THE HISTORY OF JAZZ by Ted Gioia

THE HISTORY OF JAZZ

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Gioia, musician and critic, winner of the ASCAPDeems Taylor Award for The Imperfect Art (not reviewed) takes on a daunting task, tracing the history of jazz from preCivil War New Orleans to the embattled music of today--and does a creditable job of it. Jazz's history has been written by entirely too many mythographers and polemicists. Gioia, mercifully, spares us the myths and polemics. ``The Africanization of American music,'' as he calls it, begins farther back in American history than New Orleans's aptly named Storyville red-light district around the turn of the century; he starts his narrative in the slave market of the city's Congo Square in 1819, and when it comes to Storyville, he offers hard facts to puncture the picturesque racism that finds jazz's roots in the whorehouses of New Orleans. Indeed, one of the great strengths of Gioia's account is the sociohistorical insights it offers, albeit occasionally as throwaway sidelights, such as his observation about drumming as an avatar of regimentation more than of freedom. He is particularly good in explaining how the music was disseminated and shaped by new technologies--the player piano, the phonograph, radio. He is also excellent at drawing a portrait of a musician's style in short brushstrokes. His prose is for the most part fluid and even graceful (although his metaphors do get a bit strained at times, as in his comparison of Don Redman's ``jagged, pointillistic'' arrangement of ``The Whiteman Stomp'' and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle). Although Gioia is much too generous to jazz-rock fusion of the '70s and '80s and probably gives more space than necessary to white dance bands like the Casa Loma orchestra, if you wanted to introduce someone to jazz with a single book, this would be a good choice. (9 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-19-509081-0
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1997