Riding on a Blue Note

Riding on a Blue Note : Jazz and American Pop

3.9 (20 ratings by Goodreads)
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Gary Giddins, winner of the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award, has a following that includes not only jazz enthusiasts but also pop music fans of every stripe. Writing here in a lyrical and celebratory style all his own, Giddins dazzlingly shows us -- among many other things -- how performers originally perceived as radical (Bing Crosby, Count Basie, Elvis Presley) became conservative institutions...how Charlie Parker created a masterpiece from the strain of an inane ditty...how the Dominoes helped combine church ritual with pop music...and how Irving Berlin translated a chiaroscuro of Lower East Side minorities into imperishable songs.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 330 pages
  • 144.78 x 208.28 x 33.02mm | 566.99g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • index
  • 019502835X
  • 9780195028355

Review Text

Giddins' modest strengths as a writer on jazz include his eclectic taste, his sense of music history, and his avoidance of an aggressively hip tone - so this collection of reviews, essays, and interviews (published in the Village Voice since 1973) is more welcome than some such gatherings. True, many of the reviews here are too much about one specific performance to stand up well to hard-cover compilation; too many of the retrospectives lapse into mere annotated discographies; and Giddins brings little that's fresh to pieces on such familiar figures as Sinatra (the contradictory "embodiment of good taste, garrulous vulgarity, and bourgeois mush"), Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Ethel Waters, or Bing Crosby. But there's value in his close-up appreciation of Duke Ellington's late works, his review of Irving Berlin's vast achievement (acknowledging Alec Wilder's definitive essay in American Popular Song), his analysis of Sarah Vaughan's erratic performances, and his enthusiasm for Sonny Rollins ("for me no other living musician operates on Armstrong's pinnacle"). Also distinctive are looks at lesser-known careers - like those of stride-pianist Donald Lambert (1904-1962), idiosyncratic singer Professor Longhair, trumpeter Red Rodney (an episodic little biography - through drug addiction, ups and downs), or Dutch saxophonist-composer Willem Breuker. And Giddins also keeps an eye on some key jazz-world issues: the matter of white artists lifting from blacks ("Economically and socially, minstrelsy is more often than not unjust; aesthetically, it is the key with which some of our more intelligent white performers unlocked the doors to their own individualities"); the exploitation of artists by producers (a Wes Montgomery profile); and the question of sellingout - as personified by that most tasteful of sell-outs, George Benson. There's little stylishness here, and when Giddins strains for eloquence he is usually embarrassing (Charlie Parker "is a knife blade, a beautiful and terrible Daedalus, flying straight for the sun's eye"). But, for jazz enthusiasts - a solid, middle-of-the-road viewpoint that's good to have around. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

20 ratings
3.9 out of 5 stars
5 10% (2)
4 70% (14)
3 20% (4)
2 0% (0)
1 0% (0)
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