A New History of Jazz
When the Ken Burns television documentary, Jazz, aired earlier this year, it left many jazz fans feeling somewhat dissatisfied. Admittedly, telling the entire story of jazz provides any historian with a great challenge""one difficult to approach while remaining somewhat objective. British critic/historian, Alyn Shipton, though, comes along with precisely this goal in mind. His latest book, A New History of Jazz provides readers with a fresh and satisfying glimpse into the world of jazz, from its earliest days to the present.
Shipton, BBC radio host, Times critic, and author of Groovin' High: The Life of Dizzy Gillespie, definitely has a wealth of musical knowledge. With A New History of Jazz, he spares no expense in sharing his resources with readers. He takes up where Burns left off and provides a much more comprehensive study.
The author, however, doesn't always settle for just telling more of the same story. Take Miles Davis, for example: "Traditionally, historians have focused on three distinct areas of Davis' work, Birth of Cool, Sketches of Spain, and Kind of Blue. While not ignoring these, Shipton provides equal coverage on some of his other recordings.
A New History of Jazz obviously covers the major artists and movements, but has information on lesser-known performers as well. Also, this author is not afraid to break away from generally-accepted viewpoints to provide fresh arguments. One example of his dissenting view is the importance of territory bands. "Earlier historians have seen these bands as an adjunct to jazz history. Shipton, however, claims that they were key elements in spreading the popularity of jazz across the country, even though they were not as widely-recorded as bands from major metropolitan areas.
The popularity and importance of jazz music, though, stretched much farther than the United States alone. A New History of Jazz also shows its global impact. Even though it is an American invention, it certainly hasn't been limited to American shores. Shipton covers jazz artists from around the world. Whether in Europe, South America, Africa, or India, jazz has managed to find an audience.
A New History of Jazz also provides a look into contemporary jazz movements; but, there's more here than just jazz-rock fusion and free jazz. From artists as diverse as Diana Krall to John Zorn, Shipton doesn't ignore the modern-day scene.
Whether you agree with his viewpoints or not, you have to admire the substantial effort that went into this volume. A New History of Jazz is a worthwhile contribution to the jazz library, and provides essential reading for anyone wanting to learn more about this music. Shipton provides an impressive work, filled with excellent sources. He approaches the material from an academic standpoint, but his writing is easily accessible. He offers a breath of fresh air in the wake of Ken Burns. This is one trip that's well worth the price of admission.