There’s no shortage of jazz histories on the shelves of university libraries or the more finely stocked book superstores, but Giddins and DeVeaux have come at their broad subject with something of a unique approach that blends musicology and historiography into a compelling book that will teach readers a bit of music theory while enhancing their listening pleasure of all styles of this American musical creation. The result is a unique blend of history and in-depth guided music appreciation that will shed new light on all genres of jazz, especially for the novice, but even the seasoned listener might discover new shades in their favorite musical form after digesting this tome.
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There are some people who take music fandom to an almost obsessive compulsive level. Think of John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity. This is the gift for person in your life who organizes their record collection bi-monthly or the one who is annoyed that iTunes won’t let them arrange their library any which way they choose (be it alphabetical, chronological, or autobiographical). Music Listography is simply a book for lists of music, bands, shows, albums, and heartbreak. Any music loving list maker will get a lot of use out of the “Motivational Self Help Anthems”, or “Who’d You Like to a Backup Singer or Dancer For”.
Whether you love him, hate him, or aren’t sure, Kanye West continued his reign as one of pop’s elite artists in 2009. Working with photographer Nabil Elderkin and introduced by an intimate interview with director Spike Jonze, West compiles his life circa 2008 into the comprehensive Glow in the Dark, cataloging his experiences chronologically using a dazzling array of hyper-color personal and concert photos, insightful captions, and a bonus CD with four backing tracks from the Glow in the Dark Tour.
Elderkin’s high-resolution photos are a real treat, printed beautifully and often spread across two pages. Jonze does his best to reach the heart of West’s divisive persona, such as getting West to reveal that he cried while playing the 2007 hit “The Good Life” during a difficult Brazil show, a sad irony considering his personal turmoil at the time. Fans of West will definitely love the sketches and backstage pictures from the immense tour, while the average pop consumer may enjoy his irreverent humor and expressive personality. Glow in the Dark might not convince you of West’s genius, but you’ll appreciate the sheer amount of labor and passion that goes into his work.
Most people know Terry Teachout from his theatre criticism at The Wall Street Journal and essays at Commentary, but the writer actually began his career in the arts as a professional jazz musician. Hence, he comes at the subject of America’s pre-eminent jazz artist with both a thorough knowledge of jazz performance as well as the rigorous research and smart writing of a top cultural journalist. Pops is an engaging read and the first fully-sourced biography of Louis Armstrong, featuring many photos published for the first time ever.
Teachout says, “I’m the first biographer to have had access to 650 reel-to-reel tapes that Armstrong made during the last quarter-century of his life, many of which contain astonishingly candid recordings of his private after-hours conversations.” The result is the most nuanced written work on this seminal figure in American cultural history. Indeed, this book is designed for far more than the jazz fan or Armstrong admirer; anyone interested in African-American culture and the nature of creative genius period will find this book a page turner.
Our Noise is an oral history of Merge Records, featuring interviews from its founders (McCaughan and Ballance), it’s numerous signees (featuring members of Lambchop, Spoon, the Arcade Fire, and more), and various admirers and business partners (like Dischord Records founder/Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye). Author John Cook alternates his chapters between recounting the history of the Merge label and then profiling one particular band. In a short amount of time, the main players are firmly established: Mac is a svengali-like figure, gathering likeminded rock types around him while being in it primarily just for the music; Laura—by contrast—has a knack for the business side of things, capable of keeping people on budget even during the most dire of times.
You don’t have to be familiar with Superchunk, the label, or even any of the bands on the label to enjoy the stories told within. You don’t have to know Britt Daniel’s personal history to relate to how he wound up getting major-label cash to become an alternative rock star, only to suffer from terrible reviews and downright depressing sales figures when all was said and done.
For still being in the game after putting out two decades worth of classic albums (including such standard-bearers as the Magnetic Fields’ 99 Love Songs and Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea), it’s obvious that Merge—with its success and its struggles—is still wanting nothing more than to make some peers of its own. In our rushed digital age of today, there’s something profoundly sweet about such a simple sentiment.