Jazz: An Introduction to the History and Legends Behind American Music

Jim Santella By

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Jazz: An Introduction to the History and Legends Behind American Music
Bob Blumenthal
Softcover; 192 pages
ISBN: 0061241792
Harper Collins

With this reference work for the average reader, Bob Blumenthal has made the study of jazz easy on the eye as well as enlightening. His coffee table book, although not large in format, more the size of an espresso than a latte—it's actually about the size of a stenographer's notepad—is glossy, colorful, sidebar-illuminated, and out-of-the-ordinary. The myriad photos in color and black & white fill the volume with historical facts, anecdotes, asides and news.

As an authoritative guide, Blumenthal's book would serve "Jazz 101" college and university courses aptly. As a reference volume, Jazz: An Introduction to the History and Legends Behind American Music arches across a century of change, picking out major milestones along the way. As a conversation starter, the text contains curious trivia items, including many not-so-well-known full names for well-known jazz artists such as guitarist John "Wes" Montgomery, saxophonist Theodore "Sonny" Rollins, trombonist James "J.J." Johnson and Rowland "Bunny" Berigan.

The book is easy to follow and holds your interest; yet, it's complete in nature, with all the necessary facts. And a few less than vital ones too: did you know that trumpeter Louis Armstrong collaborated with country singer Jimmy Rodgers in 1930 on "Blue Yodel Number 9"?

Defining jazz and its century of branching-off into new and uncharted territory, Blumenthal traces developmental trends and fills in the gaps. Along the way, he uncovers Afro-Latin power, the move from free jazz to creative improvisation, the start-up of significant and long-lasting jazz festivals and record labels, and he even tosses in mention of Kenny G's "soprano sax curlicues."

From trumpeter Buddy Bolden's still photograph to pianist Maria Schneider's animated conducting, the book takes you through jazz's history and leaves off with its marriage to world music. The future looks just as promising as it did for previous generations.

From Louis Armstrong and pianists Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton, the early years opened doors through vinyl records and through dance. Later, radio and the swing generation pushed jazz to a larger audience. Television and film soundtracks amplified its popularity as jazz began to branch out, leading the way to new partnerships. As a part of modern culture, the music grew up. Through Blumenthal's book, we're afforded the chance to experience details in a relaxed environment that is filled with colorful glossy photos and essential information.

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