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on 2 October 2011
When I mention to acquaintances that I'm interested in jazz music, I often get a reaction that suggests I might as well have said "I enjoy treading in dog-mess". To an extent, I can understand this. There was a time when I was convinced that even the most user-friendly of jazz musicians was just doing it to be awkward. Were these same acquaintances to ask me now how they might find a way in to this strange musical world, I would advise them to start with Ted Gioia's book.

I'm near the end of my second reading of 'The History Of Jazz'. The first time, I was unfamiliar with most of the names. Consequently, some effort was required to get to the end, and the last chapter, 'Freedom And Beyond', didn't interest me at all. Prior to the second reading, I have come to see jazz as a vast patchwork in which all parts are connected, indirectly at least. For an example of what I mean by this, try Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. Reading about the life of Monk, I was introduced to an enormous array of other players and how they fitted into the picture.

Now that I am at least familiar with most of the names and have heard quite a lot of the sounds, a second reading has been pure pleasure. Surely it is impossible to describe the development of a whole musical genre in less than 400 pages? Well, as far as I'm concerned, Gioia has succeeded. Somehow, he has been able to do this without the book seeming like a tired list of names and dates. If he does have pet preferences (and surely he must), I cannot detect them. He describes each branching of the path of the music with the same infectious passion.

Gioia's approach would seem to have a wide appeal. He describes the music in vivid terms. On the subject of the work of pianist Cecil Taylor, he writes:

"... even when this music achieved paroxysms of release, an overriding austerity lingered just below the surface."

At the same time, there's plenty to engage readers who have a depth of musical understanding. This is Gioia's description of Duke Ellington's 'Black Beauty':

"... it opens with an introductory sequence of rich chords, which linger ambiguously over an uncertain harmonic center before finally settling into a wistful melody in the key of B flat, while the jazzier second theme emerges after an uncharacteristic modulation into A flat."

As these passages indicate, Gioia does not attempt to popularise the subject. At the same time, this is not a dry, academic study; it teems with life.

Having read 'The History Of Jazz', I am struck by the high proportion of leading jazz musicians who seemed to live fast and die young. I am tempted to look for convenient explanations of this phenomenon, and this leads me on to another thing I like about this book: Gioia tends to steer clear of such explorations. His writing comes across as substantial and authoritative precisely because he avoids putting too much of himself into his descriptions of the people and the music.

I'm uncomfortable with the use of the definite article. Surely this is a history, not the history. Isn't Mr Gioia being a bit presumptuous? In the sense that I don't think one needs look any further for a general introduction to jazz history, perhaps this is the history.
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on 20 January 1998
Not a bad place to start for the newcomer to jazz. Any single volume work encompassing the entire history of so rich a musical tradition is open to questions on both additions and omissions and this book is no exception. However, for those fans who seem to be stuck in gravitational pull of 50's and 60's bop/hard bop era and want to learn more about the other ends of the historical spectrum, from ragtime to free jazz, Gioia's book has plenty to offer. If nothing else, let this book serve as a springboard to futher investigations of particular genres or artists. Rarely did a page go by where I didn't learn something.
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on 2 December 2011
Simply - this is an essential book for all music - and I mean music - fans.
If you like jazz - even if you are an afficianado - Ted Gioia's expert history will enlighten you to the rich history of the art form.
If you don't like jazz the rich tapestry of its characters, development and influence still makes for a riveting story.
Expertly written but retaining a crisp, clear style, this is one of the best books about music ever written.
Highly recommended.
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on 20 January 2008
I have been listening to Jazz in a very haphazard way for 25 years. Recently decided to add a bit of knowledge to my instinctive but untutored listening. I have found this book a delight to read offering an breadth of insight and anecdote that has added immeasurably to my listening pleasure. Thank you Mr Gioia.
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on 31 October 2011
This book is very well written in everyway. Ted Gioia made an amazing job on telling the history of jazz in this awesome book.
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on 11 January 1999
Gioia's book packs a lot of information into just over 400 pages. The book has breadth and a good degree of depth, though some siginifcant musicians inevitably get short shrift. The author's observations are insightful, especially his claim toward the book's end that now is a unique, especially difficult moment for jazz recording artists, since they must compete with the recorded legacy of the entire genre, not just their contemporaries or artists of the recent past.
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on 15 September 2014
I am really enjoying reading this book. Very informative, a good insight to the beginning of such a lovely form of music. Jazz
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on 13 May 1999
An outstanding journey through the history of jazz. It is lacking in the area of Brazilian music's incredible influence on jazz in the last 40 years; for that one should also consult "The Brazilian Sound" (Temple University Press).
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on 6 December 2014
A must read for jazz fans!
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on 20 May 2015
very good. Thanks!
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