Book Reviews

“SITTIN’ IN: JAZZ CLUBS OF THE 1940s & 1950s” (by Jeff Gold)

Live music and venues were one of the first casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while some venues are reopening with reduced seating capacity, it may be several months before we can all enjoy an evening at a nightclub. Jeff Gold’s new book “Sittin’ In” offers an unusual look at the legendary clubs of the past, with rare souvenir photos, menus and handbills. In his review, Thomas Cunniffe notes that the timing for this book could not be better.

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HEART FULL OF RHYTHM” (by Ricky Riccardi)

Known amongst his colleagues as “Rickipedia”, Ricky Riccardi is the go-to man for all things pertaining to Louis Armstrong. His first Armstrong biography, “What a Wonderful World” reappraised the jazz icon’s later years (1947-1971). His newest addition is “Heart Full of Rhythm”, which discusses Armstrong’s equally-misunderstood big band era (1929-1947). Thomas Cunniffe’s review of the new book notes that Riccardi has grown as an author and historian since the earlier volume, and that while he has not lost his enthusiasm for his subject, his arguments are guided by scholarship rather than jingoism.

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“DAVE BRUBECK: A LIFE IN TIME” (by Philip Clark)

2020 marks the 100th anniversary of Dave Brubeck’s birth. British journalist Philip Clark has written a new biography–written in a non-linear style–which corrects old misconceptions and adds new perspectives to the life and work of this American jazz icon. Thomas Cunniffe offers his reactions in this month’s Book Review.

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JAZZ IN THE 21ST CENTURY

As we enter the 20th year of the 21st century, two new books focus on jazz in the new millennium. In this Book Review, Thomas Cunniffe notes that neither Bill Beuttler’s “Make it New” nor Abby Mendelson’s “Spirit to Spirit” are perfect books, but they may well become valuable resources for further scholars.

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DAVE BRUBECK’S “TIME OUT” (by Stephen A. Crist)

Dave Brubeck frequently related the story that the businessmen at Columbia Records fought against the release of “Time Out”, feeling it would be a commercial flop. Fortunately, Brubeck had an important supporter in Columbia’s president, Goddard Lieberson. When the album was released and sales went through the roof, Brubeck was accused of going commercial! A new monograph by Stephen A. Crist examines the history and legacy of Brubeck’s signature album. Thomas Cunniffe reviews the book.

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“RABBIT’S BLUES” (by Con Chapman)

Johnny Hodges was a private man who disliked giving interviews. Self-taught on both alto and soprano saxophones, he was not particularly well-versed on the mechanics of music, and the fear of being asked to explain elements of his personal style may have been his reason for keeping the press at arm’s length. In his new Hodges biography, “Rabbit’s Blues”, Con Chapman explores many of the stories about the enigmatic saxophonist. However, reviewer Thomas Cunniffe was disturbed by the book’s lack of musical discussions, so he has amended this Book Review with five embedded YouTube clips featuring some of Hodges’ finest solos.

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JAZZ FROM DETROIT (by Mark Stryker)

“It takes a village to raise a jazz musician, and one reason Detroit has produced so many front-rank players is that the villagers are as hip as they come.” This sentence from Mark Stryker’s new book “Jazz from Detroit” is an apt summary of the city’s contribution to jazz. In this month’s Book Review, Thomas Cunniffe explores Stryker’s history, which traces the Motor City jazz scene from the bebop era to the present day.

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SINGER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE TO TOURING (by Elisabeth Lohninger)

While universities do a credible job of training young jazz musicians for successful careers, the one course usually missing from the curriculum might be the most beneficial: “The Road 101”. Elisabeth Lohninger comes to the rescue with “Singer’s Survival Guide to Touring”, a comprehensive guide to life on the road. In his book review, Thomas Cunniffe notes that while the book is designed for vocalists, much of the information is equally applicable to instrumentalists.

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THE HISTORY OF EUROPEAN JAZZ (edited by Francesco Martinelli)

Jazz was born in the United States, but its influence spread across the world shortly after it was first recorded. Europe embraced the music, producing their own famous soloists. Thomas Cunniffe reviews the massive reference volume, “The History of European Jazz” (Equinox) and notes that its series of essays on each country’s jazz history makes the book seem more like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle than a comprehensive narrative.

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