Spellman, a lucid analyst of the avant garde jazz movement in the '60s (see his liner notes, for example, on the original release of Coltrane's "Ascension"), has contributed with this book four compelling portraits of musicians who gave and have given their lives to jazz.
"Four Lives in the Bebop Business" profiles two altoists, Jackie McLean and Ornette Coleman; and two pianists, Cecil Taylor and Herbie Nichols. Spellman skillfully crafts the narratives, while wisely allowing his subjects to tell large chunks of their stories in their own words.
It becomes clear as one reads the book that it took a lot of guts to be a jazz musician during the '50s and '60s (and still does). All four of the musicians faced major obstacles in pursuing their art.
McLean, who enjoyed the greatest amount of commercial success of the four, especially early on, battled drug addiction. Taylor and Coleman faced open hostility because of their challenging, groundbreaking approaches to playing their instruments. Nichols (the only one of the four who is not still alive) was just plain ignored, despite his brilliantly original playing (check out the two-disk Blue Note compilation of his music), and spent much of his all-too-brief career playing in Greenwich Village dives.
In spite of bad accommodations, poor pay, public indifference, critical hostility and difficulty finding gigs, these artists, the book makes clear, would never play anything other than jazz. In this sense, the book has an underlying inspirational message. Still, it remains for America to fully embrace its only true indigenous art form, something which to this day has not occurred.
The book also offers insights from the musicians on the creative process and about the historic changes in jazz that occurred during the '60s, from the perspective of men who were on the front lines of the battles between critics, musicians, and the listening public.
Required reading for the serious jazz listener.