What to Listen for In Jazz

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What to Listen for In Jazz by Barry Kernfeld
Yale University Press
ISBN 0-300-07259-7

Though I enjoyed it, I'm a bit confused about the intended audience for "What to Listen for in Jazz."

Though the tone is geared toward novices, Barry Kernfeld provides many examples of musical concepts (swing, harmony, improvisation, etc.) in notation. Perhaps the book is intended for music students who know the basics of notation and theory, but who are unfamiliar with the history and concepts of jazz. There's no mention of what sort of audience Kernfeld had in mind.

At any rate, if you remember enough from your elementary school music classes to make a little sense out of the notated examples, it's an entertaining book. Kernfeld, the editor of the "New Grove Dictionary of Jazz," does a nice job detailing the rhythmic and tonal concepts at work in jazz. He also goes into form, explaining how jazz musicians mix composed/arranged music with improvisation.

Best of all, all the musical examples are drawn from a CD that comes with the book. Classic jazz recordings by Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Earl Hines, Count Basie, Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins and others are used to illustrate concepts such as double-time, improvised solos, swing rhythms, harmony and more.

It's not really for a general audience, but if you've got the background and the inclination to learn a little more about the technical aspects of jazz, the book and CD are an enjoyable package.


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