Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Summer Jazz Reading

Its time for the perennial summer reading lists, as summer jazz festivals and concerts in the park gear up. For some jazz reading as you lounge in between sets, many excellent have been reviewed here. Stanley Crouch’s Considering Genius offers up plenty of food for thought. Paquito D’Rivera’s My Sax Life is entertaining and enlightening (reviewed below). Thomas Sancton’s Song for My Fathers and Mick Burns’ Keeping the Beat on the Street serve up some genuine New Orleans flavor. However, one of the best books written on jazz is actually a YA novel, that is not currently in-print.

Nat Hentoff’s Jazz Country is a wise coming of age story of aspiring jazz trumpeter Tom Curtis from an affluent white family. As he becomes involved with Moses Godfrey, an African-American jazz musician bearing a strong resemblance to Thelonious Monk, it opens his eyes to the realities of both a jazz musician’s life and the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.

Hentoff tells his story in episodic form, with each chapter offering insightful perspectives on aspects of jazz, without forcing it down the throats of young readers. However, Hentoff effectively leaves some ambiguity in the novel’s conclusion. While we may not be so certain where Curtis will end up in life, we have confidence in his ability to make the right decisions, because we know he is a good kid, having seen him develop the values which will guide him.

Jazz Country is a fantastic novel. I wish I had read when I was younger. It is worth searching the net for. (Of course, there have been many great new jazz titles published recently. Look for more reviews to be posted soon.)