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Why Jazz Happened Hardcover – December 10, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This accessible history of jazz by frequent Wall Street Journal writer and blogger Myers focuses on the years 1942–72, when that music emerged from its beginnings into a period of ferment, from bebop to fusion. It is not necessarily for the musically sophisticated but rather for the layperson interested in the midcentury development of jazz, and Myers’ critical contribution is in the why of his title (which might have profited from a subtitle). Though utilizing interviews, Myers relies primarily on secondary sources; as a result, he offers little new in the way of detail or musicology, but he supplements the voluminous jazz literature by cogently analyzing the business and cultural contexts—technological (radio and jukebox, LP and 45 rpm records, electronics) and social (the GI Bill, suburbanization, the civil rights movement)—that enabled the growth of jazz in mid-twentieth-century America. --Mark Levine

Review

"A highly engaging, thoroughly researched book."--"All About Jazz"

"'Why Jazz Happened' Makes Its Points Like a Snazzy Lawyer in the Courtroom: Zip, Zam, Zot. . . . Students and fans of jazz will come away enlightened about a huge part of the jazz story that has been mostly untold, before this otherwise intelligent and well-reported book was published."--Will Layman"Popmatters.com" (02/21/2013)

"A needed historical overview. . . . Myers presents his argument of 'why jazz happened' in a concise, powerfully convincing style. . . . Highly recommended."--G. A. Akkerman, University of South Carolina Upstate"Choice" (04/01/2013)

"Myers has managed to come up with a fresh take on the [history of jazz's evolution]."--Willard Manus"LivelyArts.com" (04/01/2013)

Why Jazz Happened' Makes Its Points Like a Snazzy Lawyer in the Courtroom: Zip, Zam, Zot. . . . Students and fans of jazz will come away enlightened about a huge part of the jazz story that has been mostly untold, before this otherwise intelligent and well-reported book was published. --Will Layman"Popmatters.com" (02/21/2013)"

A needed historical overview. . . . Myers presents his argument of why jazz happened in a concise, powerfully convincing style. . . . Highly recommended. --G. A. Akkerman, University of South Carolina Upstate"Choice" (04/01/2013)"

Myers has managed to come up with a fresh take on the [history of jazz's evolution]. --Willard Manus"LivelyArts.com" (04/01/2013)"

"Why Jazz Happened contains a treasure trove of insider information . . . a valuable addition to readings in jazz history."--Mark C. Gridley"Notes" (06/01/2015)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 266 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; F First Edition edition (December 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520268784
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520268784
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #839,018 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kevin Currie-Knight VINE VOICE on January 2, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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