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.
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.
At the age of 90, Bill Holman is as active as ever, leading his LA-based big band, fulfilling commissions for new compositions and arrangements, and (in the near future) being the subject of a new documentary. Conversations with Bill Holman is the result of a week-long series of interviews conducted by Holman’s friend and colleague, Bill Dobbins. In his review, Thomas Cunniffe notes that most of the material is easily accessible to the average educated jazz fan, but that the reader should come in with knowledge of Holman’s famous scores.
Charlie Haden was known for passionate music that encompassed several genres, and his fiery left-wing politics. Over the last two decades of his life, Haden was interviewed several times by writer Josef Woodard. Seventeen of these encounters have been collected in a new book, Conversations with Charlie Haden. Reviewer Thomas Cunniffe writes that the book is quite enlightening, but gets bogged down with numerous retellings of Haden’s life story.
The extraordinary life of Dexter Gordon is the subject of two fine biographies, one written in 1989 by British journalist Stan Britt, and the other–just published, by Gordon’s manager and widow, Maxine. In this month’s book review, Thomas Cunniffe compares the two books, noting what each author chooses to highlight and omit.
Like most autobiographies, “Good Things Happen Slowly” is a story of discovery and identity. However, as the subject is Fred Hersch, this book tells of the more-or-less simultaneous emergence of two distinct (and for some, incongruous) character traits, that of a gay man and of a jazz pianist. Thomas Cunniffe reviews this touching memoir, notable for its candor and understated tone.
When the sub-category of Women in Jazz first appeared in the 1970s, female jazz musicians were still a rarity. Today, women musicians represent a substantial part of the jazz scene, and the sub-category has started to lose its relevance. In this book review, Thomas Cunniffe notes that Freedom of Expression, a new collection of interviews with female jazz musicians, seems to be more about the struggles of self-marketing music and less about the unique qualities of jazz women.
In the weeks following its Terry Teachout’s new critical biography Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington has unleashed a storm of controversy, including charges of blatant racism. Thomas Cunniffe examines the book, finding strengths in Teachout’s exemplary collection of historical facts, and flaws in his basic musical hypothesis.
Until shortly before his death in December 2010, Dr. Billy Taylor maintained a busy schedule of concerts, lectures and other live appearances. Unfortunately, that meant that he had little time to write his memoirs. He did work with a ghostwriter, Teresa Reed, but even Reed admits that she did not have adequate time with Taylor. The resulting book, The Jazz Life of Dr. Billy Taylor has just been published, and Thomas Cunniffe offers his reactions to the volume.
In the early 1920s, future jazz giants like Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton and Bix Beiderbecke endured long train rides to record for a tiny company in rural Indiana. Rick Kennedy’s newly expanded and revised book Jelly Roll, Bix and Hoagy offers the history of Gennett Records with discussions of their jazz, country and blues recordings. Thomas Cunniffe provides his impressions in this month’s book review.
The title of Ted Gioia’s new book might strike many long-time jazz fans as too elementary for their needs. However, JHO book reviewer Thomas Cunniffe asserts that How to Listen to Jazz should be required reading for all jazz fans, because Gioia proves that the best way to revitalize our own passions for jazz is to share the music with others. Gioia recalls his early experiences with the music, and then applies his thirty years of experience as a critic and historian to clarify and amplify these events.
Ted Gioia is one of today’s finest music historians. Since he usually focuses on American music, it’s a little surprising that his latest book Love Songs is not limited to modern love songs, but is a comprehensive history of the subgenre going back to the 23rd century BC. Thomas Cunniffe’s review states the book contains many fascinating and controversial theories, but that the section on American music should have been expanded.
Ask the average jazz musician who he would like to meet, and one likely answer would be Herbie Hancock. From all accounts, Hancock is a friendly warm person with few pretensions. We may not all get our chance to hang out with Herbie, but his autobiography Possibilities might be the next best thing. In a conversational tone, Hancock recalls his work with Miles Davis, his own groups, and offers a few surprising stories. Thomas Cunniffe offers his impressions of the autobiography in this month’s Book Review.
According to its author, Eugene Marlowe, the first reaction he gets to his pioneering study, Jazz in China, is the question, Is there jazz in China? It has not been an easy road for jazz to flourish in this heavily Communist country, but it has two major periods, one before Mao’s reign, and one after. Thomas Cunniffe applauds Marlow’s original research and intrepid detective work in documenting this subject, but notes that a further trip to China was necessary to bring the book up-to-date.