After year’s of receiving their accusing stares from my bookshelf, I committed to myself that I would finish both Visions of Jazz by Gary Giddens and Reading Jazz. The latter is an anthology of Autobiography, Reporting, and Criticism from the major jazz musicians, reporters and critics of the 20th century. Like Visions of Jazz, it is a bit short-sighted in its coverage of music after the 60’s (nothing about Keith Jarrett or Wayne Shorter or Joe Henderson among others), but for the period it covered, it had some essential writing. Here you have selections by Louis Armstrong about his arrival in Chicago to meet up and play with King Oliver in 1922, from Mile’s autobiography about his time with Cannonball, Trane, Bill Evans and later with Charlie Parker, interviews with Duke Ellington and Milt Gabler…all fascinating reading. This is truly a unique collection and pushed me to explore the biographies of my favorite musicians further. The reporting was fascinating as it was almost like being in the crowd at shows of Dizzy Gillespie or Fats Waller. I think there is a movie script in the chapter about the International Sweethearts of Swing. Lastly, the criticism section rounds up the major critical essays and even one classic one disparaging jazz criticism in general by the legendary Orrin Keepnews. I think that the school of thought that unites Giddens and Stanley Crouch against fusion and other last 20th C jazz phenomena was over-represented here and I would have appreciated a more open, inclusive approach. We all know that it will be hard to match Bird, Diz, Miles, Trane, Duke, Satch, etc but music did not end with In a Silent Way or Crescent. Jazz is a living, breathing thing and anthologies of this sort should be more even handed as to the developments in jazz of the 70’s through the 2000s.
If you have the stamina and want to really learn about jazz from its inception at the dawn of the 20th C through the 60s, this is a necessary book in your jazz library. Just do not stop there and explore beyond the limits of this book the more recent developments in jazz as well.