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Why Jazz Happened
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Why Jazz Happened is not your typical history of jazz. You won't get long biographies of Coltrane, Davis, and Monk. You won't get in-depth analyses of great songs, albums, or soloists. What you will get is the story of how cultural, social, and historical variables all helped to create jazz. Coltrane's extended solos, after all, are as much a product of the civil rights struggle and invention of the long play (LP) record as they were about Coltrane's upbringing and his legendary quartet. Bebop owes as much to the musician's union's strike (barring members from recording for two years in order to petition for royalties for recorded music) as it does to the pioneering vision of artists like Dizzy Gillespie.

So, Why Jazz Happened is a history of jazz, yes; but it is as much a history about American culture told through the story of jazz. West Coast jazz (a favorite of mine), for instance, is largely 'explained' (though Marc Myers is no reductionist) by the housing boom in post-WWII West Coast and the fact that many touring musicians decided to settle there, developing a laid back sound to match the laid back weather and atmosphere. Spiritual jazz (from Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" to Rollins's "Freedom Suite") is argued to be largely an outgrowth of black musicians' disappointment with legal and cultural segregation, and the lack of progress toward equality; many black artists increasingly wrote spiritual-influenced jazz expressing their anger at the present and hope toward the future. Soul jazz (from Lou Donaldson to Grant Green) is seen as jazz musicians' and record labels' attempts to get R&B record buyers to come back and buy jazz records. I hope I am not making Myers's explanations sound too simplistic; his story makes use of an impressive array of primary and secondary sources including interviews with the musicians (and 'behind the secenes' folks like record executives) working at the times in question.

If I have one complaint, it is that the book goes off in many different directions, sometimes, feeling a bit long winded. The chapter on West Coast jazz, for instance, gokes on for 20 or so pages on the ins and outs of Los Angeles's post-WWII booming housing market and the urban planning involved in dealing with the sprawl. Sections like these (another is an in-depth story of the creation of the LP record) are interesting for 10 or so pages, but the reader can get a bit bogged down in these details. (I suspect that during these times, most readers will be saying "let's get to the jazz part." I know I was.)

But all in all, I kept reading. The book was very interesting, particularly because it was both about jazz and the cultural surroundings that advertently and inadvertently shaped it. I know I will never listen to some of my favorites the same way again. Now, these favorites will come a bit more to life. And I think that is a good thing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2013
I am a musical illiterate, but I have always wanted to learn more about the impact of Jazz not simply on other music, but American cultural life. Myers does a wonderful job connecting the work of such figures as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie to the story of what was happening to America at the time. He is more of a jounalist and historian than a music writer, which amply shows in "Why Jazz Happened." I particularly liked how he connects the social turmoil in Chicago during the 1960s to the emergence of a new sound among the city's influential musicians. This is a great read not just for Jazz lovers, but anyone who cares about history and how it came to be.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2013
There are many histories of jazz but Mr Myers puts jazz into history – into social context and does it well. His writing is a blend of the observations of those from within jazz and his own which happen to be, as are mine, quite centrist, eclectic, and ever cognizant of the fact that jazz evolved as entertainment. This hardly diminishes jazz but as jazz jazz wandered off and many participants bemoan the diminishing enthusiasm and market they might do well to read this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2013
Marc Myers is THE guy who knows what is going on in music. You can read his columns
often in the Wall Street Journal...but even better is his daily blog JAZZWAX.
Never miss it.
And now we can have a real published book - perfect for reading with Ella Fitzgerald
playing on the stereo and a fire in the fireplace.
Thank you Marc for opening our eyes to so much of this great music. Even if you think
you're not a jazz fan, WHY JAZZ HAPPENED will enlighten you and open up a new world of
wonderful music.
Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2013
informative discussion of jazz in the context of the social and technological changes of the 20th century. very thought provoking.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2013
Marc Myers' background in history is immediately apparent as "Why Jazz Happened" chronicles the last century in intimate detail. From the cultural, political, social, and personal influences that impressed themselves on the ever-changing genres of swing, big band, bebop and "jass," this book will heighten readers' appreciation for one of the most American types of music. Highly recommended to anyone with even the slightest interest in Jazz, after the introduction and first chapter you will be hooked, and you just might become a Jazz fan for life. Good tip: cue up different tracks to listen to (from YouTube, Whyd, etc) that Myers mentions while you read along. You can actually see the progression of the artists and the music itself.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2013
A wonderful book. Well written and easy to read. Especially if you are a jazz fan and want to see the development of the art from another perspective.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2013
Marc Myers is the kind of Jazz writer who never rests for a minute. He writes a daily blog called jazzwax (dot com) which is full of engaging interviews, opinions and recommendations about the music he so clearly knows and loves.

I believe the true audience for this book is much wider than just those interested in the history of Jazz. The book actually covers social and economic topics such as the advent of the LP and 45rpm records and the business rivalries that led to the emergence of pop, rock and even classical music as an at-home-entertainment industry. This book is probably just as important as an MBA case study as it is to the history of Jazz. Myers' coverage of the GI Bill and how it led to a generation of "schooled" musicians is another interesting social and political phenomenon that is of general interest, and helps explain why there is such a proliferation of music majors even today.

I don't mean in any way to diminish the importance of this book as a history of Jazz. My point is that it is much wider in scope. Myers set out to explain why Jazz happened, and he ended up explaining why the music industry as a whole happened, and the central role America has played in its evolution. A must-read for all music lovers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2013
The combination of musical, union, competitive-corporate, format and historical influences is not only extremely enlightening but also amazingly well integrated. Myers explains a great deal about the evolution of the whole music industry while giving jazz a particularly acute analysis. Bravo.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2013
This should be required reading for all music fans it provides a historical journey on the history of jazz Americas classical music. A well research book that covers all genres of music and technolog.
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