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Down Beat: Sixty Years of Jazz Paperback – January 1, 1995
Top Customer Reviews
It starts with an introduction describing the history of the magazine from its humble beginnings as a trade newspaper for musicians written by an insurance salesman to the great mucical and social commentator of jazz music that it became.
The main body of the book speaks for itself in articles published in the magazine, broken up into chapters each covering a decade of music starting with the 1930s. We see the rise of the great jazz era, the hiring of Charlie Christian by Benny Goodman followed by a eulogy for his untimely death a few pages later, interviews with countless greats such as Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie, the decline of the big bands, the rise of bop in the 1940s, all the way through to the free jazz of Ornette Coleman, the fusion of the 1970s and up to the artists of the present day such as the Marsalis brothers. There is so much here.
As a commentator of jazz music, Down Beat was inevitably drawn into debates on race. It was clear to any lover of jazz that the originators and best musicians in the genre were black. As a result the Down Beat writers were inevitably drawn to defending the rights of black artists. The articles from the 1930s in particular show both directly and indirectly the shameful racism that existed. For example, there are a number of articles discussing whether black players should play in white bands.
To the contemporary reader a few articles may be somewhat offensive in this regard. I think it is very important to recognise these as evidence of the attitudes and prejudices of the times. It is also important to realise that the writers of Down Beat were far more liberal in their attitudes than the American public as a whole. However, it is also heartening to see the unifying effect of jazz. There is an article about Benny Goodman's band touring the deep south in the 1930s when Lionel Hampton was with the group. Hampton had some trepidation about going on the tour and there were fears of violent protests about a "mixed" group. Music won out and the band got a roaring reception.
This is an incredible book which will transport you back in time. It provides the immediacy of history being written while it is happening.