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Lennie Tristano: His Life in Music (Jazz Perspectives) Hardcover – March 28, 2007
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"In Lennie Tristano: His Life in Music, Shim has provided a comprehensive biographical and analytical account of one of jazz's most important and most frequently misun-derstood figures. Her insights into Tristano's personality are well nuanced, and the focus on his teaching makes a unique contribution to the history of jazz. This vividly written study is likely to become a standard work." - Brian Priestley, author of Chasin' The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker and co-author of The Rough Guide to Jazz"
About the Author
Eunmi Shim received her Ph.D in musicology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is now Assistant Professor of Music at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. This is her first book.
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The second result of Shim's focus is that she disproportionately dwells on serious musical perspectives regarding Tristano. There are 50 pages of sheet music of various Tristano numbers, which is great if you can read music, but rather worthless if you cannot. Also, Shim writes for people schooled in the theory and practice of music. Here's an excerpt from page 185, where she is discussing "Line Up": "The passage in III:1-3, starting with A major and constructed sequentially in 6/4, is striking in that the first chord of the song form is harmonically displaced, betraying the expectation for the tonic chord." Well, sure.
Although I was disappointed in not learning more about Tristano's personal life, Shim does devote a good amount of space to addressing Tristano's chronic complaining at his lack of recognition, as well as his blunt critique of the racial politics involved in jazz. Shim aptly points out on page 116 that "Tristano attributed the problems of his career, including the lack of public recognition, mainly to external forces instead of acknowledging his own choices." Indeed he did. But I think an opportunity was missed here. Had Shim dug deeper into Tristano's personal life, she may have been able to answer the question of why Tristano eschewed public performances while complaining about not being recognized. Shim's treatment of the racial bias within jazz begins well, but she ultimately toes the politically correct line, giving a free pass to the blatantly racist statements of Miles Davis and Dizzie Gillespie.
Shim is at her best--at least for the average reader--in the way she assimilates the countless interviews into the narrative. It's interesting to read various musicians reflect on Tristano and his legacy. I especially enjoyed her treatment of Tristano's students. Most of them appeared to have remained individualistic enough, thus defying the criticism of a Tristano cult, but Warne Marsh is revealed as pathetically slavish in his reverence for Tristano, even going so far as to mimic his voice and movements.
Ultimately, this is an excellent book, despite the limitations any particular reader may have. Shim is a scholar, and the writing style and the focus she maintains on her subject demonstrate that. The real pity is that relatively few people, even in the jazz world, will likely take notice of Shim's work, and Tristano's legacy will continue to languish.