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Living With Jazz is an apt title for this long overdue first published collection of Dan Morgenstern's writings. The veteran scribe - a former Down Beat editor, current head of Rutgers University's respected Institute of Jazz Studies and six-time Grammy winner for his liner notes - has been an important figure on the jazz scene for four decades, writing with unmatched sensitivity, generosity and enthusiasm about the music and people he knows better than almost anyone.
The thick anthology, weighing in at some 700 pages, includes in-depth profiles and interviews with most of the major figures in jazz history, essays on the place of jazz in modern culture, record and concert reviews, as well as a healthy selection of his award-winning album notes. Morgenstern's tastes are decidedly mainstream, with his passions still strongest for those artists who first aroused his love for jazz as a boy in wartime Europe, especially Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, both of whom he became friendly with in later years. Refreshingly, he's also open to non-mainstream sounds and ideas, as evidenced by his warm appreciation, if not embracing, of the likes of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. An unabashed champion of the music rather than a "critic" bent on tearing others down, Morgenstern only rarely offers words of reproach - but when he does, watch out. His masterful evisceration of author James Lincoln Collier for his execrable biography of Armstrong is a case in point, as is his description of a Pharoah Sanders solo at a mid '60s John Coltrane concert as a "grotesque display of willful ugliness".
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.