21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2012
A fantastic read. Ted Gioia gives an accurate and unbiased history of jazz.
Unlike most other histories (and much of Ken Burns documentary), this book avoids many of the "myth" elements of jazz history.
I really appreciated the importance he placed on the West Coast movement, which has had a long history of being ignored. You can tell he is passionate about this issue, and I plan on reading his history of west coast jazz next.
He also does a great job at giving credit to many overlooked musicians, and does his best to judge controversial figures like Paul Whiteman or Dave Brubeck on their music, rather than what every other jazz historian has written about them.
I would not recommend this book if you don't have a basic understanding of jazz history. You should already know all about Miles, Trane, Bird, Diz before starting this book or it will seem like a barrage of unfamiliar names.
Also - as a warning, Gioia has a tendency to get on scholarly tangents - I.e. mention someone as being "falstaffian" or "Dionysian". I personally didn't mind it - but be warned that this book reads very much like a lecture from a grad school professor.
One more thing I would highly recommend: it takes some extra time, but I kept a pair of headphones and Spotify nearby while reading and made sure to listen to every musical example he cited throughout the book. Sure you can talk about a Louis Armstrong trumpet break that changed the course of jazz, but it's much easier to listen in order to understand....
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2012
Some people take on projects that, while possible to accomplish, are impossible to accomplish perfectly. Ted Gioia, a veteran musician and scholar, released this "second edition" of his jazz history about a year ago, updating his original work from a decade earlier. Look what he took on: "Present a history of an American musical form that is a century old, complicated by prejudice and poverty and wide variations of creativity, commercialism and rebellion, involving dozens of instruments, thousands of artists, and in many cases songs that can be performed at various lengths with one to 30 musicians and recorded between the 1920's and the turn of the 21st century. And by the way, do it in less than 400 pages of narrative." How the hell does one organize such a project in a way that will not just enlighten most interested readers, but keep from boring them if they only care about the music and artists most prevalent in only one or two of the ten decades examined?
Well, Mr. Gioia is not universally successful, of course. For me, a casual jazz fan for the past 50 years, I have a fair amount of interest in the early years of the form, a huge interest in the way it went between 1946 and '66, and very little interest in the state of jazz over the past 30 years. Other readers will approach the book with opposite enthusiasms or indifferences.
I would give his ten chapters "star" ratings of one to five for readability, based on my life experience with the music, while for the purposes of teaching readers how jazz came to be, and what it once was, and what it became, and where it seems to be heading, all his chapters deserve a high ranking. How would YOU organize such a task? You cannot stay strictly chronologic, since Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong and some others had careers of five to six decades. You cannot give each of the 100 years of jazz only four pages. Some years likely deserve a few paragraphs, some ten pages. Mr. Gioia is roughly chronological, except for following the big stars into their full careers once he first mentions them.
Therefore, this book is one you will read more for knowledge than for pleasure. I am totally non-musical, only a diehard fan, and some of the musical references were beyond my understanding. I bought this at a bookstore, and paid the cover price, and I don't regret it. Having finished it, however, I see no reason to keep it in my personal collection. Instead, I'll continue listening to favorites like Miles, Monk, 'Trane, Modern Jazz Quartet, Ella, Brubeck, Bill Evans, Tal Farlow, Armstrong, Ellington, Mingus, Glenn Miller, Goodman, Jimmy Giuffre, Charlie Haden, Peggy Lee, Diana Krall, Gene Ammons, George Shearing, Art Pepper, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Mann, and others. Each is at least mentioned in the big book under discussion. And as I listen, I'll know just a bit more how each fits into the hundred years of jazz.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2011
The failure and success of this book are paradoxically one and the same. The author covers jazz from its very beginnings to current day. In so doing he provides an excellent context of this dynamic art form's progression through many different phases, styles and periods. However, many of the critical implications and ramifications of this progression, both upon society, and society upon this art form, are largely lost due to the extensive nature of the subject matter and the author's attempt to cover the topic linearly in its entirety. Toward the end of the book you see the author's style coalesce as he seemingly tires of the subject matter, rushing to a conclusion which in fact is a single paragraph in the subject heading of "The Globalization of Jazz." This after endless lists of artists seemingly for the sake of completeness. The ending is a bit of a let down as the current and future state of Jazz, both critical components of this subject matter (we use history to provide us with context and direction) were largely overlooked.
None the less the book is a very good read and does cover some excellent introductions to many artists that many readers might not know of or might not know of their impact on this critical musical style/category. The same can be said for many events and turning points in the history of this art form.
I dinged one star because surprisingly enough the author, despite covering much less influential, current-day, female jazz vocalists, and despite endless lists to apparently ensure many artists are included, suspiciously misses even a remote mention of Dee-Dee Bridgewater. Why? I have my thoughts but I leave the answer for the potential reader to ponder.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2014
Really loved this book. I knew nothing about jazz and this was a really was a great introduction to it. I downloaded all the songs in the book as I read along to better understand what the author was talking about. Helped a lot! Even today when I read biographies about jazz artists or friends mention jazz artists I am not familiar with, I always go back to this book for touch up references. If you don't know anything about jazz (like I did) and especially if you don't know anything about music . . then I can see how this book might be a bit hard to read, understand, and at times might become a bit dull. For those with a bit of music theory and want to know this history of jazz, then this is a great place to start.