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Gary Giddins' "Weather Bird column in the Village Voice was required reading for New York jazz buffs for years. Equal parts critic, booster and history teacher, as well as a stylish writer, Giddins offered an indispensable one-stop guide to the city's jazz scene. His latest book, a follow-up to his acclaimed Visions of Jazz, collects more than 140 essays, articles and reviews from 1990 through 2003, when he retired from the Voice. Together, they comprise the most detailed and valuable survey of recent jazz you're likely to find.
Weather Bird is a hefty tome probably best approached piecemeal. But within its more than 600 pages are insights on most of the major players on the current scene, as well as familiar (and not-so-familiar) heroes of jazz past. Giddins' vision of jazz is truly ecumenical, as exemplified by superb back-to-back essays on the avant-garde and, of all people, Bing Crosby, whom Giddins dubs, "The Neglected King of Song . If his most impassioned writing is found in appreciations of aging masters like Jimmy Heath, John Lewis and Benny Carter, his excitement in discovering fresh-faced wunderkinds like Stefon Harris, Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer is also evident.
The past decade and a half may not have been the best of times for jazz, but Giddins strikes a positive note in the book's closing essay, shouting down those naysayers who repeat the old canard that jazz is dead. "There is no indication that the music or the desire to master it will vanish, he says. Not as long as there are musicians "whose optimism ensures jazz' endurance as something more than a museum piece.
Jazz is a creative explosion of individual freedom and communication.
I was first exposed to jazz when I was a kid. My father had a music store.
The best live performance I ever attended was Kenny Garrett in Harlem, New York.
The first jazz record I bought was Saxophone Colossus by Sonny Rollins.
My advice to new listeners is keep listening!