JAZZ by James Lincoln Collier


The American Theme Song
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 Ten philosophical essays on issues in jazz scholarship from jazz-historian and children's author Collier (author of controversial biographies of Armstrong, Ellington, and Goodman, among other works). Collier discusses the rise of jazz in America; the importance of the soloist; jazz rhythm; jazz as art versus jazz as popular music; the contributions of blacks, whites, and Creoles to the birth of jazz; jazz scholarship; and local jazz. He does much to debunk common myths about jazz: that it was created solely by black musicians; that improvisation was always central to performance; and that ``swing,'' or the performer's unique sense of rhythm, is something that can be felt but not analyzed. Collier is unafraid to take on the establishment, attacking many jazz writers as presenting ``the same dreary mish-mash of half-truths, guesswork, and ancient myths, many of them long since refuted.'' He sometimes makes mountains out of the small factual inaccuracies he finds in popular jazz writing, and, while he urges critics to live up to higher standards of academic scholarship, he attacks the academy for ``homogenizing'' the music as well as for driving away its original popular audience. A jazz musician himself, Collier's at his best when describing how a musician approaches the task of improvising: ``The jazz musician at work is embedded in a world of sound that is saying things to him. He is like a naturalist who is able to instantly decipher the sounds coming to him....'' Bound to blow fresh winds through the jazz academy--and to please those interested in watching the feathers fly.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-507943-4
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1993