Book Reviews

Conversations with Bill Holman (edited by Bill Dobbins)

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.

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Conversations with Charlie Haden (by Josef Woodard and Charlie Haden)

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.

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Good Things Come Slowly: A Life In and Out of Jazz (by Fred Hersch)

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.

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Freedom of Expression: Interviews with Women in Jazz (by Chris Becker)

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.

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The Jazz Life of Dr. Billy Taylor (by Billy Taylor & Teresa L. Reed)

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.

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Jelly Roll, Bix and Hoagy (by Rick Kennedy)

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.

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How to Listen to Jazz (by Ted Gioia)

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.

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Love Songs: The Hidden History (by Ted Gioia)

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.

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