Book Club: Visions of Jazz: The First Century

Great kicks with Jimmie Lunceford! This is just what I hoped this book would do for me – introduce me to artists I knew nothing about but could go for in a big way. I’ve dug into the albums “Jukebox Hits 1935-1947” and “Lunceford Special” and it’s my favorite swing-era stuff outside of Ellington. The exuberance of the arrangements, the interplay between sections of the band – often comic but never clowning. Even the Fats Waller-ish patter song “I Want the Waiter (With the Water)” swings.
Speaking of which, I’d like to put in a plug for Jason Moran’s “ALL RISE: A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller.” Here’s a 100% contemporary musician (and visual artist) looking back at Waller in several moods. Some of the covers are faithful while others, like “Jitterbug Waltz,” re-interpret freely, but the beauty’s still there. Worth looking into.
I’m just getting my feet wet with Count Basie and Lester Young – pretty great and more to say later. Meanwhile, Happy New Year!


@mfadio, @PaisleyUnderground and @pennstac, I’m having a great time listening to Lester Young, in particular the Complete Aladdin Records album. The Count Basie / Lester Young chapter also got me listening to Basie’s band in a new way, hearing how he led from the piano in such an understated fashion. I love the anecdote on p. 174 about “One O’Clock Jump” starting out as a collective improvisation… not in the way I’m used to thinking about it (starting with Ornette Coleman), but still.
All of which has me thinking of how much I’ve missed till now by paying too little attention to pre-bop and swing. I started out listening to free jazz in my (pretentious) high school years and worked my way back into bebop, but should have kept digging.
It sometimes seem as if these contentious divides between phases of jazz (or pop) mean more to critics and magazines than they do to musicians and listeners. The other day we lost James Mtume, a member of Miles Davis’s band who later led his own funk group. In this debate with Stanley Crouch, Mtume talks convincingly about the virtues of progress (in this case the birth of fusion), resisting that tendency toward division and Crouch’s desire to throw Weather Report and others out with the bathwater. Anyway, a lively discussion: Composer James Mtume Destroys Jazz Critic Stanley Crouch in a Debate about Miles Davis.mp4 - YouTube


In the first chapter of Listen to This, Alex Ross makes the argument that there are 5 fundamental stages of musical development within brand genres

  1. The genesis of a broadly popular form takes place (this is different than the roots of a popular form). Bach, Duke Ellington, The Beatles
  2. Romanticism, the bloat of the form, moving to the extremes of what make it. Wagner, 70s arena rock, enormous swing orchestras
  3. Art rebels against popularism. High Modernists. Rite of Spring, Charlie Parker, punk.
  4. Avant Garde: Free jazz, Zappa, Schoenberg
  5. Retrenchment & Neo Classicism : Marsalis, John Williams and The Strokes / white Stripes.

Using the framework, I find that I tend to ignore stage 1, like stage 2 and 3, love the best of stage 4 and tolerate very little of stage 5. Which is kind of interesting in a “know thyself” sort of way.


That’s a great formulation, typical of Ross’s smarts. I’d like to think I’m a 1/3/4 guy, but that’s probably wishful.
I think jazz may be in a healthy period of climbing out of Stage 5. In particular I’m liking a lot of stuff coming out of the UK, like Shabaka Hutchings’ groups (Sons of Kemet, The Comet is Coming!, Shabaka and the Ancestors). This stuff has the virtue of drawing on antecedents but staying new rather than revivalist. But I’m getting way ahead of our timeline here…

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Funny you should mention them, a recent discovery for me.

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Having a good time with Roy Eldridge. The vivid expressiveness of his playing makes me think “This is what the Beat Generation liked so much about postwar jazz” – I keep seeing a bunch of Kerouac types yelling “Go!” (probably to Eldridge’s annoyance) as I listen. Giddins singles out Dale’s Wail (Eldridge with Oscar Peterson) as a good album, and I agree – I didn’t find it as an album on Spotify, but all or most of the tracks are on The Complete Verve Studio Sessions.
Eldridge’s encounters with racism are of course painful to read about, and I was reminded of Bertrand Tavernier’s movie Round Midnight (starring Dexter Gordon), about jazz musicians who moved to Europe, temporarily or permanently, to escape. I haven’t seen the movie since it came out but I suspect it holds up well. (Although someone pointed out when it was released that the amount of rain in any given jazz movie would break all records.)
@mfadio, I’m still thinking about that Alex Ross list of musical life cycles you posted. I recently stumbled onto an interesting essay about the academic-popular split in contemporary music by Scott Johnson. He’s a composer whose music I like – John Somebody is the famous album but I think Rock Paper Scissors is even better. Anyway, the essay is here:


What an intersting essay. That will take me some time to digest.

I will read the section on Roy Eldridge as well. I lost interest in Giddin’s work when I got into the equivalent the biblical begats. Listing every sideman that a musician worked with is not talking about music, jsut as naming rosters is not talking about baseball. I need to follow @PaisleyUnderground wise move and go directly to the chapters that interst me the most, and venture out from there.

@mfadio, I’ll follow @PaisleyUnderground 's example also – sounds smart.
A bit of a digression, but I feel moved to recommend a present-day jazz record, Shoebox View by the trombonist-composer Naomi Moon Siegel. Some fine warm grooves and good playing.

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