After nineteen years of kidding myself that I was an okay guitar player, I splashed out on 'The Jazz Theory Book' in the hope that if I read and absorbed it, I might finally be able to comp along with my Bud Powell CDs. The first thing I learned was that, by the time I finish this book, I will be able to have a go. The second thing I learned is that it will take me years to finish this book.
Levine is a gifted teacher; he introduces each new thing step by step, working up from simple scales (even I was familiar with the stuff in the first 50 pages) to more complex ones, reharmonisation, modal playing, altered chords and all the other stuff that people spend a lifetime getting to know. At each step, there are none of the sudden leaps in assumed knowledge that I've found in other instruction books. All the way along he demonstrates how what appears to be an unclimbable mountain of knowledge is in fact just a really big hill, by showing how different areas of the music are in fact based on similar principles.
Levine assumes that you can read music (if you can't, this book is of little use to you) and also seems to assume that you have access to some kind of tuition, which is not the case with me, but I'm managing without it so far. Especially useful for the jazz newbie are the lists of standard tunes and recommended listening. Levine has a definite leaning towards hard bop (he's teaching you to play the music that was in its most creative period between 1945 or so and 1967) and the chapter on blues seems a bit skimpy to me - if you've never listened to blues, you're going to need to do more than just check out B.B. King to get a handle on it, although that'd be a start. But these are just quibbles. This is a mighty volume and I'm sure it must make a lot of Sher's other publications a bit redundant. Excellent stuff. I've only had it for a couple of weeks and already my playing has improved beyond measure.