Jazz Changes

Jazz Changes

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An evening with Thelonious Monk at the Five Spot Cafe. Jelly Roll Morton's recordings for the Library of Congress. Langston Hughes reading poetry to the sound of jazz. The tragic life of Billie Holiday. Over the years, Martin Williams has explored subjects both intimate and imposing, always with a sharp eye and prose as musical as his beloved jazz. In Jazz Changes, he brings together some of the finest pieces he has written over the last thirty years to take readers on an engaging personal tour of the changing jazz world. Jazz Changes is Williams's third and perhaps best collection of jazz portraits, interviews, narrative accounts of recording sessions, rehearsals, and performances, important liner notes, and far-reaching discussions of musicians and their music. Here he offers an extended interview with Ross Russell about the famous Dial Record sessions with Charlie Parker that Russell initiated, his extensive notes for the reissue of the famous recording session conducted with Jelly Roll Morton at the Library of Congress in 1938, as well as profiles and comments on such performers as John Lewis, Thelonious Monk, Dinah Washington, and Fats Waller. We read amusing parodies of how jazz critics in 1965 might have assessed the Beatles (he has one well-known critic saying that Paul McCartney "sings as if he half expected a shrewish mother to scold him for paying too much attention to the girls") and reflections on the Ellington era (Ellington "worked with [the orchestra] as the great playwrights have worked with their companies of actors...as the great European composers have worked for specific instrumentalists or singers"). He concludes with an eloquent plea for critics to pay attention to jazz history: "We all need to show that we are absolutely serious about this music as a contribution to world culture. And that means we must treat it in the same way that man has always treated a past he wants preserved and respected." And on every page, Williams's keen mind and gifted pen bring the music and the musicians to life. Praised as "perhaps the greatest living jazz critic" (Gunther Schuller) and "one of the most distinguished critics (of anything) this country has produced" (Gary Giddins, The Village Voice), Martin Williams has been perceptively chronicling the development of jazz for more than three decades. Building on the great success of his previous collections of jazz writings--The Jazz Tradition, Jazz Heritage, and Jazz in its Time--this book offers brilliant insights into today's changing jazz scene.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 328 pages
  • 147.32 x 213.36 x 30.48mm | 544.31g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 019505847X
  • 9780195058475

Review Text

Catchall of earlier (late 50's on) pieces by Williams (Jazz in its Time, 1989, etc.), some unpublished except as record-jacket copy, some from Down Beat, Saturday Review, etc. The longest piece here - a historical and musical commentary on the massive Library of Congress Folklore Archives set of Jelly Roll Morton disks recorded by Alan Lomax - is the richest. Discussing the growth of Morton's style, Williams is especially good on the musical layout of "The Pearls," a neglected Morton work that is among his most lovely, and "the Spanish tinge" in Morton's jazz tango "Mama 'Nita," a piece warm with delight. The author's most affecting piece is "Billie Holiday: Anatomy of a Tragedy," which in its brief span works up much feeling. His best interview is with trumpeter Ruby Braff, who is outspoken about record producer John Hammond's buckling under to Columbia's commercial needs. An interview with Ross Russell, founder of Dial Records and first to record Charlie Parker at length, straightens out some misconceptions about Russell's ties with Bird. A piece on a reissue of the first recordings of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, featuring Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelly, gives an uplifting overview of this imperious group of jazz swingers. A set of Ellington reissues prompts new thoughts about Ellington's earliest periods, and a commentary on Parker Gillespie's The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever (in Toronto) makes clear that Charlie Mingus indeed did rerecord his bass line for the record issue while Billy Taylor "did a bit of ghosting on the Bud Powell performances as well." Meanwhile, Williams deflates four pianists he finds overrated: Oscar Peterson, Abroad Jamal, George Shearing, and Martial Solal. Jazz riches for the serious fan. (Kirkus Reviews)
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About Martin Williams

About the Author: Martin Williams has written and edited a number of books on jazz. His articles have appeared in such places as Harper's, The New York Times, Evergreen Review, Stereo Review, and Down Beat.
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9 ratings
3.66 out of 5 stars
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3 56% (5)
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