A collection of essays that makes unlikely connections that will encourage music fans to listen beyond categorical...




A veteran New York Times critic, Ratliff here goes beyond the focus on jazz in his previous books (The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music, 2008) to explore the consumption of music in its widest variety and availability.

This is the critical equivalent of a series of mixtapes, the playlists compiled (now on computer rather than cassette) to share favorite music and to illuminate and entertain through juxtaposition. Streaming and downloading have made just about everything available to just about everyone, for better and worse, as programming algorithms strive to give listeners more of what they like rather than push them into unfamiliar territory. Urging “a strategy of openness” and offering “a spirit in which to hear things that may have been kept away from you,” the author proceeds to analyze common elements—sadness, silence, intimacy, density, virtuosity—among musical performances and styles that aren’t often considered to have much in common. At the end of each chapter is a playlist of the music covered. The best essay, “Blues Rules: Sadness,” is as startling as it is provocative, meandering its way to what might typically be considered blues through the haunted mortality of Nick Drake, some Mozart, and then proceeding to Slayer and Black Sabbath. One senses that the author could write a whole book on heavy metal: “it’s all inverse gospel, and the code for listening to it is as complex as gospel’s.” Other essays are all over the musical map, but it’s fascinating how Ratliff can bring a fresh ear to such familiar music—making the Beatles the centerpiece of a chapter on “Closeness” while the Rolling Stones are their polar opposites in the power of “Discrepancy”—and how inviting he makes some little-known music sound, particularly when everything is so available.

A collection of essays that makes unlikely connections that will encourage music fans to listen beyond categorical distinctions and comfort zones—though reading the book feels a little incomplete without the listening that should accompany the experience.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-27790-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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