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Do Nothin' Til You Hear 'bout These
on 20 September 2012
It's important to remember that Ted Gioia chose not to write about 252 great songs, but about 252 musical packages of raw material for great improvisations. He attempts to answer the question of why jazz musicians like to play these particular songs over and over again, and his succinct (1- to 3-page) essays on each tune do a very good job of explaining the attraction for lay listeners.
What turns an "exercise in frustrated phraseology" like "Come Rain or Come Shine" into such a memorable song? How do the monotonous phrases of "Falling In Love With Love" fall into such an irresistible groove despite themselves? The author claims that his song selection represents the most frequently performed and recorded tunes in the repertoire, and the result is an almost equal division between Broadway/Tin Pan Alley and jazz originals from "Tin Roof Blues" to "Wave." (Plenty of Monk, Ellington, and Jobim, but no Radiohead or Nick Drake -- not yet.)
I love the historical anecdotes that Gioia provides as well. Bill Evans's New Jersey accent finally produces a plausible explanation for the title of Miles Davis's "Nardis," while the story of how a half million audience members turned "Muskrat Ramble" into a giant singalong at Woodstock (where Country Joe McDonald renamed it the "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag") is a masterpiece of bleak humor. This is a fun book to pull down from the reference shelf. Fun and musically enlightening.