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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Than Beautiful: Literary Bebop
Geoff Dyer's But Beautiful: A Book about Jazz is much more than an extended critical essay on a still-evolving, vital musical genre and a great deal more than fictional portrayals of Jazz legends. Here, Dyer focuses his considerable talents on creating a kind of Jazz-in-print, seeking to emulate the frenzied riffing, explosive spontaneity and creative interplay,...
Published on 17 July 2000 by Eric J. Steger

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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very arrogant
A prize winning book on subjects I knew about, made me buy it. I expected unknown researched facts on eight jazz musicians but all I got was a fertile imagination on what he thought may have happened to them. Hmm. I learned nothing new. Not badly written but very English and correct. His knowledge of Chet Baker was garnered from film and reviews. I have met people who...
Published 7 months ago by P. M. Williams


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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Than Beautiful: Literary Bebop, 17 July 2000
By 
Eric J. Steger (New York, New York USA) - See all my reviews
Geoff Dyer's But Beautiful: A Book about Jazz is much more than an extended critical essay on a still-evolving, vital musical genre and a great deal more than fictional portrayals of Jazz legends. Here, Dyer focuses his considerable talents on creating a kind of Jazz-in-print, seeking to emulate the frenzied riffing, explosive spontaneity and creative interplay, which has given Jazz music so much more vitality than many other genres' created in the 20th century. Without question, one would have to agree that he has succeeded, totally to the readers' enrichment.
But Beautiful hits the reader on several levels; we are taken on a series of journeys into the lives, thoughts, conversations and seminal events of eight Jazz musicians. Between each chapter is inserted a fictional, road-tripping almost ghostly presence of Duke Ellington, a father figure of modern Jazz who may well have known, recorded and very likely influenced all eight men whom Dyer chose to write/riff about. What's real about the eight musicians are the bare-bones facts known to many Jazz fans; Lester Young court-martialed by the Army because of an inability to cope with a racist Drill Sergeant, Chet Baker's teeth knocked out by an angry drug dealer in a seedy, San Francisco diner, Art Pepper sentenced to five years in prison on a Heroin possession conviction and so on. What's possible, and perhaps no less real to the reader are the details of their lives, their anguish and the self-destructive passions which attend the day to day living of so many creative people. Dyer draws these details in part through listening to the music and inspiration gained by looking at photographs of some of the musicians. 'Not as they were but as they appear to me....' Dyer asks the reader to see the musicians as he sees them, to believe in the memory of what these photos inspired. The men and their lives are portrayed, much like Jazz itself, with a kind of heart-stopping intensity and a poignant, empathetic acknowledgement of lives spent creating and being swallowed whole by the gift that makes creation possible. On Thelonious Monk; "Whatever it was inside him was very delicate, he had to keep it very still, slow himself right down so that nothing affected it." On Ben Webster; "He carried his loneliness around with him like an instrument case. It never left his side."
Very little, insightful criticism or critical essays have been produced regarding Jazz and the people who play it and live it. Dyer has done more than write mere history or criticism in But Beautiful, he has written (and played) a genre-exploding, lyrical meditation on Jazz and on the terrifying, exhilarating possibilities of the music itself and what ought to be recognized as a new form of fictional riffing.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Most Beautiful Pieces of Writing Ever, 28 Sep 2006
This may well be the best book ever written about jazz. If you're not a jazz lover, But Beautiful is the book to make you one.

Each chapter is an episode from the lives of the genre's greats and explores the psyche of jazz musicians in exquisite form. The reader is taken, with great sensitivity, into the darker side of these peoples' personalities and the toll the jazz lifestyle sadly takes on them: Lester Young's struggle against racism, the psychotic tendencies of Charlie Mingus, Art Pepper's appetite for self-destruction and the drug addiction of other greats are just a few examples of such themes.

My favourite line in the whole book would have to be the following part of the author's description of Ben Webster:

"Watching him heave the saxophone case down from the rack like he was going to show you photos of his loved ones -which is exactly what he was going to do-..."

There's simply not a bad line in this book. Read it, you won't be disappointed.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jazz explained beautifully, 5 Dec 2003
By 
Caroline Overy (Norwich, England) - See all my reviews
This book describes perfectly the culture surrounding Jazz in the 1950s, just as the style became synonymous with alcohol, drugs, and rebellion against the mainstream. Dyer takes an approach to the characters he describes that merges the factual and the fictitious in such a way that it becomes unimportant just how much is true and how much is literary improvisation. What counts is the overall impression given, and this is done very sensitively. There are some beautiful images and lines, and the intensely sad is balanced with a beautiful touch of tenderness. I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates Jazz, and can promise you will never listen to all that 'old stuff' in the same way again. I would also recommend it to anyone who loves top quality writing, because this is a fine example.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous jazz fiction, 7 July 1999
By A Customer
Geoff Dyer completes the seemingly impossible - to get inside the drug-addled minds of various jazz greats - with ease. His pen portraits of a life in a day of a handful of the greats, all held together by a recurring short story on a Duke Ellington drive from gig to gig, are all breathtakingly superb. The short on how Chet Baker came to lose his looks courtesy of his dealer and a tomato ketchup bottle is simply painful to read, as is Art Pepper in prison. For once, there isn't a bad story in the collection. You don't have to be a jazz afficianado to like this, although it will probably help to know a little about the men in question, just a fan of good literature.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetry and Music Combined, 23 Sep 2009
By 
Graeme Wright "book worm" (salford) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Every now and again along comes a book which inexplicably gets overlooked by the great populace but which nevertheless has lasting influence and affection. Such a book is But Beautiful, Geoff Dyer's clever intertwining of fact with a deep passion for his subject, jazz. First published an incredible eighteen years ago Dyer's book seems ageless when reread - it is, in fact that rarity, a novel which improves with experience. Eight stories are told here, each focussing on one of the greats of American jazz: Lester Young, Thelonius Monk,Charlie Mingus, Art Pepper, Chet Baker. Every story, every page sings with an individual voice, the taste of cheap bourbon, the smell of cigarette smoke and the entanglement of emotions thrust together by the relentless, drug fuelled and prison toughened lives they led. At times the narrative is as fragile as a fleeting thought, at others it races and spreads like a Charlie Parker solo.
Dyer's obvious love for jazz combines with a reverence and exceptional knowledge to make this certainly the most impactive of books I have read on the subject but also, like an original Blue Note vinyl album, a treasure to return to time and time again and to remember the greatness of the music.
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5.0 out of 5 stars As Good As It Gets.............., 26 April 2014
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This review is from: But Beautiful (Paperback)
Just.................sublime. This is easily one of the best books i've ever read. From Dyers rich imagination springs wondrous meditations on , and explorations of , the lives , loves , desires, failings, addictions etc etc of some of the greatest musicians who ever lived. Superbly written stuff , even if you don't like Jazz you can appreciate this if you love writing of the highest calibre. A classic.
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5.0 out of 5 stars All that has already been said .... and then some real magic., 15 Oct 2013
By 
Godot (Boston, Lincolnshire) - See all my reviews
This review is from: But Beautiful (Paperback)
After the carefully considered reviews that have already been posted, mine must begin with a dreadful cliché. If you can forgive me, But Beautiful has changed my life ... or a big part of it. I discovered it pretty well by chance. I had no interest at all in Geoff Dyer and, I am ashamed to say, very little interest in jazz. Twenty years ago, I found a copy of the 1991 Cape edition in a box of remaindered books. I bought it because it was dedicated (more prominently in that than in more recent editions) to John Berger ... and in those days I read everything by or about Berger. As far as the music went, I had 'tried' jazz. Part of me wanted to like it, but I thought of it as 'difficult', 'clever' music that needed to be worked at rather than simply enjoyed. Everything that I had read about jazz before But Beautiful tended to reinforce the view that jazz was 'serious' music that offered a cerebral pleasure.
But when I first read Dyer's book, I wept. What I read was totally unexpected. It had nothing at all to do with cleverness or understanding. Instead Dyer says 'look at these people ... see how this one breaks down in front of an audience ... how this genius has the personality of a child ... how this man is abused at the side of the road ... and how this man is devoted to his very ordinary wife. But Beautiful achieves the almost impossible: rather than argue, it says simply 'look and listen' and yet, in my case at least, it convinced me that I was completely wrong. Worry too much about Monk and his music is complex and clever; read But Beautiful, listen again and it is almost childlike in its joy and simplicity.
Twenty years on, I get a HUGE amount of pleasure listening to jazz of all kinds. To friends that find the music impossible, I don't say 'listen to this' or 'listen to that'; instead I suggest 'read a bit of this' - But Beautiful - and then tell me what music you want to borrow.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An indelible impression of jazz soul..., 8 Sep 2013
By 
Paul Harris (Llantrisant, Wales) - See all my reviews
This review is from: But Beautiful (Paperback)
So difficult to review this book - the likes of which I've never read before. I shan't attempt to in all honesty. Suffice to say, Geoff Dyer's writing is gripping, heartfelt, and all too believable. Which is pretty much all that matters given the subject matter - imagined portraits of the equally troubled and gifted musicians he portrays - Duke Ellington, Lester Young, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Ben Webster, Charles Mingus, Chet Baker, and Art Pepper. I finished each chapter with an indelible impression of the soul of each of these men.

It matters not if you do or don't know the music of each artist covered, though you may want to refer to the select discography at the back. Dyer bases each vignette on known histories, conversations, photographs, newspaper clippings, all of which he references in the appendix. Interweaved between each story is the very appealing construction of an imagined Duke Ellington on the road between gigs, alone with his driver Harry, as he crosses the American night.

Following the main part of the book is an extended essay on the artistic course and ongoing direction of jazz music which I found a satisfying accompaniment to the earlier chapters. Recommended for all, and a must for anybody with a love of Jazz.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great blend of biography and fiction, 26 Aug 2013
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This review is from: But Beautiful (Kindle Edition)
Dyer achieves an excellent blend of criticism and "fictional biography", imaging episodes from the lives of the jazz greats. His love of the music shines through, but beautifully.
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5.0 out of 5 stars series of short quazi-biographical vignettes seeking to get at the essence of several jazz icons., 1 Jun 2013
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This review is from: But Beautiful (Paperback)
a special book, invaluable to those seeking to get closer to understanding what makes a jazz musician tick, how he tocks, and what happens when the clockwork jams! Dyer attempts, and succeeds, to write like a jazzman, adopting scene-setting intros, flights of fancy, hard riffage, light, shade ,nuance, brutal fragility......but above all he seems to love and know Jazz, and his love for some of its greatest exponents is made flesh in this affecting eulogy to his and our heroes. he makes these giants seem human, real, and adds a layer of appreciation and understanding to the music as a result. ben webster taking a bath and making coffee to ease his hangover; chet baker late on a dope payment being smashed in the mouth with a ketchup bottle and stumbling out of a diner into the san francisco heat; bud powell found huddled and scared in a doorway by a cop who (this-time) happened to be his greatest fan; lester young, monk...all rendered human and as a result we get closer to their superhuman abilities and contributions. very readable and re-readable too! worth it!!
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But Beautiful
But Beautiful by Geoff Dyer (Paperback - 10 May 2012)
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