Book Reviews

David Baker: A Legacy in Music (edited by Monika Herzig)

David Baker, who passed away March 26, 2016 at the age of 84, was one of jazz’s true Renaissance men. Best known as a pioneer of jazz education, Baker was also a musician, author, composer, conductor, historian and activist. This month, Thomas Cunniffe reviews Monika Herzig’s collection of essays, David Baker: A Legacy in Music, which Cunniffe notes is a book that openly celebrates its subject, but is not always effective in relaying its wealth of information.

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Blowin’ Hot and Cool (by John Gennari)

No one ever became a jazz critic to be popular. Musicians reserve their strongest (and usually negative) opinions for those who earn their living publishing their viewpoints on the music. However, history shows us that critics have played a valuable role in the music’s development. John Gennari’s book Blowin’ Hot and Cool is the first full-fledged history of jazz criticism. Thomas Cunniffe reviews the book, finding both strengths and flaws in the author’s approach.

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More Important Than The Music (by Bruce Epperson)

Because so much of jazz history lies within the grooves of phonograph records, discography—the science of cataloging and detailing those records—is an important part of the historical canon. Up until now, the story of jazz discographers was told only in brief articles and offhand summaries, but Bruce Epperson’s new book “More Important than the Music” provides a thorough history of the discography. Thomas Cunniffe offers his reactions.

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Bird Lore

Charlie Parker’s life story has been so clouded with legends, exaggerations and half-truths, that biographies about the bebop genius have explored his life from a number of directions. In this month’s Book Review, Thomas Cunniffe examines wildly different Bird biographies by Chuck Haddix and Stanley Crouch.

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Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert (by Catherine Tackley)

Published to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the event, Catherine Tackley’s monograph, Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert examines the performance in great detail. As Thomas Cunniffe notes in his book review, Tackley’s book might have been more valuable with less musical analysis and more information about the recording’s enigmatic history.

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Dameronia: The Life and Music of Tadd Dameron (by Paul Combs)

While Tadd Dameron’s music has been beloved by jazz aficionados for decades, the details of his life and work remain quite elusive. Dameronia, a new book by Paul Combs, includes a persuasive argument for Dameron as a chief architect of bebop harmony, but as Thomas Cunniffe points out in his book review, Combs omits any discussion of Dameron’s unique voice-leading techniques.

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The Boswell Legacy (by Kyla Titus)

Don’t look now, but the Boswell Sisters are currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity. A recent gathering in New Orleans featured tribute groups from all over the globe, and a new documentary on the Boswells is due to air on PBS in 2015. Unfortunately, none of the sisters are still alive to take part, but Vet Boswell’s granddaughter, Kyla Titus, has just self-published a new biography, Boswell Legacy that clears up many of the mysteries surrounding the sister’s personal and professional histories. Thomas Cunniffe reviews this long-overdue book.

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