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The Musicians, Culture, and Roots of the World's Coolest Music

From the A Child's Introduction to... series

by Jabari Asim ; illustrated by Jerrard K. Polk

Pub Date: Dec. 27th, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-7624-7941-2
Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal

In nine chronologically arranged sections, with scores of cultural and biographical thumbnails, this encyclopedic look stretches from jazz’s roots in African rhythms to the eclecticism of the contemporary scene.

After establishing a working definition of rhythm, Asim addresses the significance of Congo Square in New Orleans, where enslaved and free Black people congregated on Sundays to dance and make music. There, Cuban, Mexican, French, and local Indigenous musical traditions mingled, setting the stage for regional and global influences to impact jazz. Not unlike jazz’s improvisations, Asim’s narrative nuggets beget each other as players learn from masters like Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie and form their own bands. The Great Migration from the South brings musicians to Chicago, Kansas City, and New York’s Harlem. Cross-pollination—from West Coast to East; from the United States to Europe and back—fertilizes entire scenes. Modern makers mix jazz and hip-hop, sampling midcentury bebop and ’70s fusion in a music defined by innovation. Readers can access audio recordings of instruments and musical styles by scanning QR codes interspersed throughout, and suggestions for significant songs, albums, and performances to seek out appear in the biographical sketches. Polk’s stylized, captioned illustrations deliver fine likenesses of musicians, with attention to variations in Black and brown skin tones. Notably, Asim avoids the role of substance abuse in the lives of many musicians.

Both anecdotal and encompassing, this attentive introduction ably prepares readers for further learning—and listening.

(jazz museums and places of interest, index) (Nonfiction. 8-12)