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BLUES UP AND DOWN by Tom Piazza

BLUES UP AND DOWN

Jazz in Our Time

By Tom Piazza

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-16789-X
Publisher: St. Martin's

 Piazza, whose short-story collection Blues and Trouble (1996) won the Michener Prize, looks again at his favorite music in this collection of occasional pieces. Writing on jazz between 1979 and 1997 (for which he won the 1996 ASCAPDeems Taylor Award for Music Writing), Piazza has had the opportunity to watch this musical phoenix arise once again resplendent from its supposed ashes. In the course of the two decades covered by the pieces in this volume (most of them previously published in the New York Times, the New Republic, Atlantic Monthly, and the Village Voice), Piazza has recounted the arrival of a new generation of young jazz musicians, headed by the controversial Wynton Marsalis. The author has been one of the more forceful advocates for Marsalis and his acolytes and their brand of neoclassical jazz. Briefly, Piazza believes that the critics who decry Marsalis's lack of ``emotion'' are unwittingly and tacitly racist, reducing all jazz to a sort of primitive expression of raw feeling and undervaluing the role of intellect in the creation of the music. It's an argument that's not without some merit, as his lengthy attacks on James Lincoln Collier (particularly a scathing review of Collier's egregious Duke Ellington biography) show. But too many of the pieces here--the opening reviews of McCoy Tyner and Mary Lou Williams in particular--have little or nothing to do with this thesis. The best essays are reportage from the road, a previously unpublished piece on a jazz festival in Dahomey and a recounting of days and nights on tour with Wynton and his band. Piazza is a writer worth paying attention to, but this book is too slight a framework to support his arguments. In fact, it is too slight a framework to call a book.