on jazz from the early decades of this century to the present. This diverse anthology of writings on jazz not only charts the evolution of a musical form, it also reflects evolving racial and cultural conflicts and stereotypes. An unusual source book of jazz history, Reading Jazz examines its roots and its future as well as its links to and influence on other forms of modern cultural expression. David Meltzer artfully juxtaposes a variety of texts to explore the paradox of jazz as an art form perceived as both primitive and modern, to consider the use of jazz as a metaphor for new attitudes, to show how it was mythopoeticized and demonized, to view jazz as a focus for a variety of cultural attitudes, and to probe its relation to other aspects of modern culture. Arranged historically, both literary and popular texts are included, reflecting the interplay of jazz with both high and low culture, from such contributors as Hoagy Carmichael, Artie Shaw, Norman Mailer, Art Pepper, Simone de Beauvoir, Julio Cortazar, William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley, and many more. Reading Jazz will be indispensable not only for jazz enthusiasts but also for anyone interested in the evolution of modern culture.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Meltzer ( Arrows: Selected Poetry 1982-1992 ) is a shrewd reader, a man for whom ``read'' and ``riddle'' are integral, a man who approaches text determined to uncover its mysteries. Here he assembles bits and pieces from his historical and critical readings on jazz to form an eclectic anthology. Jazz aficionados are offered obscure sources that they might never track down on their own: a 1917 New Orleans newspaper review obviously confused by the new music, a 1937 study of the medium by social critic Waldo Frank, jazz-inspired poems written circa the 1950s by Mina Loy and Gilbert Sorrentino, criticism written by British visitors to the U.S. in the 1920s whose understanding of the music is retrospectively laughable. Meltzer presents familiar literary names in a jazz context: Julio Cortazar describes a live Thelonious Monk concert; Norman Mailer depicts the culture surrounding jazz in a passage from The White Negro as does Ralph Ellison in a passage from Invisible Man . Meltzer's dubious thesis, that jazz is a black music usurped by white critics and later by white musicians, and that the history of jazz is also the history of racism, is weak but does not ultimately interfere with an otherwise intriguing study. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Meltzer's intriguing reader contrasts the dichotomous myths created primarily by Caucasian writers about African American-based music. Using excerpts from autobiographies, newspapers, books, articles, published letters, and poems as illustrations, he juxtaposes writings that refer to jazz as both primitive and modern; godly and demonic; spontaneous and fixed in time by recordings; and as a rebellious, dangerous, untameable element sold as a commodity by record companies. Building upon Neil Leonard's groundbreaking study Jazz: Myth and Religion ( LJ 3/1/87), the author offers a provocative, highly personalized ``pre-ramble,'' an excellent annotated bibliography, and a revealing collection of writings about jazz history, with special emphasis on the jazz age of the 1920s and the postwar beboppers. Recommended for all libraries with collections in American music, race relations, and the cultural history of this century.-- David Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781562790387
  • Publisher: Mercury House
  • Publication date: 8/1/1993
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

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