Quotable Jazz

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Marshall Bowden & Mike Rooth
Quotable Jazz
Sound and Vision Books
ISBN: 0-920151-55-8

Marshall Bowden definitely knows his stuff when it comes to jazz. He started playing music when he was only eight years old. This early exposure eventually led him to study music at Berklee. Later, he began working in publishing, but his enthusiasm for music remained in tact. With his AllAboutJazz column, Late Night Thoughts on Jazz and in his website, jazzitude, he shares some of this knowledge with readers. While his voice is certainly one worth hearing, in his latest book, Quotable Jazz, he lets the musicians themselves do most of the talking.

Most conventional quotation books will usually have a few entries dealing with jazz. The only problem with these collections, though, lies in the fact that they can only feature the most obvious choices. Bowden's collection, on the other hand, goes far beyond the ordinary. It features a wide variety of artists and personalities, ranging in scope from Sun Ra to Lawrence Welk. Bowden also manages to cover an equally impressive spectrum of topics. Accompanying the text, Quotable Jazz also features caricatures by Canadian artist, Mike Rooth.

Many of the selections provide insightful reflections, which offer a deeper understanding of jazz. A good portion of the book, however, is flat-out hilarious. Some of this humor comes from the inevitable faux pas. Take this example of a Seattle marquee: 'Tonight...one time only'Stan Kenton and his Orchestra, Featuring the Lovely Kai Winding.' Others come from rather unique observations, such as Dave Lambert's take on therapy: 'Anybody who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined.' Most, however, come from artists simply being themselves. Take Eubie Blake's nostalgic observation: 'I wish I was 90 again,' or Jacki Byard's frankness: 'The music business stinks.'

Humor, though, isn't the only thing Quotable Jazz has to offer. It features many noteworthy reflections on some very serious topics. Take Louis Armstrong's sentiments concerning the 1965 racial violence in Selma, Alabama: 'They would even beat Jesus if He was black and marched.' Also consider what George Russell has to say: 'I have a theory, man. Bad things in this world come from the south. Look at the South of our country. South Vietnam. South Africa. Stalin was born in the south of Russia...I figure I'll stay as far north as possible.'

Ultimately, Quotable Jazz provides a great deal of substance, without going into lengthy discussions. Bowden shows that the right quote can often provide more understanding than paragraphs. Clearly, musicians can express themselves verbally just as effectively as they can with their instruments. Exposure to these viewpoints definitely brings the reader closer to the overall jazz experience. Along with the quotations, however, there is another voice that deserves recognition. This one belongs to Bowden himself. In the introduction, he points out a few of the difficulties jazz faces in contemporary society. He challenges readers to 'do whatever you can to encourage young people to listen to music besides what the giant entertainment conglomerates are feeding them.' With that in mind, hopefully there will be a lot more quotable jazz to come.


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