THE JAZZ SCENE by Eric Hobsbawm


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Intelligently written and updated study of American jazz first published in Britain 30 years ago (under the pseudonym Francis Newton) by Marxist social historian Hobsbawm (Nations and Nationalism Since 1780, etc.). Though Hobsbawm has not changed his basic text in this first American edition--a history of jazz and then discursions on the jazz scene in the early 60's--he has added much new material, and the new text is often more spirited than the earlier. The new material first appeared in The New York Review of Books and The New Statesman, for which Hobsbawm is something of a jazz journalist or jazz historian. He begins with the prehistory of jazz, about which he is knowledgeable without being dense--although his slow start may cost him readers. It's hard to imagine a jazz player today reading this material, but it's not hard to pin down Hobsbawm's ideal readers: finger-snapping literati. The author exposes his likes and dislikes in his liveliest passages, and 30 years ago foresaw the spiritual ossification of Miles Davis, long before the musician buried his talent in fusion jazz. All the greats are covered in passing (Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday), while further space is given to Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Thelonious Monk, Mahalia Jackson, and Sidney Bechet. Gunther Schuller's magnum opus, The Swing Era (1988), comes under fire for not swinging enough, despite its many pleasures (""some like it hot,"" Hobsbawm says, though a cool kettle himself). Perhaps Hosbawm's tastiest comments are about the business side and work ethics, where his historian's eye strips the jazz scene down to its commercial spine as the music moves from the countryside to the city and becomes professional. Without fail, the author shows, each new musical wave hardens into show biz. Podium chat backed by a snare drum's whispering percipience.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1993
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Pantheon