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Behop and Nothingness: Jazz and Pop at the End of the Century

Behop and Nothingness: Jazz and Pop at the End of the Century

by Francis Davis

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Most contemporary jazz is too homogeneous and conservative for Davis (The History of the Blues), who says the unifying theme of this idiosyncratic collection of essays is his "growing disenchantment with contemporary jazz." He includes a number of innovative mainstreamers, such as Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie and Lester Young, and he also devotes a section to Broadway and vintage pop because they have been the sources of much in jazz. For the most part, however, Davis focuses on peripheral musicians-mavericks such as Dr. Vernard Johnson, who spreads the gospel on alto saxophone; Charles Gayle, a homeless tenor saxophonist; pianist Lennie Tristano, a cult figure more interested in pedagogy than performance; Sun Ra and his Myth Science Arkestra; black klezmer clarinetist Don Byron; avant-garde trumpeter Lester Bowie, leader of the experimental group Brass Fantasy; and Bobby Previte, who composes "technoeclectic" scores for the Moscow Circus. All these heady, thought-provoking pieces previously appeared in various newspapers and periodicals. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
The latest collection of essays by Davis (Outcats, 1990; The History of the Blues, 1995; etc.) finds this gifted jazz critic singing some blues of his own.

The problem is not, Davis says in his introduction, the usual one, that jazz is a marginalized art form that doesn't get any respect. In fact, he observes, the music is enjoying its greatest popularity since the big-band era. But "keeping up has ceased to be fun," he writes pointedly. The music has fallen into the hands of musical neoconservatives like Wynton Marsalis who, despite their obvious gifts, have a narrow vision of jazz history. As this collection amply testifies, Davis is still drawn to the "outcats," the marginal figures within jazz itself. These essays represent his continued search for "audible individuality" as embodied by sounds as dissimilar as the corruscating free jazz of saxophonist Charles Gayle and the melody-driven romanticism of trumpeter Ruby Braff. At the same time, Davis's profiles are exemplary in their reproduction of diverse voices ranging from Braff's witty crankiness to Anthony Braxton's knowing eccentricity, from the mischievous giddiness of Don Byron, a black clarinetist of surpassing skill who moves easily between jazz and Jewish klezmer, to the warm motherliness of Rosemary Clooney. At the heart of the book, though, is a single theme that unites all of these disparate figures: Despite the success of a handful of younger artists, it is as difficult to be a jazz musician today as it has ever been. If anything, the essays that take Davis outside the world of jazz—pieces on rap, Michael Jackson, and a couple of highly intelligent ruminations on the Broadway musical—serve primarily to underscore that sad truth.

Davis remains one of our most engaging music critics, thoughtful and erudite, funny and self-aware. Highly recommended.

Product Details

Omnibus Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.93(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.40(d)

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