From Publishers Weekly
For more than half a century, Hentoff has deftly chronicled the lives of jazz musicians, the rise of jazz music in America, and the intimate relationship between jazz and civil rights, weaving intricate rhythmic prose around themes of loss, triumph, and musical virtuosity. In this collection of 64 interviews, essays, and recollections (many of them previously published), Hentoff ranges widely over numerous topics, from the meaning of jazz and the elements of a perfect jazz club to profiles of Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, Oscar Peterson, and Anita OÖDay. Hentoff vividly recalls hearing Artie ShawÖs "Nightmare" while walking past a record store in Boston when he was 11 and being touched as viscerally by ShawÖs haunting music as by the passionate and mesmerizing singing of his synagogueÖs cantor during the High Holy Days. In a paean to Louis Armstrong and the trumpeterÖs recognition of the healing power of music, Hentoff discusses the development of the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at New YorkÖs Beth Israel hospital, which focuses on medical treatment for patients with asthma and chronic pulmonary disease. Because the author realizes the power of jazz to educate young people about civil rights as well as music, Wynton Marsalis becomes, in HentoffÖs eyes, the Leonard Bernstein of today. Although the collection is repetitious and uneven (as such collections often are), HentoffÖs essays often generate thoughtful insights into this uniquely American musical form.
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Hentoff called his first collection on his musical prime passion The Jazz Life (1961). He could have called this book the same. For the theme uniting these mostly tiny (two- to four-page) pieces, most first published in JazzTimes and the Wall Street Journal, is jazz as a way life is lived and a reason for life, not just for musicians but for all who hear the life in jazz and wouldn't willingly live without it. A strong second theme is the condition most people live in for large parts if not all of life—family. Accordingly, Hentoff groups the pieces to reflect historic familial concerns as they're expressed in the jazz life. There are clutches of articles concerned with education, elder-care, dealing with emergencies (e.g., Katrina, which, after all, hit the cradle of jazz, New Orleans), defense (against assaults on civil rights and the First Amendment), spirituality, and more within the jazz family. And, of course, there are the appreciations of jazz family members—lots of these—for which Hentoff is absolutely and justly treasured. --Ray Olson