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`The Bluffer's Guide to Jazz' is one of a series of guides to a diverse range of subjects and the publisher's light-hearted claim is that they allow readers to instantly acquire all that is needed to pass as an expert in whatever the guide title specifies - embracing sports, pastimes, music, cinema, pets, business, food and drink etc. - and even sex!

Jazz is perhaps an awkward subject as there are so many points of view and jazz enthusiasts are notorious for forcibly expressing differing opinions, but in ebullient manner this is immediately accepted by writers Paul Barnes and Peter Gammond. Ostensibly they seek to equip readers with both a whole vocabulary and a variety of techniques to ensure they can pass as experienced and knowledgeable jazz aficionados. In addition to `tongue in cheek', witty, lampooning style similar to that adopted for entertaining magazine articles there are sections where the authors clearly set out to mislead or enrage readers by introducing erroneous statements and expressing contradictory judgements.

This is all fine and the writing is full of witticisms and humour, but `The Bluffer's Guide to Jazz' also incorporates serious issues and is brimming with facts. In its small form within only a few pages the guide does justice for jazz. The contents span the origins of jazz, early influences, how the music flourished and developed, the huge range of jazz types and many of the key players and groups, with notes on their instruments and line-ups. All is presented in an innocently mocking manner, and towards the end there are suggestions on what jazz pieces and albums readers need to know - but beware of satire. Also there is a glossary of terms that continues the burlesque and caricaturing style to the end. Jazz is an ideal subject for the `bluffer' approach, and `The Bluffer's Guide to Jazz' makes full use of a frivolous style to do justice to what is magnificent musical art in a multitude of forms - viewed so differently by jazz enthusiasts. Readers can go forth and verbally skirmish with the best of them!
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As a long term lover of Jazz, and I fit into the "Modern" category as outlined in this small but detailed book, there was much here to raise a smile.
Questions such as "Did Jelly Roll Morton actually invent Jazz - or was he just named after his favourite pudding?" are posed but not really answered - but that is the whole point.

Jazz is indeed the bluffers paradise - no one really knows anything, and as the book says, most of the actual facts were made up by the principle characters to further their own ends.

There is a useful section on the sax/trumpet/clarinet players that one ought to listen to, and another on pianists (where is Bill Evans) and the best 'til last - a couple (only?) of drummers.

Unlike the "Rock" guide of this same series, the author has (probably sensibly) avoided giving a list of "must listen to" albums - but does give a "top ten" - which is a bit dubious as it has three mainstreamers (Basie, Ellington and Armstrong), ignores Coltrane - but saves the day with the final entry of Stan Tracey's magical "Under Milk Wood"...

These are mostly meant as a silly present for your annoying brother who insists that Jazz is just noise (take note, Richard - your Xmas pressie is in the post!), but I enjoyed it - something to dip into whilst waiting for a train.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 February 2014
I really enjoy reading the Bluffer's Guides series and this guide to Jazz is one of the best I have read so far. This Jazz guide is informative, concise, light and fun to read and it has any Jazz related information a bluffer might need. The book includes sections on understanding the origins of Jazz, different styles of Jazz, and the work of particular musicians. It even includes a useful list of albums, which though impressive and quite eclectic, I do not necessarily agree with all the choices the author made.

The book is very well written with a wonderful sense of humour, though the humour is mostly aimed at people already familiar with Jazz music and Jazz practitioners. Indeed this little book can be very entertaining for Jazz lovers and could even be a great idea for anyone interested in Jazz, provided of course that they have a sense of humour.

However, the big question is whether this little guide can actually help someone to bluff about his knowledge and pretend to be a Jazz expert. If any book can be of use to a Bluffer, then this is a safe choice, but I seriously doubt that any book, even as informative as this one can be a bluffer's tool. Most facts and trivia about Jazz history and practice are really complicated, obscure and even made up, so in a sense Jazz is a bluffers paradise anyway. On the other hand Jazz is all about the sounds, melody and even specific recordings. Jazz lovers can spend hours listening to a record, arguing which recording it is, who plays what, the date and place of the recording, and under which circumstances each recording was made. I have been listening to Jazz all my life and I still cannot always tell recording from recording, or who plays this or that instrument, and I am certain that a book won't help anyone bluff about this kind of practical knowledge.

I was given a free copy by the publisher, but that did not influence my opinion in any way.
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I disagreed with most of the opinions in this book. But then I suppose that's one of the difficult things about expressing any opinions on jazz: they're very likely to be different from those of every other jazz enthusiast.

It's a whistlestop tour of the main movements in jazz, both in terms of the development of musical styles and the spread of jazz from its roots in the south up the Mississippi to Chicago, then to New York and the West Coast. It's irreverent and light-hearted, and it appears to share my dislike of self-congratulatory middle-aged English jazz musicians in straw boaters and striped blazers soliciting rounds of polite applause from the audience for every tepid over-rehearsed solo.

The authors, by the way, include Peter Gammond, whose music reviews I used to read assiduously in the 1980s and early '90s. He's a fairly safe pair of hands: if he likes something, it must at least be worth a listen. Unfortunately, he and fellow-author Paul Barnes tell some convincing but entirely made-up stories: there are a few "d'oh!" moments.

The list of essential records misses some of the very moist essential. Miles Davis's Kind Of Blue: not there. John Coltrane's Blue Train: AWOL. Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert: missing without trace.

But then. Being a bluffer isn't about being obvious, certainly not in the field of jazz. It's about having left-field opinions and being able to argue them convincingly. Or so the authors argue, and there might be something in that position.

The point of the Bluffer's Guides is that they let you know the lay of the land. Once you have the basic framework of information in your head, you are in a much better position to explore for yourself. And they achieve that aim, although possibly in a slightly idiosyncratic way.

Note: The publisher sent me an electronic copy of the book for me to review.
Also note: The Amazon edition of Blue Train (linked above) is stunningly good value, with three other albums thrown in for free.
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VINE VOICEon 19 November 2013
[I must disclose that I was offered this book by the publishers in exchange for a review.]

As the daughter of a jazz enthusiast, I grew up having to suffer endless car journeys with jazz as the only soundtrack. As a child and in my teens, I couldn't bear it. But in recent years I have started to appreciate this genre, something that pleases my dad immensely and as a result, he burns jazz CDs for me at any given opportunity. That's why I jumped at the opportunity to learn a bit more about this type of music, which started in dive bars but that somehow is now considered a rather elitist interest.

I found the first couple of chapters of this Bluffer's Guide, which detail the origins of jazz, the most interesting. The book then introduces the most important musicians, grouped by type of instruments - horns, piano, etc. After a while, I must confess that I began to lose interest, because, not knowing really who's who apart from a few names such Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, David Brubeck - all from my father's extensive collection - I found it hard to relate to what I was reading. Towards the end of the book I started to skim through, until I reached the very entertaining (and probably very useful for bluffing purposes) glossary at the end.

The `angle' of the Bluffer's Guides is always a humorous, light-hearted one. Those people who complain that this book doesn't go into enough depth are missing the point. However, I would have liked a few introductory lines on how to understand some of the best-known tunes, to learn to `decode' some of the music terminology associated with this apparently impenetrable genre. But maybe that's a job best saved for something like Jazz For Dummies (2Nd Edition) - which might be my next read. And that's why I never regret reading a `Bluffer's Guide' - I always come out feeling that I've learned something, and I am always left wanting to know just a little bit more.
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on 18 July 2013
such an interesting little book. Lots of facts told in the inimitable style of the presenter of BBC Norwich's radio show 'The Late Paul Barnes' (also available on lots of local radio stations and the WWW). Humour and info. Great.
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Bought a whole bunch of these 'Bluffer's' books as Christmas filler. They all make for half decent reading and are actually generally quite light-hearted. Good fun present.
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on 20 September 2014
to Jazz.
Good book for anyone who is interested in Jazz... or indeed any type of music. I would therefore highly recommend this book to all of you out there xxx
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on 19 February 2014
Brilliantly funny. No musician or fan should be without one! What else can I write I was sick with laughter
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on 30 August 2014
Re negative reviews: you do realise that this is intended as a humorous book and not an encyclopaedia?!
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