Jade Visions: The Life And Music Of Scott LaFaro
Hardcover; 322 pages
University of North Texas Press
At the outset, I have to own up to bassist Scott LaFarobeing a personal hero. Growing up in Geneva, NY, also home to the bassist, it was always a point of pride that this man, a major contributor in changing the role of his instrument in jazz, came from the same place I did. I never knew him, being a generation removed, but he loomed large in my pantheon once I discovered jazz and the fact that he played with Ornette Coleman.
Jade Visions, by his sister Helene LaFaro-Fernandez, is a long-awaited volume. She writes warmly and with pride, providing a vibrant and endearing study of a young musician in very human terms and with a very human, non-starry eyed voice. When it comes to the music, she collaborated with veteran jazz writer Gene Lees and allowed LaFaro's fellow bassists to have a major voice in the book (Gary Peacock's comments are particularly enlightening). When it comes to musical analysis, she turns over the reins to Jeff Campbell, an Eastman School of Music professor and bassist for Trio East, and Phil Palombi, a young bassist who transcribed all of LaFaro's solos from the Bill Evans Village Vanguard sessions. While Campbell's chapter requires some musical knowledge, it's fairly readable by the layman. The book is capped off by a thorough discography by Chuck Ralston.
LaFaro's main discography only extends from 1958-61, when he died in a car accident at the age of 25. Many of his early sessions were obscure West Coast dates that have not been reissued (see the concurrently released and same-titled Resonance recording from 1961). It's astonishing that his massive reputation is primarily based on a handful of albums that feature him in full flower: the four recorded with the Bill Evans Trio, two by Coleman and Jazz Abstractions, a Gunther Schuller recording. His work on these is so amazing, his facility on his instrument so fluid, his melodic ideas and group interplay concepts so advanced that they still reverberate today.
Finally LaFaro has a worthy volume commensurate with his stature in music.