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Reading Jazz
A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage, and Criticism from 1919 to Now


Anthony Kershaw

Published in 1996 by Pantheon Books, Robert Gottlieb's anthology of monographs is a superb resource for lovers of both jazz and fine, intuitive writing. In fact, Gottlieb, a former Editor of The New Yorker, has compiled a most varied and enlightening edition with reference to some of the greatest jazz artists spanning our century. The thousand-odd pages host over one hundred individual pieces separated into three sections: autobiographical, reportorial, and critical.

Each section is filled with delights, but, as usual, the best comes from the horse's mouth. As such, some of the autobiographies are searing in their intensity, revealing in clinical detail the pain caused by drug and alcohol abuse. The chapters culled from Anita O'Day's High Times Hard Times and Art Pepper's Straight Life are especially heart breaking. Other chapters do not paint with such a broad brush, showing simply the artists' love and passion for their craft.

Reading Jazz includes articles about musicians from the mainstream to avant-garde, penned by writers as diverse as Jean Paul Sartre, Ernst Ansermet, and Dudley Moore! Included also are seminal jazz writings by the likes of Leonard Feather, Orrin Keepnews, and the brilliant Gene Lees. Along with the famous names, I found the discovery of lesser known musicians (and writers) just as fascinating.

Much of the third person reportage highlights the emotional connections that can only be gleaned by close friends or family. Gene Lees' The Poet: Bill Evans is a perfect example. Lees' prose digs into the heart and soul of his friend, and I was involved completely. Here you will find the quintessential style encountered throughout the compendiums - great insight flavored with intensity and brutal honesty.

Reading Jazz has been coffee-table-close since arriving for review. It has been an especially pleasant companion for late night listening sessions and a basis for discussion with friends. And yes, audiophiles, you will lose track of the music when reading. It's that good. One thing is for sure - after Reading Jazz, you will not listen to your favorite jazz musicians in the same way again. Very highly recommended.

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