Books by Gary Giddins

Released: Oct. 30, 2018

"A deeply researched and thoroughly engrossing biography that confirms Crosby's essential role in the history of American music and film during a crucial period of the 20th century."
The second volume of a multipart biography of Bing Crosby (1903-1977), concentrating on his remarkable achievements during the war years. Read full book review >
VISIONS OF JAZZ by Gary Giddins
Released: Sept. 1, 1998

Giddins, a longtime Village Voice contributor and one of our most skillful jazz critics (Faces in the Crowd, 1992, etc.), offers a monumental work of ambition, an attempt to encapsulate a hundred years of jazz history in 79 essays on the music's great creators. Actually, more properly, this is about the progenitors of jazz, benchmark figures and some idiosyncratic characters who helped make it a unique art form. Readers will look in vain for some key musicians—no Sidney Bechet, Ben Webster, Woody Herman, Albert Ayler here. What they will find, however, should more than amply reward: a canny celebration of jazz as a hotbed of intransigent individuality, of creation-on-the-fly. On the threshold of its second century, jazz faces a crisis of historical interpretation. As Giddins writes, "Jazz has been taken up by the academy at a time when only the academy can keep track of it." Giddins has made no attempt to smooth out the complicated wrinkles of the schools, trends, and cycles of which jazz history seems to be made. But, while he brings an unerring critical intelligence to his analyses of the music and a formidable grasp of music theory and practice, his writing has grown so compressed and aphoristic through the years that it now has the burnished weightiness of, say, film critic Manny Farber's work. Giddins has become a master of the lightning insight, the unexpected connection (his use of literary analogies is particularly apt). Visions raises some quibbles., and it is not a book to be read straight through, not surprising, given its length and intensity. Occasionally Giddins assumes too much knowledge of his readers. And a discography would help a lot. But this is an important book, one that any serious student of jazz will want to own. Deserves a place on the jazz bookshelf alongside the best of Martin Williams and Francis Davis, and you can't get much better than that. (11 illustrations) Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 1992

Village Voice critic Giddins (Rhythm-a-ning, 1985, etc.) shows his versatility in this large, varied collection of reviews and essays—but the jazz pieces remain far more impressive than the author's writing on literature and show-biz. Although Giddins can get a bit gushy about his enthusiasm for the vocal and instrumental jazz greats (e.g., a self-indulgent tribute to Sarah Vaughan), he's usually persuasive in his mix of extensive knowledge and eloquent appreciation. He uses lesser-known recordings to fashion a balanced assessment of Ella Fitzgerald's uneven yet awesome career; he makes a convincing case for the undervalued Kay Starr (whose ``serpentine portamentos...resemble tailgate glides''). As for Louis Armstrong, Giddins stresses a ``renegade'' quality that was able to transmute racist material. And, combining live-concert reviews with surveys of recorded work (plus a few interviews), he does justice to the distinctive contributions of harmonica-virtuoso Larry Adler, the erratic Miles Davis, sax-man Sonny Rollins (``the most commanding musician alive''), and Dizzy Gillespie—whose Afro-Cuban innovations are highlighted in a close analysis of the landmark composition, ``Manteca.'' Giddins's book reviews—on Vonnegut, Roth, Welty, James M. Cain (``no one squats more imposingly'' in the trashy dominion of ``foul dreams'') and others—are solid but mostly unremarkable. Overviews of the careers of Jack Benny and Irving Berlin are surprisingly bland; Giddins does better with Hoagy Carmichael and Myrna Loy. Least effective of all is an effusive defense of Clint Eastwood's Bird film-bio of Charlie Parker. Not Giddins at his consistent, authoritative best, then, but sturdy, accessible work from a valuable critic. Read full book review >