Kirkus Reviews QR Code
BUT BEAUTIFUL by Geoff Dyer

BUT BEAUTIFUL

A Book about Jazz

By Geoff Dyer

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-865-47490-7
Publisher: North Point/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 A curious combination of fiction and criticism celebrating primarily the great jazz musicians of the '50s. Dyer, a British novelist and critic, calls his method ``imaginative criticism,'' in that he creates dialogue and situations loosely based on oral histories. Inspired by a series of famous photographs (which, oddly, are not reproduced here), this is a rogue's gallery of jazzmen, from the last, alcohol-drenched days of famed tenor saxophonist Lester Young through the delusion-filled life of pianist Bud Powell and the elephantine anger and musical passions of bassist/composer Charles Mingus, to name a few. Dyer has a neat turn of phrase and can aptly sum up a musician's style in prose (Thelonious Monk's piano playing is described as ``dripping [notes] like booze from a spilled glass, the tune falling to the floor in puddles''). However, because the reader has no idea where fact ends and fiction begins, these essays are more frustrating than illuminating. And because much of the material Dyer draws on is easily available in the jazz literature, one would be better served by referring to the original material rather than relying on his high flights of fancy. As a means of linking the vignettes, Dyer has created a story of Duke Ellington and his devoted driver as they travel from one gig to another; these little snippets don't add up to much. To appease those critics who will be repelled by his fact/fictional stories, he has added a short essay on jazz, very much soaked in the latest jargon. Here, he gets to pound home the points he made more subtly in the fictional sections, even as he argues that jazz is the one art form that transcends criticism. A false note in the history of jazz criticism.