Getting the story

By JON GARELICK  |  December 1, 2009

Gary Giddins had never intended to write a history of jazz, because over the course of several volumes' worth of essays on the subject, he says, "I'd already written it." But when Norton asked him to collaborate with DeVeaux (author of The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History), it was, he tells me over the phone from his office in New York, "the month, if not the week, that I had decided to leave the Voice, and I had no idea where I was going to earn a living, and I wasn't saying no to anything." Although they divided the work between narrative and listening guides with musical examples, it was "a real collaboration," Giddins explains. "There isn't a page in it that isn't some idea of Scott's or mine." DeVeaux's listening guides opened up even Giddins's ears to music he thought he knew well, like Cecil Taylor's "Bulbs" and John Coltrane's "Acknowledgement" (from A Love Supreme).

One thing he and DeVeaux agreed on was that the book should have a strong cultural context. "I grew up with Marshall Stearns. That was my textbook as a kid, and I love that book, but it's a book that doesn't exist in the world. It's 'jazz starts with this musician, and it goes to this one and this one,' as though there hadn't been two world wars or a Depression, changing technology, international flight, women's rights — as though these things were somehow not involved. It was all about 'and then Dizzy, and then Miles,' you know?"

What makes the book unique for Giddins are those listening guides. "They make it a completely interactive experience. If you just read it and don't listen to the tracks with the guides, you really miss a lot of the fun of the whole thing."

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