British poet Larkin's collection of his decade-long ""record diary"" of jazz disc critiques for a London paper is a...


ALL WHAT JAZZ: A Record Diary 1961-1971

British poet Larkin's collection of his decade-long ""record diary"" of jazz disc critiques for a London paper is a disappointing platform for his verified prejudices about jazz. Though he insists he ""loves"" the genre, he continually attacks it with condescending scorn, dismisses many of the major jazz figures of the last few generations, and even qualifies his rare accolades with sanctimonious sour judgments designed to check any ""over praise."" His grudging appreciation of Basie, Beiderbecke, Pee Wee Russel, Johnny Hodges, Teddy Wilson, Gillespie and Armstrong appears a miraculous discovery foraged out of the ""appalling"" material he self-righteously admits he must ""endure"" as a reviewer. His candor only underscores the weakness of this volume, an absence of any sympathy for the magic of the music. In confidant arrogance, he manages to fault an amazing range of artists. Though he insists he likes jazz ""entertainers"" like Fats Waller, he finds his ""tedious humour"" and ""trivial piano playing"" tiresome; he calls Cannonball Adderley derivative; Benny Goodman's ""a dowager doing the cancan"": the sound of Archie Shepps, a blend of ""bagpipes and concrete mixer."" Dave Brubeck suffers ""rhythmic deadness"" and Ornette Coleman ""no pitch, no rhythm, no nothing""; even Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Bessie Smith are found lacking. In quirky, unmusical descriptions, Larkin tells us what jazz shouldn't be, but rarely what it should be. His narrow credo mourns the loss of an age when a ""jazzman was a jazzman,"" a distinction he never explains, and he insists childishly that he can ""recognize jazz because it makes my foot tap. . .if it doesn't. . .then however musically interesting. . .it isn't jazz."" This, as well as his announcement that all modern art is designed ""to evoke uncomprehension, anger, boredom or laughter,"" renders him, though knowledgeable, an unfit reviewer for the majority of the music he covers. His lack of musicality, joy and soul in these dispassionate, cryptic pieces make them interesting only for the voracious jazz disc chronicler, not for the jazz lover.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1985


Page Count: -

Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1985