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All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Book Reviews

Experiencing Jazz

By Published: April 28, 2007
As a result, Lawn offers a more measured and balanced view than Burns, giving equal weight to the traditional, the modern, and the contemporary eras, and fully acknowledging lesser known innovators such as bandleader Fletcher Henderson, bassist Gene Ramey, pianists Bobby Timmons and Lennie Tristano, and many more, along with the famous and popular performers in the pantheon. As a result, musicians as well as the "in crowd will appreciate Lawn's efforts very much. Some will regret, however, that their favorites receive little or no mention in an otherwise comprehensive book. I suspect that creating a book such as this requires some inevitably painful omissions and deletions to prevent it from becoming unwieldy. But no one is likely to approve of all the choices and emphases.

Despite such shortcomings, Experiencing Jazz is a monumental achievement. In addition to reaching the educational market, it should be offered for sale to jazz fans via nightclubs, concert halls, book stores and internet vendors so that the fans can "get with it knowledge-wise. My one regret is that the audio interview excerpts on the CD-ROM are much too brief, and it would be fascinating to hear the full interviews from which they were taken. On the whole, however, nothing but praise and gratitude can be offered to Richard Lawn for a magnificent contribution to jazz education and scholarship.

As a post-script, I would add a caveat that, as the Zen Buddhists say, there is considerable merit in "non-understanding and approaching jazz with an "empty mind, a "beginner's mind. The experience of hearing a great musician or group for the first time and being hit in the head with what they are doing and sounding like is much more rewarding than any musical guide can convey. But it is a merit of Lawn's book that he doesn't over-educate you or load you up with useless facts. Rather, he gives you the kind of information that generates excitement and insight when you hear the music. The essence of jazz is spontaneity. As the back cover quote from Miles Davis says, "I'll play it first and tell you what it is later.


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