Book Reviews

MARY LOU WILLIAMS: MUSIC FOR THE SOUL (by Deanna Witkowski)

Mary Lou Williams was not only the most important female musician in jazz history; she was a major force in the music’s development. For the past two decades, Deanna Witkowski has researched Williams’ life and music. Thomas Cunniffe reviews Witkowski’s new book on Williams’ life, and her new CD which features Williams’ music.

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TIMES REMEMBERED: THE FINAL YEARS OF THE BILL EVANS TRIO (by Joe La Barbera & Charles Levin)

When drummer Joe La Barbera was hired as the newest member of the Bill Evans trio in January 1979, he knew that Evans had a long-standing addiction to drugs. Evans died of his addiction just 19 months later, while La Barbera was still with the band. The triumphs and tribulations of that final edition of the Evans trio (with Marc Johnson on bass) are the subjects of La Barbera’s frank and touching memoir, “Times Remembered: The Final Years of the Bill Evans Trio” (University of North Texas Press). Thomas Cunniffe offers his reactions to the memoir in this month’s Book Review.

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ODE TO A TENOR TITAN (by Bill Milkowski)

Idolized by fellow musicians but ignored by traditional jazz critics, Michael Brecker proved time and again that he was a worthy member of the great jazz tenor legacy. Bill Milkowski, who knew Brecker and understood his importance at the time, has written a new biography “Ode to a Tenor Titan” which documents Brecker’s astounding talent and achievements. Thomas Cunniffe offers his reactions in this month’s Book Review.

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“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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