Outcats : Jazz Composers, Instrumentalists and Singers

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With his essays on jazz for a variety of publications, including The Atlantic, 7 Days, and The Village Voice, Francis Davis has established himself as a major voice in jazz criticism. In the Moment, his first collection, published in 1986, won praise from both the jazz and general press. down beat called it "a collection as useful to future generations for how it captures this moment in musical evolution as for how it alters our vision now." The New York Times Book Review compared it to "a well-blown solo." In Outcats, Davis presents a new series of critical essays, artist profiles, and pieces that skillfully combine both modes. In the 1950s, Paul Knopf, a now forgotten and even then obscure pianist, coined the word "outcat" to describe himself as "an outcast and a far-out cat combined." In using a word originally meant to convey jubilant defiance, Davis recognizes its undertones of alienation and cultural exile. Some of his subjects are outcats because of their politics, drug problems, or musical iconoclasm. But Davis defines all jazz performers--"including the most famous, influential, and housebroken"--as outcats, by virtue of the scant recognition given them by contemporary society. Like In the Moment, Outcats is an indispensable guide to the best in recent and reissued jazz. Davis illuminates the unusual aspects of famous performers--Duke Ellington composing an opera, for example, or Miles Davis talking about his move into pop--while deftly analyzing their music. His subjects range from the mainstream to the experimental, from the familiar to the forgotten; from Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, and Wynton Marsalis to Cecil Taylor, John Zorn, and Sun Ra. Whether challenging the portrayal of Charlie Parker in Bird or admitting to his own fondness for the rock singer Bobby Darin, Davis writes with wit, sensitivity, and candor. As Pauline Kael describes him, "He gets at what he responds to and why--you feel you're reading an honest man."show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 271 pages
  • 140 x 212 x 28mm | 458.13g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 019505587X
  • 9780195055870

About Francis Davis

About the Author Francis Davis, the author of In the Moment: Jazz in the 1980s, writes regularly about music for The Atlantic and the Philadelphia Inquirer. His work also appears in a variety of other publications, including The Village Voice and Rolling Stone.show more

Review Text

Second collection of outstanding jazz essays (In the Moment, 1986) by a jazz critic whose work appears in The Atlantic, 7 Days and The Village Voice. When not embarked on historical overview. Davis often inhabits his jazz subjects something like Robert de Niro slipping into a role as an outcat altoist, all the while being entirely himself, a man of frank wit and spinal musical intelligence. ("An outcat is on outcast and a far-out cat combined," says outcat pianist Paul Knopf.) He writes about mainstream jazz folk such as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, and even Bobble Darin - and opens up for us jazz musicians or singers who may be fresh on the scene, such as 21-year-old Harry Connick, Jr., or rather distant and unexplored, such as Sun Ra, saxophonist and longtime convict Frank Morgan, jazz orchestrator Gil Evans, or that noble octogenarian of the trumpet, Doc Cheatham, who - incredibly - blows better than ever and has manned a Sunday gig for the past ten years at Sweet Basil's in the Village. Davis often ties his writing in with recordings and leads us to each figure's outstanding discs. He compliments young Wynton Marsalis for bringing new audiences to jazz. "Still, it gives me pause to consider that all of the most intrepid jazz experimentalists are now in their forties or older, while the leading musicians under thirty see themselves as craftsmen making small refinements on a time-tested art." He also dismantles Clint Eastwood's Bird - "a jazz fan's movie in the worst possible sense - a movie with the blues, a Birdland, Man Amour that wants to shout 'Bird Lives!' but winds up whispering 'Jazz is dead.' " He's especially inviting on late Billie Holiday and washes out our ears for the Holiday/Ben Webster double-album Embraceable You (Verve). Top-flight jazz writing, never academic or sociological. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

17 ratings
3.58 out of 5 stars
5 6% (1)
4 53% (9)
3 35% (6)
2 6% (1)
1 0% (0)
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