Book Club: Visions of Jazz: The First Century

Excellent strategy! (“Post must be at least 20 characters.”) Excellent, I say!

1 Like

What I remember of Ethel Waters was her later stuff. The book made me look for early recordings. Far, far better. You don’t need to listen to Sarah Vaughn, early Ethel Waters is the real deal. Heat Wave, and I Got Rhythm were very good - remastered on Qobuz.

Bunk Johnson, however, not my cuppa tea. I skipped from song to song, and all I can say is yeah, he was there, back then. Yessiree bob. Sure was. Yawn.

1 Like

The term “Moldy Figs” is gonna get some use though.


Jelly Roll Morton, Hallelujah

At last working on JRM in the book and “Birth of the Hot” re-releases on Qobuz. We have jazz ignition. No longer somewhat jazzy precursors. Solo after solo. Yes it’s old timey New Orleans hot jazz. Maybe that’s why the band is called “The Red Hot Peppers”.

I feel like a corner has been turned.
It’s the roaring 20s, baby.


It is an interesting contrast to “The Rest is Noise” ,which was a deep, deep dive into a niche (20th century classical). Although we are basically dealing with the same time period, this is more fo a broad overview (so far) of a diverse from. I also tried some Bunk Johnson and Ethal Waters, and gratefully turned my homework off. Very excited t be taken through the first two wars worth of popular music after having just gone through it with unpopular music!


#pennstac, I agree wholeheartedly about that corner being turned – and then the Louis Armstrong chapter really brings it home. I’m listening to the Hot 5 and Hot 7 stuff as we speak. The contrast with Bunk Johnson and even W.C. Handy is huge. Their playing sounds mechanical once he comes along. The difference, as Giddins says, is swing. You listen to these Armstrong records and it’s amazing how expressive, free and conversational the playing is. It’s impossible to talk about him without getting ahead of ourselves, because that sense of a player arguing, kidding, reasoning, etc., starts here and then shows up in Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, and a million blues and rock guitarists. What you said: we have ignition.


I’m enjoying Book Club 2.0 so much. :grinning:

I liked the previous book on 20th Century classical music but didn’t like a lot of the music, and I eventually gave up trying new composers, and focused on the book.

I’m reading this book a little differently. I’ve started at the beginning and am working my way through it, listening to the artists he talks about. I’m also dipping into the book to read chapters about artists that I’ve discovered independently, from a later period in time, e.g. I’m reading about both King Oliver and Charles Mingus right now. I’m using 2 bookmark to keep myself organized.

The book lends itself to this because Giddins has cleverly written this to work as both a narrative and a reference book. He is such an enjoyable author to read, very opinionated, and offers many colorful anecdotes.

Like everyone else, I enjoyed reading about Bunk Johnson and Ethel Waters, but wasn’t a huge fan of their music. But as we move to King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson, I’m having a whale of a time listening to the music.

Given that all CDs/streamed music is sourced from 78’s (no master tapes back in those days), it’s important to try to find the best source of this material. Giddins mentions John R. T. Davies and others, who devoted their lives to digitally remastering music from 78’s without compromising the music with noise reduction. When he mentioned that, it reminded me that in my obsessive compulsive CD-buying days (the 30 years before my obsessive compulsive headphone audio gear buying started), I’d bought quite a few 20’s and 30’s jazz CDs from these specialty labels, so I’ve been enjoying the JSP box set of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens that was gathering dust in the basement, in addition to “Off The Record - Complete 1923 Jazz Band Recordings”, which contains the fabled recordings of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong’s sessions in 1923. Reading the notes from the booklet of “Off The Record…” was quite interesting because it describes how much pain they went through to gather the best 78’s they could find and get the music into the digital realm.

I was doing some research on the Steve Hoffman forums to find out which old jazz CDs were recommended, and I found some very useful posts on CDs mastered by John R. T. Davies and others. I’ve noticed that a few of these are available on Amazon HD and Qobuz, e.g. I’m listening to Fletcher Henderson’s Harmony & Vocalion Sessions vol 2 1927-28 on Amazon HD right now, and loving it.


That link is GREAT. I hate a lot fo this music due entirely to it being on 78. Can’t wait to try this tonight!

1 Like

Lovely post, @PaisleyUnderground. I’m very much looking forward to reading the book, my copy arrived recently.

I might not be able to contain myself and might have to dive right into reading chapters out of sequence, especially those on Charles Mingus and King Oliver.

In excited anticipation of a good read, I’ll sign off this post with a link to St. James Infirmary, a desert island disc for me. The final 45 seconds or so are among my favorite moments of listening to recorded music:


Still working through the end of the Jelly Roll Morton chapter. Listened to Sweet Substitute on Apple Music, The book is right - he was a great jazz vocalist.

On now to King Oliver. Excellent. I found the better remaster on Qobuz - King Oliver, Jazz the Essential Collection Volume 1, The Greatest Jazz Recordings of All time. It’s in my favorites after a couple of songs. Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band with Louis Armstrong as his second, the clarinet is great. This is on a different level.


And finally started the Ellington topic. Apple Music has been quite good in finding the Armstrong renditions of songs mentioned in the book, and it is startling to hear some of the changes. Muggles was exactly as described, with Armstrong’s trumpet an incredible leap from the intro trombone and clarinet.


As we move into Ellington, I’d like to hype a few favorite albums, starting with Soul Call (Live/Expanded Edition). It’s a performance from the '60s, when tunes like “Sophisticated Lady” and “Take the A Train” were canon. Ellington re-interprets himself, finds new things in those melodies, and (as he’d been doing for decades) lovingly showcases his soloists. Another is World Saxophone Quartet Plays Duke Ellington, where “Come Sunday” in particular is stunning. And finally Money Jungle (Ellington with Max Roach and Charles Mingus), the jazz album I wore out on vinyl more than any other.


Wonderful to read Giddins on Coleman Hawkins, and to get out albums like Soul. Sonny Rollins, in an interview, captured a great thing about Hawkins: “He sounds like a guy talking to you.” Rollins carried that conversational feeling into the bebop era, though he used it less when his free and funk years came along. But what a great thing for a player to do – you really can’t overuse “warmth” when talking about Hawkins.
Giddins mentions it briefly, but I think Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins is an album worth seeking out. (At one point it was released as half of a two-LP set, with the Ellington-Coltrane sessions.) Terrific, relaxed stuff.
I regret that Pee Wee Russell (like Ethel Waters) means more to Giddins than he does to me, but those are the breaks. Onward. And a happy Thanksgiving weekend to all.

1 Like