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Have you ever pressed the Scan Button on your radio? Read this book!
on January 20, 2013
No doubt, you've traveled in a vehicle and pressed the SCAN Button on your radio. That's the experience you have by pressing SCAN on your radio and hearing the song being played as soon as the radio locks in on a particular radio station. You play some sort of rapid "Name That Tune" game in your mind and quickly decide whether the song on the radio is right for you. You undoubtedly make a snap judgement based on your personal musical preferences.
What does this have to do with the book Clawing at the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever, you ask?
Here's one perspective:
I'm writing this review first of all because I really enjoyed this book! It was a great read. I'm a struggling Musician who treats such literary works like sponges - I want to squeeze every drop of knowledge out of it and appreciate it for all it's worth. Music is something I enjoy as a hobby and on rare occasions as a developing improviser so this book shared a series of stories from two Jazz Greats I admire - Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Maybe you do too.
Before I bought this book, I read the reviews. At the time of this writing, if you happened to select the other Amazon listing for this title, you would not have found any reviews. Since you're obviously reading this, you might have noticed several reviews, and if you drill down on the comments on some of them, a series of lively discussions about this book is fast approaching the 290-plus pages in Clawing at the Limits of Cool!(That's a lot of review & commentary to read if you care to! Not to mention, my two cents.)
So, back to the Scan Button analogy. Whenever your radio locks in on a particular radio station, you make quick decision about the music. You probably think or actually say things such as; "I hate Rap!", "I hate Country!", "I can stand Classical!", "What is this noise?!?!" (Yes, "hate" is a strong word, but let's be honest, we usually say that!)
We seem too quick to label music and people sometimes.
Yet, behind every style of music there's a story. If my judgement and "hatred" toward a particular style of music creates a roadblock to appreciating the underlying context of the Musician's point of view, I'm the one who loses. If the Musician has the skills to produce and record a song that hits the airwaves, yet I immediately dismiss it due to my personal tastes, my respect for people diminished since I refuse to let their story find a brain cell within me. If I don't take the time to get to know and understand where this Musician is coming from, (their unique perspective or point of view) I miss out in the end.
We treat Authors in the same manner.
Many reviews on this thread suggest that the Authors didn't do their homework. I disagree. At least one reviewer questioned the validity of Miles Davis being nicknamed "Chief". I guess Guitarist Mike Stern didn't do his homework either, or he just one day woke up and randomly penned a tune called Chief for his album Jigsaw?
What's more, Miles Davis studied art and loved to paint. As further evidence of the "Chief" moniker, here's a quote from Miles Davis as written by Writer/Columnist/Musician Mike Zwerin:
"The guy who looks after my house in California, Mike, he calls me Chief. I say 'Mike, how do you like this?' He says, 'I liked it, Chief...just before you finished it.' So he thinks I spoiled it by making too much. I have to learn to stop. I know how to stop with music, but you have this problem of balance with paint and it's different." (Read it in it's entirety at [...]
By the way, if you decide to read Clawing at the Limits of Cool, pay close attention to how the Authors unpack the differences between how John Coltrane and Miles Davis 'learn to stop'. Just know that this book is different.
So just understand that when you read Clawing at the Limits of Cool, it is as though your radio has locked in on the Black Radio Station. The song selection is Jazz, but the Deejays are Black(Authors Farah Jasmine Griffin and Salim Washington). This is not your typical public radio style and format. Expect an African-American vernacular, swagger, and some urban edge. Expect to hear things said in a way you might not hear on NPR. The differences between American Bandstand's Dick Clark's and Soul Train's Don Cornelius' television shows would present two totally different styles and target audiences, yet we can learn to appreciate both and expand our limited framework we tend to place on our musical choices and preferences.
This book is a raw, rough, and real account of two Jazz Powerhouses. When reading this book, you must remember the environment and times these famed Musicians came up in. On page 260, you'll find a glossary and the word "Chitlin Circuit". If you don't know what that term means, you'll have all the "facts" presented in this book, but still miss the point! I had relatives who lived through these times and even heard Coltrane within arm's reach. It was a wonderful time and I hung on every word as they shared this with me. To fully understand the times, you need to either have lived them or pay intensely close attention to someone who has. Not from afar, not from a casual visit, but from someone who lived, breathed, and was part of the fabric of that experience. This book is a close representation of folklore passed from one generation to the next. Those who choose to just hear instead of listen will miss the context.
Clawing at the Limits of Cool will take you back in time to a degree. You'll soon be able to wrap your brain around the experience from a perspective that might be counter to your upbringing or lifestyle. You'll get a peek behind the curtain, backstage when Musicians tend to cut-up, hang loose, and say stuff that they normally might not say in polite company! Let's not be naive here, we all say stuff we shouldn't say or write things others won't agree with. It's as though someone left the microphone on either on accident, but probably on purpose since this story needed to be told. And, the Authors told the story well!
Don't be afraid, embrace the perspective shared in this book.
So, whether you choose to take the time or make the time to read this book or not, just be prepared for a perspective that may or may not be familiar to you. It was very familiar to me, yet I know many people of various background who could instantly relate to what's being communicated in this book - regardless of their "station" in life!