Bookshelf #13 (Jazz edition)
Posted by s woods on September 1, 2008
90. Reading Jazz: A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage, and Criticism from 1919 to Now (Edited by Robert Gottlieb)
91. The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD (Richard Cook & Brian Morton)
92. Running the Voodoo Down: The Electric Music of Miles Davis (Philip Freeman)
93. Celebrating the Duke… And Louis, Bessie, Billie, Bird, Carmen, Miles, Dizzy and Other Heroes (Ralph Gleason)
94. Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray
95. The Otis Ferguson Reader (Edited by Dorothy Chamberlain and Robert Wilson)
96. Satchmo (Louis Armstrong)
97. As Though I Had Wings: The Lost Memoir (Chet Baker)
I’m pretty sure these are all the jazz books I own — it’s possible I’ll come up against something I missed later on. In the last few months I’ve spent umpteen hours listening to and investigating jazz — from Armstrong to Ayler (but much moreso Ayler) — and there were three books in particular which helped open that door for me: John Gennari’s Blowin’ Hot and Cool (which I wrote about here), Philip Freeman’s Running the Cool Down, and Ralph Gleason’s Celebrating the Duke. Once the bug hit it hit hard and I started buying more jazz books to supplement (to help me begin to make sense of) my listening. Five of the eight titles above are very recent purchases (to give you some idea of just how deficient in this area I was before), and I’ve taken at least a dozen books out of the library in the last couple months as well, including some I will eventually purchase (the two I’m most anxious to secure copies of are Leroi Jones’s/Amiri Baraka’s Black Music and Martin Williams’s The Jazz Tradition).
Just a few short words about some of the above: I like Philip Freeman’s book a lot even though it feels a little disjointed to me (the whole being a little less than the sum of its parts, I think) and despite the fact that it wasn’t easy going at first, given how much effort he expounds describing in great detail music I was for the most part not very familiar with. I suppose the fact that I’ve familiarized myself with much of it since says something about his descriptive powers. I also — and this is crucial — appreciate the fact that Freeman, whatever his knowledge of jazz history (and I take it he does well in that area) basically approaches the stuff as a rock critic. For writing on Miles’s electric music, nothing that I’m aware of tops Greg Tate’s astonishingly great essay in Flyboy in the Buttermilk, but Freeman makes a strong case for the stuff regardless and his book is more or less an extension of Tate’s argument. (For the record, I do love On the Corner and Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way but don’t get much at all out of the much less spacious Agharta, except maybe some of the keyboard parts; by the time I reach the 10-minute mark I find it really tiresome.)… On the other hand — as a counter-argument to Freeman and Tate — there’s Stanley Crouch’s eviscerating essay on Miles’s electric period (“On the Corner: The Sellout of Miles Davis”), which is one of hundreds of essays featured in Reading Jazz. Crouch’s argument strikes me as more than a little petty (hung up as he is on such limiting definitions of “quality”) but nonetheless quite compelling as a polemic — real draw-the-line-in-the-sand kind of writing… The Otis Ferguson collection was purchased through Ebay. I also own his movie collection, and have read so much about the guy (plaudits from the likes of Christgau and Frank Kogan, among others) I figured I’d take to it right away, but nothing has clicked for me yet. I’ll try again at some point… Finding a reliable jazz record guide has proven difficult (where to begin? who to trust?), so I realized I was taking a chance a few weeks ago when I purchased a used copy of the Cook/Morton collection (the third edition; I noticed in Indigo recently that it is now in its seventh). Luckily, it turned out to be a wise choice. Like every jazz record guide I’ve come across the thing weighs about eleven pounds, but the writing is clear, opinionated, descriptive — to the point where it often gets away from me, not that that’s a surprise — and is good at providing some context. Were I 25 years younger and completely devoted to the stuff I could imagine myself devouring this title from start to finish while simultaneously filling out gaps in my collection, exactly the way I did with Christgau’s ’70s guide way back when. Circumstances will prevent such obsessiveness from ever taking shape, but I imagine the book will come in very handy for years to come.
Any great jazz books you can recommend? My taste, as you may have figured out, leans much more heavily towards criticism than biography, but any recommendations are appreciated.