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But Beautiful: A Book about Jazz Hardcover – January 24, 1996


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 227 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press; Reprint edition (January 24, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865474907
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865474901
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #696,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Besides colorful and expressive music, jazz greats such as Lester Young, Thelonius Monk and Duke Ellington led equally colorful, albeit self-destructive, lives. Through this collection of essays, Geoff Dyer recounts some of the more vivid episodes and events these personalities engaged in and illuminates unique aspects of their character that contributed to their music. He also sheds light on the oppression of working within an atmosphere of race-alienation, a hardship that led many to abuse alcohol and drugs, and find solace only in their incredible music.

From Publishers Weekly

Dyer (Ways of Telling) here weaves impressionistic fantasies around the lives of eight jazz legends. Though he calls this "imaginative criticism," the vignettes, inspired by photos and writings about the artists, have little to do with music. Rather, he muses about the musicians' personalities and certain episodes in their lives?Lester Young's disastrous stint in the army, Thelonious Monk's inability to communicate with anyone but his wife, Bud Powell's mental breakdown, Chet Baker's drug-induced deterioration, Duke Ellington's endless travels. The colorful essays are sometimes excessively fanciful, and they capture the atmosphere of alienation that surrounded these men who, often wasted by drug and alcohol abuse and worn out from days and nights on the road, seemed to function only when making music. The pretentious "afterword" is irrelevant. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Geoff Dyer is the author of four novels and six other nonfiction books, including But Beautiful, which was awarded the Somerset Maugham Prize, and Out of Sheer Rage, which was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. The winner of a Lannan Literary Award, the International Centre of Photography's 2006 Infinity Award for writing on photography, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters' E. M. Forster Award, Dyer is a regular contributor to many publications in the US and UK. He lives in London. For more information visit Geoff Dyer's official website: www.geoffdyer.com

Customer Reviews

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Many thanks Mr. Dyer.
Antoni
And this is just right for a book about music, his writing is so lyrical that we almost hear the sounds while reading.
M. Allen Greenbaum
Recommended for all, and a must for anybody with a love of Jazz.
Paul Harris

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 44 people found the following review helpful By M. Allen Greenbaum HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Picture this: "Onstage at Birdland, eyes shut, one arm hanging at his side....trumpet raised to his lips like a brandy bottle--not playing the horn but swigging from it, sipping it."
Geoff Dyer's employs his exquisite imagery as a starting point for his "imaginative criticism" of the celebrated and tragic lives of several iconic jazz musicians (including figures such as Chet Baker, Lester Young, Thelonious Monk, Ben Webster, Charles Mingus, and Bud Powell). While photographs are the inspiration, Dyer's writing is so precise and sensual that he need only describe the photographs (the book has only one small photo). And this is just right for a book about music, his writing is so lyrical that we almost hear the sounds while reading. (In fact. the least effective aspect of the book is the Duke Ellington "road trip" that introduces each chapter, perhaps because the narrative is not connected to any particular Ellington sound.)
Many of the scenes and dialogue (especially the inner dialogue) are necessarily fictions, "assume that what's here has been invented or altered rather than quoted." But Dyer's explains that while his version may veer from the truth, "it keeps faith with the improvisational prerogatives of the form." He mixes truth and fiction into portraits that illuminate what strictly factual history cannot always convey. (Think of Robert Graves' in his WWI memoir/fiction "Goodbye to All That."). Dyer explains that while a photo depicts only a "split second," its "felt duration" may include the unseen moments before and after that split second.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Samuel Chell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 15, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This work, along with James Baldwin's short story, "Sonny's Blues," is as good as any I've read about the jazz life, its creators and innovators, and the high cost of such terrible beauty. I had the advantage of being present while Lester was lost on stage in an alcoholic stupor; Monk was dancing around the piano, knocking over cymbals, rather than playing the instrument; Chet Baker, unable to stand, was expending his last breaths on "The Thrill Is Gone"; and Duke was waiting for Harry Carney to swing by with the car to chauffeur him through the wintry night from Kenosha, Wisconsin to Kansas City. But how a young writer like Dyer managed to capture these moments before his time, freezing them unforgettably in a literary living moment, I can't imagine.
Dyer knows that the foremost responsibility of a music critic is not to critique but to verbalize his non-verbal subject, bringing it to life for the reader. He does so admirably, creating believable, recognizable, fascinating portraits in unlabored, unpretentious prose.
His portraits of the artist ring completely true to the ears of this fellow observer--penetrating glimpses of the creative child trapped in a man's body now reduced to fighting a losing battle against physical and mental entropy. Yet his faith in the living tradition of jazz is refreshing, as is his characterization of the jazz musician's struggle as a valiant contest with the precursor, not unlike that of the strong poet's.
Though there's an elegaic tone throughout the book, it's never ponderous or depressing. In fact, its human portraits are more likely to interest newcomers than the many text books that catalog styles and names.
This is not to say the book is without shortcomings. The author is much better at capturing the musicians for us than their music.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Eric J. Steger on May 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
Geoff Dyer's But Beautiful: A Book about Jazz is much more than an extended critical essay on a still-evolving, vital musical genre and a great deal more than fictional portrayals of Jazz legends. Here, Dyer focuses his considerable talents on creating a kind of Jazz-in-print, seeking to emulate the frenzied riffing, explosive spontaneity and creative interplay, which has given Jazz music so much more vitality than many other genres' created in the 20th century. Without question, one would have to agree that he has succeeded, totally to the readers' enrichment.
But Beautiful hits the reader on several levels; we are taken on a series of journeys into the lives, thoughts, conversations and seminal events of eight Jazz musicians. Between each chapter is inserted a fictional, road-tripping almost ghostly presence of Duke Ellington, a father figure of modern Jazz who may well have known, recorded and very likely influenced all eight men whom Dyer chose to write/riff about. What's real about the eight musicians are the bare-bones facts known to many Jazz fans; Lester Young court-martialed by the Army because of an inability to cope with a racist Drill Sergeant, Chet Baker's teeth knocked out by an angry drug dealer in a seedy, San Francisco diner, Art Pepper sentenced to five years in prison on a Heroin possession conviction and so on. What's possible, and perhaps no less real to the reader are the details of their lives, their anguish and the self-destructive passions which attend the day to day living of so many creative people. Dyer draws these details in part through listening to the music and inspiration gained by looking at photographs of some of the musicians. 'Not as they were but as they appear to me....
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