Visions of Jazz: The First Century

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9780195076752: Visions of Jazz: The First Century
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Already a jazz classic, Gary Giddins' Visions of Jazz: The First Century contains no less than 78 chapters illuminating the lives of virtually all major figures in jazz history.
From Louis Armstrong's renegade style trumpet playing to Frank Sinatra's intimate crooning, jazz critic Gary Giddins continually astonishes us with his unparalleled insight. In just a few lines, he captures the essence of Louis Armstrong, "He could telegraph with a growl or a rolling of his eyes his independence, confidence, and security. As the embodiment of jazz, he made jazz the embodiment of the individual." Giddins maintains, contrary to the opinion of most jazz enthusiasts, that Armstrongs voice was as much an integral part of creating jazz singing as his trumpet was to creating jazz. Perhaps the most remarkable chapters in the book are those that do pay tribute to the great jazz singers. Billie Holiday profoundly impacted music history, and Giddins eloquently honors her "gutted voice, drawled phrasing, and wayworn features." Many artists, such as Irving Berlin and Rosemary Clooney, have been traditionally dismissed by fans and critics as merely popular derivatives of true jazz. Giddins finally opens the doors of jazz to include these musicians. In addition to this, he devotes an entire quarter of this volume to young, active jazz artists. No other book has so boldly expanded the horizon of jazz and its influences.
Visions of Jazz is an evocative journey through the first one hundred years of jazz that will captivate--and challenge--musicians, music critics, and music lovers.

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Review:

As Gary Giddins makes clear in his introduction to Visions of Jazz, he's not attempting to draw a canonical line in the sand: "Everyone has his or her vision of jazz, and this is mine." Modesty aside, though, it's hard to imagine a critic with a more encyclopedic grasp of detail, or a more lucid, funny, and appropriately musical style. Weighing in at almost 700 pages, the magnificent Visions of Jazz consists of 70 profiles, beginning with a dual portrait of blackface pioneers Bert Williams and Al Jolson and concluding with the klezmer-infatuated clarinetist Don Byron. These sketches mingle musical, biographical, and cultural insights--indeed, one of Giddins's great gifts is to break down the very distinction between such categories. Yet Giddins is hardly an unhinged generalizer, and he loves to zero in on a particular chorus and disclose its charms on a bar-by-bar basis. The pinnacle of this musical microscopy occurs in his Dizzy Gillespie essay, with an almost biblical exegesis of 64 measures from the 1989 version of "Salt Peanuts." But even in these nuts-and-bolts passages, Giddins is always accessible, combining precisely the right proportions of edification and old-fashioned entertainment. The only problem with Visions of Jazz, in fact, is that it makes you so itchy and impatient to hear the music. Fortunately, Giddins has taken care of the problem by curating a companion disc called (you guessed it) Visions of Jazz. This isn't, it should be said, a predictable journey from one jazz milestone to the next. Instead he's assembled a delightfully idiosyncratic anthology, which testifies to the music's irresistible pulse and all-American parentage. --James Marcus

About the Author:


Gary Giddins is the jazz critic for the Village Voice. Two of his previous books, Riding on a Blue Note and Rhythm-a-ning, are available from Oxford.

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