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Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz

Greg Thomas By

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Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz
Stanley Crouch
Hardcover; 339 pages
ISBN: 9780465015177
Perseus Books Group

Stanley Crouch's Considering Genius solidifies his place as one of the most insightful authors on jazz. Certain themes echo throughout, such as the uniquely American identity of jazz as opposed to, say, European concert music.

He blends a lyrical, metaphor-rich style with history, cultural critique and social analysis as backdrop for the development of the jazz idiom and those he deems its most ingenious individual and ensemble innovators.

Crouch's short pieces pack punch akin to three-minute jazz masterpieces, while his longer essays are structured like suites, suffused with brilliant exposition. He's never shy about his presumed authority, whether his subject is Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ben Webster, Ahmad Jamal, Andrew Hill, Sun Ra or Wynton Marsalis.

He openly acknowledges his debts to fellow jazz writers Nat Hentoff, Martin Williams, Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray, though regarding the latter he takes pains to establish a position of iconoclasm.

Crouch's facility as a writer/thinker/critic is undeniable, but his place in American letters as an intellectual and scholar is impaired by a tendency to settle scores in print (and elsewhere on occasion) and a dependence on third-person anecdotes as historical reference. In some cases, he cites no source material at all, which, particularly when dealing with historical figures of magnitude, leaves holes in his accounts.

In an otherwise marvelous essay, "Duke Ellington: Transcontinental Swing , he claims Ellington "might leave his apartment in silk robe, pajamas and slippers to sit up all night in a little greasy spoon. Unless he witnessed this himself, an attribution should be quoted and even then taken with a grain of salt.

One hopes that his long-awaited biography of Charlie Parker, set for release later in 2007, has all of his strengths and none of the lesser proclivities.


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