Reading Jazz: A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage, and Criticism from 1919 to Now

Overview

"Comprehensive and intelligently organized. . . .  Jazz aficionados . . . should be grateful to have so much good writing on the subject in one place."—The New York Times Book Review

"Alluring. . . . Capture[s] much of the breadth of the music, as well as the passionate debates it has stirred, more vividly than any other jazz anthology to date."—Chicago Tribune

No musical idiom has inspired more fine writing than jazz, and nowhere has...

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Reading Jazz: A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage, and Criticism from 1919 to Now

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Overview

"Comprehensive and intelligently organized. . . .  Jazz aficionados . . . should be grateful to have so much good writing on the subject in one place."—The New York Times Book Review

"Alluring. . . . Capture[s] much of the breadth of the music, as well as the passionate debates it has stirred, more vividly than any other jazz anthology to date."—Chicago Tribune

No musical idiom has inspired more fine writing than jazz, and nowhere has that writing been presented with greater comprehensiveness and taste than in this glorious collection. In Reading Jazz, editor Robert Gottlieb combs through eighty years of autobiography, reportage, and criticism by the music's greatest players, commentators, and fans to create what is at once a monumental tapestry of jazz history and testimony to the elegance, vigor, and variety of jazz writing.  
        Here are Jelly Roll Morton, recalling the whorehouse piano players of New Orleans in 1902; Whitney Balliett, profiling clarinetist Pee Wee Russell; poet Philip Larkin, with an eloquently dyspeptic jeremiad against bop. Here, too, are the voices of Billie Holiday and Charles Mingus, Albert Murray and Leonard Bernstein, Stanley Crouch and LeRoi Jones, reminiscing, analyzing, celebrating, and settling scores. For anyone who loves the music—or the music of great prose—Reading Jazz is indispensable.  

"The ideal gift for jazzniks and boppers everywhere. . . . It gathers the best and most varied jazz writing of more than a century."—Sunday Times (London)

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The former Knopf and New Yorker chief was a late but vastly enthusiastic convert to the joys of jazz, as he explains in his introduction, and this vast compendium is certainly a labor of great love. It is also, at this size, unwieldy and, it would seem, priced rather high for the market it deserves. There are more than 100 pieces here, most of them culled from out-of-print books, as well as magazines both prominent and obscure. The effort to pull together so large a collection of such pieces, on a subject that in general has defied analysis, has clearly been prodigious, and jazz buffs owe a great deal to Gottlieb for rescuing so much of this material from obscurity. There are plenty of dashing portraits, autobiographical and otherwise, of jazz greats ranging from Louis Armstrong to Charlie Parker (rightly seen as the twin pillars in jazz history to date), such curios as an early essay by the Swiss classical conductor Ernst Ansermet on the impact of jazz in Europe right after WWI and many fine accounts of memorable nights on the bandstands of the '30s and '40s. The reportage section reminds us again of how sterling a stylist the New Yorker's Whitney Balliett is, and there is a definitive piece on the essential differences between classical and jazz criticism by Winthrop Sargeant. Almost everything is worth its weight, including the reminders of the great debate that used to rage over the merits of bop versus classical New Orleans style, exemplified here in pieces by the French critic Hugues Pannassie and English poet Philip Larkin (himself a noted buff). It's a feast that also enshrines a great deal of American social history; but perhaps a Best of Reading Jazz selection, at a third of the size and about half the price, would be more realistic. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Edited by Robert Gottlieb, former New Yorker editor, this amazing anthology on jazz music and musicians collects over 150 excerpts from monographic and serial publications, including several pieces long out of print or otherwise unavailable. It provides a broad and varied look at the history of this indigenous American art form, from the heights of artistic achievement to the sad realities of struggles with drug abuse and racism. There are fascinating autobiographical essays from such significant figures as Louis Armstrong, Mary Lou Williams, and Miles Davis and reportage and criticism sections featuring insightful and challenging work from noted jazz writers like Gene Lees, Gary Giddins, and Dan Morgenstern. An essential purchase for every music collection.-Michael Colby, Univ. of California, Davis
Salon
[T]he miraculous revival of jazz in the last decade — after its near-death experience in the '70s and early '80s — has given fresh life to jazz writing. Two very different new anthologies demonstrate, with mixed results, the range of writing about this music.

Robert Gottlieb's 1,000-plus page anthology, Reading Jazz, is a predictable mix of tribute essays, criticism and autobiographical excerpts by writers ranging from Jelly Roll Morton to Stanley Crouch. It's a bedside reader, basically, for older jazz fans who are unfazed by the steep sticker price and want a hit of atmosphere along with their oxygen. Although Gottlieb's miscellany purports to cover jazz "from 1919 to Now," its emphasis is weighted disproportionately toward way back when. The result, particularly in the autobiography section, with its preponderance of as-told-to-memoirs, is a gallery of musicians from the golden age, awash in nostalgia.

The Second Set is by far the more interesting anthology. The 110 poets collected here range from early 20th century masters (Hart Crane, e.e. cummings) to such essential contemporary poets as June Jordan, Derek Walcott and Mark Doty. Thomas McGrath's exquisitely surreal Guiffre's Nightmusic describes the clarinetist's harmonic landscape: "A scale-model city, unlighted, in a shelf/In the knee of the Madonna; a barbed wire fence/Strummed by the wind: dream-singing emblems." And Michael S. Harper leads readers along John Coltrane's voice, directly into his mouth. "I don't remember train whistles/or the corroding trestles of ice/seeping through the hangband,/vaulting northward in shining triplets,/but the feel of the reed on my tongue/haunts me even now, my incisors/pulled so the pain wouldn't lurk."

Nearly all writing about jazz is a testimony to magic, an attempt to honor and make palpable a musical epiphany. Poetry, because it is patterned on sound and driven by the improvisational leap, has a natural affinity with jazz, and the many fine poems in this collection demonstrate how the two can walk hand in hand. Editors Sascha Feinstein and Yusef Komunyakaa have brought care and vision to this volume. At the end of the book, a section of statements on jazz and poetics, by contributors, underscores the passionate link. "I cannot imagine a world without jazz," says poet Anselm Hollo, "be it hot or cool; it is one of the relatively few good reasons one has for enduring this century." -- Bart Schneider

Kirkus Reviews
Jazz, like baseball, is an American cultural phenomenon and, like its sporting counterpart, has inspired a wealth of great writing. Former New Yorker and Alfred A. Knopf editor in chief Gottlieb, a relative newcomer to the ranks of jazz fans, has drawn on those riches for this enormous compilation of great nonfiction writing about the music, and his choices are astute ones. All the great names in jazz writing are here: Gary Giddins, Francis Davis, Gene Lees, Nat Hentoff, Leonard Feather, Whitney Balliet, and Martin Williams. Autobiographical material covers just about every major musician who ever put pen to paper (or voice to tape recorder). Gottlieb hasn't shied away from controversy, either, including such combative figures as James Lincoln Collier and Stanley Crouch (don't invite them to the same party!). There are even some unexpected literary lights like Jean-Paul Sartre. One might quibble with some of his choices of specific pieces, and there ought to be more than one entry from Lees, but this is a good introductory collection for the beginning jazz reader, and for the real aficionado, a nice smorgasbord to be dipped into at leisure.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679781110
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/1999
  • Edition description: 1 VINTAGE
  • Pages: 1088
  • Sales rank: 794,847
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.80 (d)

Table of Contents

PART 1: AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Jelly Roll Morton
Sidney Bechet
Louis Armstrong
Willie "The Lion" Smith
Duke Ellington
Sonny Greer
Leora Henderson
Art Hodes
Buck Clayton
Hoagy Carmichael
Eddie Condon
Mary Lou Williams
Cab Calloway
Lionel Hampton
John Hammond
Count Basie
Billie Holiday
Mezz Mezzrow
Artie Shaw
Charlie Barnet
Max Gordon
Anita O'Day
Milt Hinton
Art Blakey
Milt Gabler
Miles Davis
Willie Ruff
Art Pepper
Charles Mingus
Hamton Hawes
Paul Desmond
Cecil Taylor
Anthony Braxton

PART 2: REPORTAGE
King Oliver: A Very Personal Memoir by Edmond Souchon, M.D.
A Music of the Streets by Fredrick Turner
The Blues of Jimmy by Vincent McHugh
Jack Teagarden by Charles Edward Smith
Even His Feet Look Sad by Whitney Balliett
The Cutting Sessions by Rex Stewart
Thomas “Fats” Waller by John S. Wilson
Sunshine Always Opens Out by Whitney Balliett
The Poet: Bill Evans by Gene Lees
Black Like Him by Francis Davis
The House in the Heart by Bobby Scott
The Big Bands by George T. Simon
Homage to Bunny by George Frazier
The Spirit of Jazz by Otis Ferguson
The Mirror of Swing by Gary Giddins
Jimmie Lunceford by Ralph J. Gleason
Two Rounds of the Battling Dorseys by Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Dorsey
Jazz Orchestra in Residence, 1971 by Carol Easton
Flying Home by Rudi Blesh
The Fabulous Gypsy by Gilbert S. McKean
Minton’s by Ralph Ellison
Minton’s Playhouse by Dizzy Gillespie
At the Hi-De-Ho by Hampton Hawes
Bird by Miles Davis
Waiting for Dizzy by Gene Lees
An Evening with Monk by Dan Morgenstern
Theloious and Me by Orrin Keepnews
John Coltrane by Nat Hentoff
Bessie Smith: Poet by Murray Kempton
Mahalia Jackson by George T. Simon
Lady Day Has Her Say by Billie Holiday
The Untold Story of the International Sweethearts fo Rhythm by Marian McPartland
A Starr is Reborn by Gary Giddins
Moonbeam Moscowitz: Sylvia Syms by Whitney Balliet
The Lindy by Marshall and Jean Stearns
A Night at the Five Spot by Martin Williams
You Dig It, Sir by Lillian Ross
Johnny Green by Fred Hall
Jazz in America by Jean-Paul Sartre
Don’t Shoot—We’re Americans! by Steve Voce
Goffin, Esquire, and the Moldy Figs by Leonard Feather

PART 3: CRITICISM
Bechet and Jazz Visit Europe, 1919 by Ernst-Alexandre Ansermet
Harpsichords and Jazz Trumpets by Roger Pryor Dodge
Conclusions by Winthrop Sargeant
Has Jazz Influenced the Symphony? by Gene Krupa and Leonard Bernstein
No Jazz is an Island by William Grossman
The Unreal Jazz by Hugues Panassié
All What Jazz? by Philip Larkin
The Musical Achievement by Eric Hobsbawm
King Oliver by Larry Gushee
Bix Beiderbecke by Benny Green
James P. Johnson by Max Harrison
Coleman Hawkins by Dan Morgenstern
Not for the Left Hand Alone by Martin Williams
Time and the Tenor by Graham Colombé
Bop by LeRoi Jones
On Bird, Bird-Watching, and Jazz by Ralph Ellison
Why Did Ellington “Remake” His Masterpiece? by André Hodeir
On the Corner: The Sellout of Miles Davis by Stanley Crouch
Space Is the Place by Gene Santoro
Easy to Love by Dudley Moore
Bessie Smith by Humphrey Lyttelton
Billie Holiday by Benny Green
Cult of the White Goddess by Will Friedwald
Ella Fitzgerald by Henry Pleasants
The Divine Sarah by Gunther Schuller
The Blues as Dance Music by Albert Murray
Local Jazz by James Lincoln Collier
Fifty Years of “Body and Soul” by Gary Giddins
Everycat and Birdland Mon Amor by Francis Davis
Bird Land by Stanley Crouch
Louis Armstrong: an American Genius by Dan Morgenstern
A Bad Idea, Poorly Executed...by Orrin Keepnews

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