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All What Jazz: A Record Diary, 1961 - 1971 [Paperback]

Philip Larkin
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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All What Jazz: A Record Diary, 1961 - 1971 + Larkin's Jazz + The Sunday Sessions: Philip Larkin reading his poetry
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; 2Rev Ed edition (10 Jun 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571134769
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571134762
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 12.7 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 194,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Philip Larkin was born in Coventry in 1922 and was educated at King Henry VIII School, Coventry, and St John's College, Oxford. As well as his volumes of poems, which include The Whitsun Weddings and High Windows, he wrote two novels, Jill and A Girl in Winter, and two books of collected journalism: All What Jazz: A Record Library, and Required Writing: Miscellaneous Prose. He worked as a librarian at the University of Hull from 1955 until his death in 1985. He was the best-loved poet of his generation, and the recipient of innumerable honours, including the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, and the W. H. Smith Award.

Product Description

About the Author

Philip Larkin was born in Coventry in 1922 and was educated at King Henry VIII School, Coventry, and St John's College, Oxford. As well as his volumes of poems, which include The Whitsun Weddings and High Windows, he wrote two novels, Jill and A Girl in Winter, and two books of collected journalism: All What Jazz: A Record Diary, and Required Writing: Miscellaneous Prose. He worked as a librarian at the University of Hull from 1955 until his death in 1985. He was the best-loved poet of his generation, and the recipient of innumerable honours, including the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, and the WHSmith Award.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tragic (in kind of a good way) 8 Mar 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Neither of the other two reviewers (so far) have got this book right. Larkin did not 'hate jazz as we know it'; neither does his 'critique of modernism' have unquestionable validity. I'm going to patronise Larkin and call him a Case; the case of Larkin needs to be looked at, because here is a major poet whose greatness is partly about being narrow and resentful and defensive, and that's reflected in his record reviews too.

I first read this book in my teens; a kindly aunt heard that I was interested in jazz (I play guitar) and bought it for me. For years, this was my guide to what was good and what wasn't. I could tell even then that Larkin had strong likes and dislikes, and that a lot of the stuff he clearly hated sounded like I might enjoy it. (Reviewers who go on record about how much they hate the item under review should bear in mind that somebody out there will always think 'Hey, if that idiot hated it that much it must be pretty good.') Nobody reading this book could deny that Larkin had enormous respect for early modernists like Parker and Powell, even if you get the impression that he didn't love their music. This book sent me to that music, and I love it now.

His enthusiasm for early jazz is, it has to be said, informed and precise and infectious, in that it makes you want to listen to the musicians Larkin clearly loved (he basically had a problem with anything made after 1945 or so). His explicit dislike and disapproval of the New Thing is most focused in his hatred for the music of John Coltrane, and yet while I love Coltrane's music and think that Larkin was missing out, Larkin is always most articulate when he's explaining why he doesn't like it. Larkin clearly enjoyed jazz as a respite, as a joyful escape, a happy place.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetic justice 4 July 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This is a classic, which should be on the shelves of anyone wanting to understand more, not only about jazz, but also how attitudes have changed since that joyful music first burst on the scene. The bulk of the book is made up of the articles Larkin wrote reviewing new jazz releases, many of which were of recordings made before the war and newly available on vinyl as opposed to shellac. This would be indispensable on its own, but it is prefaced by an introduction setting out why in his opinion the tension between an artist and his audience had slackened, to the detriment of art (be that music, graphic art or literature).
So don't be dissuaded from buying this in the mistaken belief that it was written by someone stuck in a time warp, because that's not the case. Indeed, developments over the intervening period (potted sharks, unmade beds, et al) have served only to underline the validity of Larkin's critique of modernism. The attempt to dismiss a reasoned critique as a "sustained diatribe" merely serves to demonstrate the power of Larkin's argument.
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6 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Larkin hates jazz - beautifully 22 Jan 2002
Format:Paperback
Don't be fooled by Larkin's backpage puff: 'I hope they (the reviews in the collection) suggest I love jazz'. His introduction to this compendium is little more than a sustained diatribe against not only modern jazz, but modernism in general. Larkin actually hates jazz as we know it. Everything in this book was first published in the Daily Telegraph, and conforms to its tory ethic - Larkin understands little that doesn't relate to the 1930's 'white' bands with which he grew up, and can only evince a bemused reactionary mistrust for everything that jazz later evolved into. Carried over from this is a persistent urge to demarcate 'white' and 'negro' music which makes for painful reading whenever he attempts to discuss jazz roots, or blues. The blessing is that he is entirely aware of his own musical prejudices, and the book is full of painstaking attempts at objective evaluation which are priceless for their vague, poetic neutrality. There is nothing much for the jazz historian here, but the Larkin fan will find the book insightful, and will appreciate its effortlessly majestic style.
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0 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book 21 Jan 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The recipient of this book appeared to be pleased with it. It arrived promptly and was well packaged. I did not read it so I cannot make any further comments.
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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The traditional vs. the modern in jazz 21 Jan 2010
By R. M. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I will admit that I am somewhat partial to Philip Larkin, warts and all. He is one of the few poets of the 20th-Century whose work I can read for more than, say, ten minutes and be entertained and edified. I have also enjoyed his literary criticism, as well as a volume of his letters. So I decided to try out his music criticism - jazz, specifically. From 1961 to 1971 Larkin wrote a monthly column for the "Daily Telegraph" in which he reviewed jazz recordings. They are collected, with an after-the-fact introduction, in ALL WHAT JAZZ.

Alas, at this remove, reading the book is a little like panning for gold: one has to sift through a lot of dirt and dross. But at least you know in advance that there will be an acceptable percentage of gold. Larkin's acerbic wit and amiable curmudgeonry (admittedly, an oxymoron of sorts) are in full and frequent display. Together with his opinionated enthusiasm, they elevate the book over any other conceivable collection of jazz record reviews from 40 to 50 years ago.

Not surprisingly, jazz to Larkin is traditional jazz, from before 1945 and bebop. "I can recognize jazz because it makes me tap my foot, grunt affirmative exhortations, or even get up and caper round the room. If it doesn't do this, then however musically interesting or spiritually adventurous or racially praiseworthy it is, it isn't jazz." Along the same lines: "The jazz that conquered the world (and me) was the jazz of Armstrong, Ellington, Bix and the Chicagoans. What Parker, Monk, Miles and the Jazz Misanthropes are playing can be Afro-American music for all I care, but it isn't jazz."

At times Larkin realizes that he is a cultural fossil and that the jazz that won his allegiance was in a death spiral. Among the nuggets of the book are his sporadic attempts at analyzing and explaining its demise. A lot of it, he writes, had to do with changes in the relationship of the American Negro within American society. "The Negro is in a paradoxical position: he is looking for the jazz that isn't jazz. Either he will find it, or - and I say this in all seriousness - jazz will become an extinct form of music as the ballad is an extinct form of literature, because the society that produced it has gone."

Perhaps the most noteworthy passages of the book are when Larkin goes beyond jazz and discusses its transformation in the broader context of cultural modernism. He sees Parker as a practitioner of modernism in jazz, just as Pound and Picasso were in their respective fields (the three chosen for alliterative effect). "I dislike such things not because they are new, but because they are irresponsible exploitations of technique in contradiction of human life as we know it. This is my essential criticism of modernism, whether perpetrated by Parker, Pound or Picasso: it helps us neither to enjoy nor endure. It will divert us as long as we are prepared to be mystified or outraged, but maintains its hold only by being more mystifying and more outrageous: it has no lasting power."

Larkin is at his peak in creatively heaping scorn on some of the preeminent figures of what was then "modern" jazz: Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and - especially - John Coltrane. "With John Coltrane metallic and passionless nullity gave way to exercises in gigantic absurdity, great boring excursions on not-especially-attractive themes during which all possible changes were rung, extended investigations of oriental tedium, long-winded and portentous demonstrations of religiosity. It was with Coltrane * * * that jazz started to be ugly on purpose."

I've highlighted Larkin's prejudices. If they are in line with yours, and if you are willing to wade through scads of reviews of now-forgotten records and artists from decades ago, you should find ALL WHAT JAZZ worthwhile. Otherwise, the book is probably of interest only to the Larkin compleatist - a category on whose door I seem to be knocking.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Greatest 16 Oct 2001
By Mudbath - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Larkin was a great writer and an honest critic, and this is the best-written book of popular music criticism available.
The other reviews posted for this book on Amazon are wrong to imply that Larkin's tastes were timid or stuffy. In fact his heros were Henry Allen, Pee-Wee Russell, Bessie Smith, Earl Hines, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Jabbo Smith, Jack Teagarden and so on. These are among greatest musicians and innovators of jazz.
Yes, Larkin thought Charlie Parker was overrated; he couldn't stand Coltrane; he thought Miles Davis was a bore. But don't be afraid to read why he thought so and you may learn something about your own heros.
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Diary of a sourpuss 17 May 2000
By "thisnicknameisnottaken" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
When a reviewer calls Coltrane's playing 'possessed continually by an almost Scandinavian unloveliness', and questions Thelonious Monk's sense of rhythm, you start to get a feel for what kind of jazz he'll go for. And you'd be right: nothing ever seems to please Larkin quite so much as old-school big band or dixieland, and he's not afraid to say so. Still, he's a good writer and all, so if you're looking for a collection of jazz reviews from the 60s written by a slightly stuffy guy who never really got over Woody Herman, this is the book for you.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars He calls it like he hears it 28 Jan 2013
By Karystrance - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is one of the most underrated books in jazz criticism. Larkin was an English poet and writes like one in this collection of mostly fairly short record reviews. His analogies alone are worth the price of admission. The best thing about these reviews is that they were written when the records came out, not in retrospect well after the reviewer knew what to praise from hindsight. If something sounds like garbage to him (almost all of free jazz, most of Miles and Coltrane), then it is garbage. His crime seems to be that he enjoys music that sounds good and dismisses that which is painful for him to listen to. Larkin is obviously very distressed about the decline of his favorite style of music brought on by the introduction of bebop and modern jazz, just as you will be when your favorite style is supplanted by something that to you seems ugly. Easily the most honest book about jazz I've ever read, and one of the few I go back to.
7 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Tedium, Thy Name is Larkin 14 July 2000
By Charles E. Dennis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
All What Jazz, indeed. While Philip Larkin was a poet of some note, I'm thinking it probably didn't pay real well. So he got a gig, doing a monthly jazz column for the Daily Telegraph. He used this gig to blather endlessly of the superiority of Dixieland and trad jazz, and the travesty and utter disgrace that is modern jazz, i.e., bebop, hard bop, and horror above horrors, the dreaded free jazz. Indeed, the book opens with a quote from Miles Davis, trashing Ornette Coleman's music. Nothing like hiding behind an icon, there, Phil. Miles, who was the Charles Barkley of his day, would regularly say outrageous things for effect and "press." In print, the words look harsh - the printed page does not capture Miles's raspy cackle following his "quote." But the printed page does capture quite well the clammy, pasty discomfort that Larkin feels for modern jazz. Yes, pip-pip, give me the old Dixieland bands that I loved as a lad in prep school! OK, fine. A nice remembrance piece, on occasion, is nice. A barbed attack on an artist or genre can also be thought-provoking. (I've been known to dabble in such things...) However, Larkin did it EVERY MONTH for 10 years. Talk about a one trick pony, in an era that spawned creative genius and obliterated musical boundaries, Old Frumpy Phil is pining for the syncopated rhythms of his past. He would allow for Duke and Basie, but he had little use for Bird or Monk, and if he wasn't outright trashing them, he was smugly doling out left-handed compliments. But don't get him started on Trane, or, God forbid, Ornette. Truly the only book that I have read in anger, and out of morbid curiosity. Bottom line: it wasn't worth it. Save your money, or better yet, go buy a Coltrane disk!
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