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The Jazz Ear: Conversations over Music Paperback – October 27, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ratliff, the jazz critic for the New York Times, spent just over two years interviewing jazz greats for a recurring feature at the paper: rather than ask musicians like Pat Metheny or Dianne Reeves to name their favorite records, Ratliff sat with them as they listened to songs and picked out the qualities they found most artistically compelling. The approach brings some surprises, as his subjects pick everything from Ukrainian cantorial music to Ralph Vaughan Williams to the Fifth Dimension, but each chapter brings provocative insights and will have readers scurrying to track down various records. (Ratliff also provides a listening guide for each of his interviewees.) Though each chapter stands alone, connections are made from one interview to the next; Metheny and Joshua Redman, for example, both select songs from Sonny Rollins. The interview with Redman also hints at Ratliff's argument in his 2007 Coltrane: The Story of a Sound about jazz as a collaborative medium, while Branford Marsalis speaks candidly about young musicians' failure to understand the melodic legacy they've inherited, then plays a jazz-influenced piece by Stravinsky to make his point. Whether you're a seasoned listener or just discovering the form, Ratliff is a wonderful guide. (Nov. 11)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Admirers of jazz should be deeply thankful for Ratliff, New York Times jazz critic and author of Coltrane: The Story of a Sound. Jazz is perhaps the most elusive art form to discuss and critique, and Ratliff's latest book fills a vacuum in the realm of understanding jazz. Originally published as a series in the New York Times, the 15 conversations presented here consist of Ratliff sitting down with such diverse and talented luminaries as Sonny Rollins, Pat Metheny, Paul Motian, and Dianne Reeves. The treasure of these conversations is not just their fluid and intimate manner but their focus on the recordings that had the greatest influence on the artists and their musical paths. Ratliff's insight that one may understand musicians more by discussing the music that moves them rather than the music they have created results in a unique rendering of some of the major jazz artists of our time. An added bonus is the recommended-listening section, in which Ratliff shares his list of his subjects' seminal recordings. Highly recommended for all libraries.—Peter Thornell, Hingham P.L., MA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (October 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080509086X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805090864
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #699,986 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Since I'm going to voice concerns about jazz writing in general, let me start by saying that I like this book a lot. I read it in one sitting and I underlined numerous passages to copy. Having said that....

Jazz is my favorite and longest held music, but unlike classical music, it suffers from a dearth of serious, sustained popular critical writing. There are exceptions to this statement, most notably Gunther Schuller's studies of early swing and Ellington. Some jazz musicians, principally composers and arrangers, have written at length on how to construct a jazz piece and do a solo. But most books on jazz today for a lay audience are either biographical or reminiscent in nature (John Szwed on Sun Ra and Miles, Andy Hamilton on Lee Konitz, Laurence Bergreen on Louis Armstrong, Bill Crow's hilarious and fascinating anecdotes about the jazz life) or journals and reviews (Whitney Balliett's Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz 1951-2000, Gene Lees's and Balliett's essays on various pop and jazz singers, countless collections of interviews). Even Gary Giddins's Visions of Jazz: The First Century, a book I like a great deal, is basically a collection of occasional essays, relieved by a few record reviews (e.g., of Hank Jones and Charlie Haden's Steal Away).

Ben Ratliff has been jazz critic at the New York Times since 1996. He knows the jazz scene, he knows his music and he writes sympathetically and perceptively about this elusive American music. This is a good book. I read it in one sitting. I had read it all it four hours after I picked it up and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Nonetheless, I was frustrated that it didn't do more than it does.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As with any rewarding relationship, listening is central to creating a genuine friendship with jazz. Ben Ratliff's conversations with some of the living masters of the music suggest paths you may take. Ultimately, it is the music that matters most, and each of us will find our own way to it. This book offers insights that will enrich even a longtime jazz aficionado's appreciation and enjoyment of this uniquely dynamic music, which can never really be explained in words. But this is no less a fascinating book. It's a gem, one I suspect will interest and inform readers for a long time.
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Format: Hardcover
What a novel concept to take the world's best living jazz artists and ask them to bring five or six pieces with them to discuss. Then have a conversation about music and what is important to them in the pieces they have chosen. This will appeal to all music lovers, not just jazz afficionados, as the first conversation with Wayne Shorter describing why he likes Ralph Vaughan Williams's symphonies can attest. A great selection of living jazz legends - Shorter, Metheny, Rollins, Coleman, Redman, Marsalis, et al. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Normally when we think about musicians and "their music", we think about the music that they write, perform, and record. But author Ben Ratliff (jazz critic for the New York Times) decided to ask a different question. What do these musicians listen to and find influential? What are they thinking and hearing as they listen to the music? So Ratliff met with a dozen or so noted jazz musicians, asked them what tracks they'd like to listen to, and then relates to us the experience and conversations of listening to the music with the musicians. The result is The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music. It turns out to be fascinating stuff.

Though I am a musician and fancy myself a fan (though not a hardcore aficionado) of jazz, it quickly became clear to me that the plane these guys think on is just incredibly high. It is fascinating in its own way, though, listening to serious jazz players talk about how they think about jazz. My favorite part of the book, though, was the reference list at the back, where Ratliff lists each recording that he listened to with each of the musicians. It has been a great input for my personal playlist... so much to explore.

If you're a musician, like jazz, or just want to explore the minds of some great musicians, I'd recommend picking up The Jazz Ear. It's a short read, but quite worth it.
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