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All That Jazz

Shedding Light on the Music and More

March 09, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The books about jazz, like the CDs, just keep coming. Information in and of itself, as the Ken Burns jazz documentary frequently affirmed, is not nearly as illuminating as the actual music, of course. But there are many entries in the continuing flow of material that are valuable either as overviews of larger areas of jazz or as penetrating insights into individual lives. Here's a sampling of some recent publications:

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"Masters of Jazz Saxophone: The Story of the Players and Their Music," edited by Dave Gelly (Miller Freeman Books). This big, colorful, lavishly illustrated volume devotes chapters to Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Michael Brecker. Other chapters are stylistically oriented around titles such as "The Cool Sound," "Honkers and Screamers," "The Modalists" and "Free Jazz." The collection is as skewed toward the post-World War II period as the Ken Burns documentary was oriented toward the pre-'40s era. And here, as with Burns, one could argue over inclusions, emphasis and historical segmentation. But as a general, nonacademic overview of the saxophone in jazz, the collected essays--by more than a dozen writers, in addition to Gelly--are informative and well-written.

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"Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World," by Ruy Castro (A Cappella). OK, bossa nova isn't jazz, but--as Castro's detailed study of a brilliantly creative musical era makes clear--it was powerfully affected by the cool West Coast jazz of the '50s. And, appropriately, bossa nova offered, in return, a collection of music and an approach to rhythm that have been present in jazz (as well as much pop music) since the '60s. Castro offers a fascinating view of the eccentric (to say the least) Joao Gilberto, whose inventive transformation of samba rhythms into a blend of voice and guitar became the foundation of bossa nova, as well as a similarly compelling perspective on the growth and development of Antonio Carlos Jobim. He presents this view with superb attention to the details of Rio's bohemian culture, of the many emotional currents coursing between the major players in the growth of this vital musical form.

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"Afro-Cuban Jazz," by Scott Yanow (Miller Freeman). In a style comparable to his "Swing" and "Bebop" titles, Yanow--who provides listings for The Times--has written an informative, quick-take view of another important jazz area. Typically, it includes an opening observational chapter, "A Brief History of Afro-Cuban Jazz," followed by brief biographies and selected (and rated) recordings by major artists.

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"Men, Women, and Girl Singers" by John Levy with Devra Hall (Beckham Publications Group) (available on the Web at http://www.lushlife.com). Levy started out as a jazz bassist, working with--among many others--Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Billie Holiday and George Shearing. But by 1951, when he was 39, he had turned his attention to full-time artist management, and the list of players on his roster at various times is a virtual all-star gathering of jazz musicians and vocalists. Levy, with companion Hall, has written an autobiography that reads like a jazz fan's fantasy. There are intriguing anecdotes about dozens of artists, unexpected views of others. Above all, there is Levy's continual presence as a low-keyed but powerful behind-the-scenes figure, little known to the wider jazz audience, but an enormously important force--for more than half a century--in jazz and its various tributary music forms.

* John Levy will host a book signing Sunday at Catalina Bar & Grill, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Gerald Wiggins Trio will perform. (323) 466-2210.

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"The Gigging Musician: How to Get, Play and Keep the Gig," by Billy Mitchell (Backbeat Books). Musician, leader, producer and writer, Mitchell has been through every aspect of the music-business wars, from the trenches to the observation posts. In "The Gigging Musician," he interviews a variety of experts in virtually every area of the business. Some examples: concert producer Darlene Chan on sales skills; Linda Hopkins, Ann Patterson, Karen Briggs and Phyllis Battle on women on the road; record producer Gregg Field on planning ahead; recording studio owner Robyn Whitney on the details of recording; artist representative Susan DeBois on planning the details of a gig. Mitchell offers his well-informed thoughts as well, and handles the various interviews in a manner that extracts the most useful and essential information. A quick and easy read, the book is a valuable resource for the working musician.

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