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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Published in time for Billie Holiday’s 100th birthday celebration, John Szwed’s new book, Billie Holiday: The Musician and The Myth is not a full-length biography, but it reads like notes for one. In his review, Thomas Cunniffe notes that Szwed’s in-depth discussion of Holiday’s autobiography is in-depth and thorough, but the musical discussions that follow are sketchy and uneven.
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.
One of the enduring mysteries of jazz history is how Louis Armstrong, with barely a fifth grade education and little exposure to music from outside his hometown, revolutionized virtually every aspect of the music. Thomas Cunniffe reviews a new monograph that answers some of those questions, but raises doubts due to its presentation of the material.
Duke Ellington was many things to many people, and a new collection of essays, The Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington, examines Ellington from a diverse and wide-ranging set of approaches. In his Book Review, Thomas Cunniffe notes that the anthology–which utilizes the work of 20 different authors–is uneven, but worth exploring.
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.
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.
Amy Duncan has achieved fame both as a pianist and a journalist. A former writer for the Christian Science Monitor (and Jazz History Online), she has penned her autobiography Getting Down To Brass Tacks, which tells of her experiences living in Boston, New York and Rio de Janeiro. Thomas Cunniffe offers his views on this funny and enlightening book.
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.
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.