Book Club: Visions of Jazz: The First Century

After a moderately successful first attempt at a book club, we’re doing it again!

Join with your fellow music lovers as we read Gary Giddins’ “Visions of Jazz

Publisher blurb:
Poised to become a classic of jazz literature, Visions of Jazz: The First Century offers seventy-nine chapters illuminating the lives of virtually all the major figures in jazz history. From Louis Armstrong’s renegade-style trumpet playing to Sarah Vaughan’s operatic crooning, and from the swinging elegance of Duke Ellington to the pioneering experiments of Ornette Coleman, jazz critic Gary Giddins continually astonishes the reader with his unparalleled insight. Writing with the grace and wit that have endeared his prose to Village Voice readers for decades, Giddins also widens the scope of jazz to include such crucial American musicians as Irving Berlin, Rosemary Clooney, and Frank Sinatra, all primarily pop performers who are often dismissed by fans and critics as mere derivatives of the true jazz idiom. And he devotes an entire quarter of this landmark volume to young, still-active jazz artists, boldly expanding the horizons of jazz–and charting and exploring the music’s influences as no other book has done.

Reviews of the book:

New York Times


Jazz Times

Gary Giddins bio.

5 reasons to join book club:

  1. Be able to tell people you are reading something that sounds cultured at holiday parties.

  2. There is no football on Tuesday or Wednesday.

  3. Expand your playlists, discover new artists and works.

  4. Buying books from indie bookstores is a great way to support your community.

  5. Because we all spend too much time on screens.

Throw a reply here if you’re in!

We will be aiming at an October start, but as opposed to our first attempt, this will be a bit more relaxed. Read at your own pace, comment here as you come across new music, interesting information in your reading. Sharing listening that goes beyond the book is especially recommended.


I’m in. Just ordered it from the library.

I also ordered ‘Jazz’, which is a completely different book by the same author. I heard that “Visions of Jazz” is a book to be read and “Jazz” is more of a reference book to be dipped into now and then (is this what humanity used before Wikipedia?), so I was curious to see if there would be any synergy in having both at hand.


Champions League!! Football = soccer and football = American football, or something.

I wont commit to this as my ability to read the other book was crap, even though I enjoyed what I did read and will try and finish it at some point. I applaud the continued effort at self improvement through literature.


I’m in. I just downloaded the Kindle version to my trusty Kindle 3 “keyboard” reader. Despite many other choices. I like this old Kindle. No ads. $9.99 so perhaps not as cheap economical as a library book, @PaisleyUnderground, but thrifty none the less. Plus it saves trees.


So I’ve started reading da book. And I ask meself, can I name any jazz composers under 40? Is this even a fair question when I’m 67? I saw a lot of them under 40 when I was under 25… And I do try and listen to some new stuff, but I’ve got to look at the albums and titles to remember names. All jazz composers were under 40 once.

I’ll go hobbling off now and think about a marble bust of Stanley Turrentine, and one of Grover Washington Jr. Even Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul were born in the 30’s. I went and used the Google machine and looked at this URL

Of the lot, the only one I’d heard was #13, Kaamal Williams. I’m going to have to listen.


Found a Frank Newton track on Qobuz
I can understand why he was mentioned. Very distinctive trumpet. But the piano solo on the track. Pure joy. All the little tricks they now teach people learning lounge. The runs, trills and grace notes. When it was new stuff, and not routine. Clearly the same song as one mentioned, but the name is modified, “The Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gave to Me”


These are all UK artists, I believe, and I think more meshed with neo-soul/pop affinities … Not sure it fits within what I listen to when I think “jazz.” I’ll find some examples of some things I’m excited about currently to post. VISIONS OF JAZZ is an excellent book that I haven;t read since it came out, but will try to revisit it and jump into the thread!


I chose the third path. Hardback, used, $11.53 delivered.

Recycling, plus the ability to write in a margin, which neither my kindle, nor the library lend themselves to.

On the other hand, you are all ahead of me.


Note I said Kindle 3, aka Kindle Keyboard. Just fine for taking notes.

I hope everyone’s enjoying the early chapters. About minstrelsy, I’d like to plug the book A Free State by New Orleans novelist-musician Tom Piazza. Well-researched, well-written, and rousing.

About W.C. Handy, I’ve always liked his anecdote about his own first meeting with the blues:

I’d also like to recommend the version of Handy’s “Memphis Blues” on Phineas Newborn Jr.'s album Solo Piano. Newborn does inventive things with the cadence and harmony so you really get a sense of how much great melody is in the piece (and does the same thing with several other familiar songs on the album, which I think is kind of a hidden gem).


Intro and Chapter 1.

I know nothing, nothing about the minstrel tradition and blackface or Al Jolson. Although this particular essay didn’t inspire the desire to listen to much, the combination with the intro to the book helped me understand how approaching this would be different from “The Rest is Noise”. I am very much looking forward to a different type of history.

I need to go look up Ragin, Davis and Payton now!


Currently listening to Charlie Haden and Hank Jones working through a set list of spirituals.

Which reminded me of how much I liked the Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny album.

Looking forward to renewing my relationship with Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac next.


After reading the introduction, I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book. He has a very readable style, and doesn’t hold back when he has an opinion. I’m also dipping into random chapters in his other book, “Jazz”, and this quote made me laugh: "“There are many things to dislike about smooth jazz. For example, everything.”


@mfadio, I like both those Charlie Haden albums a lot. Thanks for reminding me of the Metheny one.
The Irving Berlin chapter leads me to plug Starring Fred Astaire, which I bought as a double LP on Columbia. It’s a collection of songs (mostly Irving Berlin and the Gershwins) from Astaire’s movies – not from the soundtracks but recorded for Brunswick in the studio. Nice performances and arrangements, plus several tap-dance solos. Worth getting if you run across it.


I like the discussion of the strict 12 bar format where Martin Williams lectures the academics. And the one that says “Isn’t the blues just a feeling?” So Martin replies “Only in the sense that sonata is just a feeling.

Listening to some early Irving Berlin. “Sadie Salome (Go Home) is a gem.

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Listened to Alexander’s Ragtime Band. Of course I know the song, in a way that most older people have at least heard it. Ended up listening to Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition, which I suspect is too modern, but it still gives an idea.

I often get the feeling that more modern renditions of anything speed the tempo. Certainly Scott Joplin sounds different when played at the intended speed.


I don’t think I’ve gotten to this essay yet, but Ray Charles version is pretty hot.

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I have a few thoughts brought on by the Ethel Waters chapter. I’ve never gotten into her music, although I love the contemporaries Giddins mentions – Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald.
I listened to a number of Waters’ tunes on Spotify. Not to knock her, but I don’t think I’ll go back to them, and I think the reason is exactly what Giddins says – she’s not a blues or jazz singer but a show biz singer, in the line of Fanny Brice and Eddie Cantor. To me, and at this remove, that theatrical singing seems hectic and too eager to please, whereas jazz is (to oversimplify wildly) cool. Especially with the onset of bebop at mid-century, the music meets the audience halfway but doesn’t jump into its lap. Again, this is just a matter of personal taste, but it’s a case where the book helps me clarify where I’m at (and where I’m not).


YES! You just captured what I was thinking about over the weekend. These essays are really helping to connect the dots between preferences and (before now) unreasonable prejudice.

I never liked Annie Get your Gun, so discovering it was an Irving Berlin, who also wrote the Christmas movie my parents inflicted on us each December helped clear up my preferences.

Looking forward to learning about Ethel Waters, but I think I’ll probably listen to Sarah Vaughn while I read it, based on your description.


VERY VERY VERY late but just ordered this to arrive later in the week!