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Ted Gioia: The History of Jazz

AAJ Staff By

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About the Author
About The History of Jazz
Excerpt: The Prehistory of Jazz
Thoughts on Jazz by Ted Gioia
Visit Ted Gioia on the web.

About the Author

Ted Gioia was raised in Hawhtorne, California, a working class neighborhood in the South-Central area of Los Anglees county. Jazz was not part of Hawthorne's nightlife - indeed, the city is perhaps best known as hometown to the Beach Boys. But while his friends and classmates listened to surf and soul music, Gioia was practicing the piano and checking out the various jazz books and recordings found in the local public library.

While a student at Stanford University in the late 1970s, Gioia continued his study of jazz, practicing the piano several hours per day, in addition to pursuing a full course of studies. At age twenty, while still an undergraduate, Gioia began teaching accredited courses on jazz for Stanford students. He also edited Stanford's literary magazine, and appeared on televsion as a member of the team which defeated Yale to win the national College Bowl tournament.

After receiving his degree at Stanford, Gioia earned a scholarship to study philosophy at Oxford University in England, where he graduated with first class honors in 1981. Gioia also later completed the MBA program at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. In the mid-1980s, Gioia worked with Stanford's Department of Music to establish a formal jazz studies program, and served on the faculty, alongside artist-in-residence Stan Getz, for several years.

Around this time, Gioia's first book was published by Oxford University Press, The Imperfect Art , which was awarded the ASCAP-Deems Taylor award. Gioia also released his first recording as a jazz pianist, The End of the Open Road , a trio recording with Eddie Moore and Larry Grenadier, and produced a series of recordings featuring other West Coast jazz musicians.

Gioia's second book, West Coast Jazz , resulted from his interest in probing the jazz tradition of his native region. Meticulously researched, West Coast Jazz helped spur a critical re-evaluation of this body of music and led the way for other later efforts to preserve California's jazz heritage. West Coast Jazz was re-issued in an expanded edition by University of California Press last year.

Gioia's most recent book, The History of Jazz , was selected as one of the twenty best books of the year by Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post, and has earned praise for its expansive and balanced survey of the entire jazz tradition from Buddy Bolden to Wynton Marsalis.

Gioia's current interests cover a wide range of musical areas. He is composing a series of solo piano pieces that draw both from jazz and classical music traditions. He is exploring the myriad ways in which music is embedded in social institutions and practices, with particular emphasis on work songs and the use of music in healing and ritual. He is deeply interested in Latin American musical traditions, especially those of Brazil and Argentina. Finally, he is researching the area of creative process - with the hope of learning whether the techniques used by improvising jazz musicians can be used by others to enhance their creativity.

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About The History of Jazz

Jazz is the most colorful and varied art form in the world and it was born in one of the most colorful and varied cities, New Orleans. From the seed first planted by slave dances held in Congo Square and nurtured by early ensembles led by Buddy Belden and Joe "King" Oliver, jazz began its long winding odyssey across America and around the world, giving flower to a thousand different forms—swing, bebop, cool jazz, jazz-rock fusion—and a thousand great musicians. Now, in The History of Jazz, Ted Gioia tells the story of this music as it has never been told before, in a book that brilliantly portrays the legendary jazz players, the breakthrough styles, and the world in which it evolved.

Here are the giants of jazz and the great moments of jazz history—Jelly Roll Morton ("the world's greatest hot tune writer"), Louis Armstrong (whose O-keh recordings of the mid-1920s still stand as the most significant body of work that jazz has produced), Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club, cool jazz greats such as Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, and Lester Young, Charlie Parker's surgical precision of attack, Miles Davis's 1955 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival, Ornette Coleman's experiments with atonality, Pat Metheny's visionary extension of jazz-rock fusion, the contemporary sounds of Wynton Marsalis, and the post-modernists of the Knitting Factory. Gioia provides the reader with lively portraits of these and many other great musicians, intertwined with vibrant commentary on the music they created. Gioia also evokes the many worlds of jazz, taking the reader to the swamp lands of the Mississippi Delta, the bawdy houses of New Orleans, the rent parties of Harlem, the speakeasies of Chicago during the Jazz Age, the after hours spots of corrupt Kansas city, the Cotton Club, the Savoy, and the other locales where the history of jazz was made. And as he traces the spread of this protean form, Gioia provides much insight into the social context in which the music was born. He shows for instance how the development of technology helped promote the growth of jazz—how ragtime blossomed hand-in-hand with the spread of parlor and player pianos, and how jazz rode the growing popularity of the record industry in the 1920s. We also discover how bebop grew out of the racial unrest of the 1940s and '50s, when black players, no longer content with being "entertainers," wanted to be recognized as practitioners of a serious musical form. Jazz is a chameleon art, delighting us with the ease and rapidity with which it changes colors. Now, in Ted Gioia's The History of Jazz, we have at last a book that captures all these colors on one glorious palate. Knowledgeable, vibrant, and comprehensive, it is among the small group of books that can truly be called classics of jazz literature.

Praise for The History of Jazz

"Possibly the best survey to date." —Ann Douglas in the New York Times

"If you are looking for an introduction to jazz, this is it. If you know and love jazz well, this is your vade mecum. Me, I expect to be reading around in it for the rest of my life . . . [It is] the definitive work: encyclopedic, discriminating, provocative, perceptive and eminently readable. With its publication, it can no longer be said that the literature of jazz falls far short of the music itself." —Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post

"In The History of Jazz, Gioia has written an authoritative work of research that does not spare the poetic power of words." —James Sullivan in the San Francisco Chronicle

"Gioia's History stands a good chance of becoming the standard guide for general readers and academics. . . . Gioia coherently and eruditely compacts into 400-odd pages the work of 30 volumes. Impressive with epic sweep, he details divinely too." —Greg Tate in the Village Voice

"Ted Gioia's The History of Jazz is the work of a noted jazz scholar and performer, but is just as plainly aimed at a general audience. . . . Anyone looking for a balanced, well-written popular history of jazz will certainly find it both readable and reliable . . . nor should more experienced readers expect to come away empty-handed." —Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal

"This is the book you need if you require a grasp of the music's history, and it is a friendly companion for those who have an overview but will always welcome more details . . .It is the best history in print." —John Clare in The Australian's Review of Books

"Powerful and dynamic . . . essential reading for the serious jazz student" —Dr. Lee Bash in Jazz Educator's Journal

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