JAZZ LIVES by Michael Ullman


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Writers on jazz find themselves in pretty fast company--from the feverish jiving of the Village Voice to the hip elegance of The New Yorker--and Unman, though well-informed and pleasantly plainspoken, just doesn't measure up, having neither a uniquely responsive ear nor a distinctive voice. These 21 short pieces, originally published in The New Republic and several Boston periodicals, are mostly routine interview/profiles relying heavily on quotations--quotations usually arriving in chunks that Ullman doesn't examine too closely. (When, for instance, lawyer Maxwell Cohen--who fought the cabaret-card law--remembers Richard Rodgers coming from a tenement background ""with toilets in the hallways,"" this gross misinformation is allowed to sail right by.) And when Ullman does reach beyond basic reporting/recording to critical analysis, the results are thin and sometimes skewed: a quickie critique of composer-arranger Neil Hefti slights his writing (with excess stress on his unrepresentative ""Batman"" theme) so as to emphasize his achievement as arranger for Count Basie; and a paired appreciation of Dizzy Gillespie and Earl Hines clouds the singularity of each man's achievement. Still, though the much-profiled Marian McPartland and Joe Venuti and Charles Mingus are here, fans will also find basic background on, and firsthand testimony from, some less-chronicled artists: German vibraphonist Karl Berger, third-streamer Ran Blake, Latin percussionist Ray Mantilla, idiosyncratic sax-man Sam Rivers, artist-manager Maxine Gregg, avant-gardist Anthony Braxton. Little insight, then, and less style (some of the lamest closing lines in profile-dom), but some basic substance for listeners who want more than liner notes.

Pub Date: March 28th, 1980
Publisher: New Republic--dist. by Simon & Schuster