[Dixielandjazz] "Living With Jazz" - A MUST READ for jazz lovers.

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sun Dec 19 06:42:06 PST 2004


Sounds like this book, reviewed below, is surely a must read for all of us
who seek to understand, as well as enjoy, the music and the musicians.

Steve Barbone

December 19, 2004 - New York Times

'Living With Jazz': It Does Mean a Thing Review by ALFRED APPEL JR.

By Dan Morgenstern.
Edited by Sheldon Meyer.
Pantheon Books. 712 pp. $35.

AN MORGENSTERN has been writing about jazz for more than four decades but
has long hesitated to collect his best pieces. At last, ''Living With Jazz''
gathers 136 of his liner notes, critical essays and other writings, and the
book is a cause for celebration since it deserves to be on the short shelf
of essential books on the music.

The sections collecting record reviews and accounts of concerts constitute a
compelling documentary record of often thrilling performances, most notably
from the 1950's and 60's -- the last time musicians like Louis Armstrong,
Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck and Thelonious Monk would enjoy wide popularity
(all were on the cover of Time). Jazz itself could be termed popular music
only during the swing era, in its big-band incarnation as dance music.
Radio, now lost to adult music, made swing, Bing and Toscanini popular;
Armstrong even had his own radio show.

Morgenstern's liner notes transcend the shallow, if not promotional, nature
of the genre and manage to blend keen musical analysis with biographical
commentary. He has mastered this balance while setting the standard for the
kind of expanded program notes made possible by boxed LP sets and the advent
of booklets with compact discs. All of his writing is enriched by his
extraordinary command and recall of recorded jazz.

Morgenstern's fluent, unmannered narrative style is ideally suited to the
profile form; with Whitney Balliett, he is as sensitive as any critic has
been to the human side of the jazz scene. He writes with particular warmth
and acuity about musicians like Hot Lips Page, Roy Eldridge, Miles Davis,
Coleman Hawkins, Pee Wee Russell and Milt Hinton. He is both lyrical and
critically persuasive on Lester Young, arguing against prevailing negative
opinion in favor of Young's late recordings, his personal travails

The opening section, ''Armstrong and Ellington,'' is the book's strongest.
Eleven essays, written over many years, cohere to form a first-rate survey
of Ellington's career. The eight reviews and essays on Armstrong
collectively reveal that no one has written better or more lovingly about
Satchmo. Morgenstern's 1994 essay ''Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man''
actually covers Armstrong's entire lifetime and is the best short
introduction to the man who, he writes, ''spread love, happiness and
beauty.'' Morgenstern's laser-beam memory locates musical sources for the
bebop innovators Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in Armstrong recordings
from 1929. As Miles Davis said, ''You can't play anything on the horn that
Louis hasn't played -- even modern.''

The year 1929 was also epochal for Armstrong, who, in a successful bid for a
wider audience, abandoned his small recording group with its traditional
jazz repertory in favor of a big band that featured him performing Tin Pan
Alley songs like ''Star Dust'' and ''Body and Soul'' instead of successors
to the purely instrumental ''Potato Head Blues'' (1927). ''A sellout!''
wailed jazz purists and commissars. This monolithic myopia went unchallenged
until Morgenstern began attacking it, most assertively in liner notes to a
1969 reissue of 1930-32 recordings; he argued that Armstrong's art peaked in
the 1930's. Soon, Armstrong's best recordings from 1935 to 1943, ignored in
the jazz literature, were made available to Armstrong enthusiasts who had
never heard about them, let alone listened to them -- magnificent recordings
like ''Ev'ntide,'' ''Jubilee,'' ''Lyin' to Myself,'' ''Swing That Music''
and ''I Double Dare You.'' Morgenstern's pivotal role in the second coming
of this radiant body of great American music is comparable to Malcolm
Cowley's in his 1946 anthology ''The Portable Faulkner,'' which prompted the
reissue of out-of-print novels like ''The Sound and the Fury,'' ''As I Lay
Dying'' and ''Light in August.''

Although Armstrong is now called iconic and canonical -- recognized as our
greatest jazz figure -- he and Faulkner may well be in the same boat, cut
off from any substantial audience by the vast surround of popular culture.
We know that Faulkner now belongs to unpopular culture -- that is, read only
when assigned in class. But we have no idea if the young are even listening
to Armstrong, who died in 1971. Jazz should henceforth be labeled ''art
music,'' because this would clearly mean that if it is to survive, it must
be disseminated in classrooms and institutions like the proposed Jazz Museum
in Harlem. Jazz curriculums continue to be developed for every level.
Morgenstern, since 1976 the director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at
Rutgers University, never mentions jazz education, curiously enough.
However, his essay ''Satchmo and the Critics'' offers a valuable pedagogic
documentary record, with ample quotations from the surprisingly harsh
criticism Armstrong endured throughout his long career.

Although literary scholars customarily consider the most compromising and
vexing aspects of their subjects in an unblinking fashion, jazz writers like
Morgenstern often seem advocates as much as critics, their defensiveness
easily understood in the context of cultural if not racial snobbery. But now
that Ellington, Armstrong and their peers have won the respect and close
attention of musicologists, cultural critics and pedagogues alike, they
should be considered with the complexity they deserve. How good are
Ellington's extended works? What does one make of his so-called ''jungle
music,'' black musicians making eccentric animal-like sounds on their horns?
Is it a form of modernist irony -- primitivist condescension upended?
Morgenstern is not alone in ducking such hard questions. And what do we make
of Armstrong's persona of joy, ebullient and ingratiating? This minstrelsy
aspect of Armstrong is crucial, although ignored or de-emphasized by
friendly critics like Morgenstern.

Ideally, the bracing art of jazz would help to reduce or neutralize the
nihilistic spell cast by current popular culture, from the aestheticized
mayhem of action movies to the misogyny of hip-hop. ''Thanks a Million,''
Armstrong sang in 1935, wearing his heart on his sleeve, which is why we
turn to jazz, why we need it.

Alfred Appel Jr.'s most recent book is ''Jazz Modernism: From Ellington and
Armstrong to Matisse and Joyce.''

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list