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Jazz For Dummies

Jazz Neophytes Rejoice !!

[Italian version]

Product: Jazz For Dummies
Company: IDG Books Worldwide, ISBN Number 0-7645-5081-0
Approx. cost: MSRP $24.99 USD, $23.99 Euro
Reviewer: Scott Faller
Published: October 2001

[Jazz for Dummies]
Jazz for Dummies


Trivial Bits

The other day I wandered into my local Borders Books and Music. It's one of my favorite haunts. I usually start with a nice hot cup of coffee then meander through all the rag section (phile mags) then end up over in the music department.

This day wasn't any different. I started with a stiff cup of Guatemalan coffee. My wife and I acquired the taste for strong coffee some years ago travelling abroad. On the strong coffee scale this was about a six or seven. This was a pretty nice drink actually.

Anyway, I looked through the rags and they didn't have anything interesting to say, just the usual mega buck, "this is great stuff", "gotta have" reviews. So I moseyed over to the music section.

Let's see, so far I've used wandered, meandered, and moseyed. Let's see if I can fit in saunter, drift, cruise, stroll, waltz and last but not least, promenade into this article.

I started strolling though the jazz section. Borders seems to have a little better than average jazz selection than most other chain stores. One of the nice things about Borders is that they have Listening Stations. They have multiple Listening Stations for each genre of music that they carry. They usually have five or six featured CD's. More often than not, it's groups you've never heard of before, which is great when you think about it. You can saunter through the entire CD of some (relative) unknown group without having to buy a CD on a hope and prayer.

Perfect example. This day I found E.S.T.. The Esbjorn Svennson Trio. It's their debut American release (I think) called Somewhere Else Before. I am absolutely smitten with this CD and wouldn't have bought it if it wasn't for the Listening Stations at Borders. The recording quality isn't the greatest, it's kind of over processed, but the music is just incredibly good. But that's a completely different article. Along with E.S.T., I picked up some Dixieland and another Harry Connick Jr. CD.

Reading Werner's recent review of the Pre-Amp Cookbook, I drifted over to the technical sections of the store to see if I could find it. After browsing everything from Applied Thermodynamics to Nuclear Physics, I didn't have any luck. Well, since I didn't have any luck there I though maybe it might be hiding in the section that houses all of the Music Books. So, off I went.

Enough Already, Get On With It

I started cruising through all of the music books and something caught my attention. It was this bright yellow lettering on a black background. I looked at it and didn't pay it much attention thinking to myself that is was one of those "Dummies" books that was out of place. I moved a little further down the isle and looked at it again. This time I read the title. Jazz for Dummies. I thought to myself, "Well, I'll be dipped in buttermilk." but sure enough they wrote a Dummies book for Jazz.

I flipped it open and waltzed through the chapters. The author, Dick Sutro, who is a Jazz musician, radio host, and music critic, seems to have put together a pretty decent book. Here's a link to the Table of Contents

Dirk Sutro breaks the book down into seven different sections.

Part 1: What Is Jazz

The author starts by trying to define Jazz and he also gives you some pointers for listening to the differences in the different styles of Jazz that are out there. That's not to say that you have to be educated or learn to listen to Jazz, it's just that there are some very subtle nuances to this form of music. Learning what they are makes listening to Jazz, all the more enjoyable.

After this, Dirk takes you trough the emergence of Jazz, starting in the late 19th century and covers briefly some of the key Jazz players and styles. He further defines those players and styles with the monikers we use to label music today, Swing, BeBop, Avante Garde and so on. He does a good job describing the major influential performers in each of the eras and their style of playing. In finishing this section, he brings us to current day Jazz performers.

Parts II through VI

These sections are the meat of the book. Here Dirk breaks the book down to look at the some of the more influential players over the years. He covers almost every band position starting with Saxophonists and moving to Trumpeters, Vocalists, Keyboards, Organists, Percussion, Vibes, Bassists, Guitarists, Clarinetists, Flutists, and finally Trombonists (sorry, no accordions, they are in Polka for Dummies :-)

Each artist is covered with just enough detail to wet your whistle. You may get one paragraph on Buck Clayton (trumpeter) but you get two plus pages on JJ Johnson (trombonist). He does a pretty good job of writing (at least) a little something on all of your favorite Jazz artists.

Part VII

Here Dirk goes out on a limb (a bit anyway). He gives what he describes as ten trustworthy Jazz labels. Well, when it comes to audiophiles and Jazz, we seem to have differing opinions as to which labels had the best artists and recordings. That's all part of the fun in collecting music. Getting out there and buying dusty old vinyl, bringing it home and giving it a spin for the first time. Sometimes you fine a jewel, sometimes you don't.

That as an aside, the labels he recommends all have some really good artists and even better music.

Here's something pretty cool, in Chapter 21 he actually gives you a list of venues in several major cities where you can go see live Jazz performances. There's only about a dozen or so cities listed and unfortunately they are all in North America, but if you travel on holiday or for work, this list might just come in handy. One thing for sure, it beats the heck out of a 19" color TV and a remote when you are on the road. Trust me, I know from personal experience.

And finally, the fine folks at Dummies have included a CD sampler of Jazz. Now, this isn't exactly an audiophile recording but it will give a feel for quite a few different Jazz artists through the years. They start off with some early works from Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong make it all the way to the years of Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane.

So .

If you're just starting to get into Jazz, this could be very worthwhile book. It explains a lot about what we are listing to. It's quite informative and an easy read. The only real heavy reading in is Part I. I wouldn't even call it heavy, it's only 80 pages or so. This is best read in one sitting, then you can use the rest of the book to research a little more on the artists or instruments you are interested in.

As you promenade through this book, you will find loads of musical terms and definitions (I knew I'd find a place to use promenade :-) . It's always nice to know what term describes what you just listened to on your favorite piece of music. Just as an example, I learned, in playing an upright bass, when the bassist slides his or her finger up or down the string through several notes, this is called glissandos.

If you are like me, you're not a music major or a musicologist, you are just a plain old music lover. I like to know what I am listening to. By that I mean, I like to go behind the music, learn a little more about the musician, what influenced them, maybe who else they played with. This kind of knowledge makes listening more pleasurable, for me anyway.

If your curiosity is up here's a link to a Sample Chapter

In the end, I found Jazz for Dummies a great reference book and an easy read. On top of that it's given me quite a few more musicians to look for when I'm out rummaging through those musty old vinyl racks.

Main System Used

  • Brainous Expandous
  • Tweaks,
    - Eyeglasses (astigmatisms),
    - The occasional set of Bifocals (I'm getting old :-)

© Copyright 1997-2001 Scott Faller - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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