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on 4 September 2008
This voluminous tome is not your usual collection of reminiscences and short biographies of the big bands and their leaders (like those of George T. Simon or Richard Grudens), let alone a hagiography ('everything was better in the old days'). There are not even any photos or other illustrations. The book is an in-depth study of the development of jazz during the swing era. It is devided into sections concerning the major figures who shaped the development of swing (Ellington, Armstrong, Goodman, Lunceford, Basie etc.), a section on the great soloists (Hawkins, Norvo, Hines, Webster, Tatum, Teagarden, Allen, Russel, Wilson, Eldridge etc.), on the great black bands (Kirk, Mills Blue Rhythm Band, Webb, F&H Henderson, Erskine Hawkins, Calloway etc.), on the white bands (Casa Loma, Miller, Barnet, Shaw, T&J Dorsey, Herman, James, Kenton and even on Clinton, Chester etc.) territory bands (Leonard, Towles, Boots & His Buddies etc.) and the small bands.
He assesses the performers' strengths and weaknesses, comparing their relative merits, putting their achievements in the right perspective (e.g. Casa Loma and Horace Henderson are finally given the credit they are due, Calloway and Miller are given a much fairer treatment than other jazz studies have done), often illustrated by transcriptions of the music in question (even writing out solos, which must have been a fiendishly difficult thing to do).
Far from being an arid and academic work however, it is very well written in wonderful English which can be full of praise if something's good and delightfully scathing if something's not.
Which is not to say the book is without its biases. A man like Artie Shaw, who admittedly often blew his own trumpet (if you'll forgive the pun) while savaging others, is hardly given his proper due just because was more outspoken and because he too recorded a fair share of commercial items. In Schuller's opinion the 1940 band only recorded one worthwhile item, Stardust, while the rest is reviled as musical taffy. Moonglow, It Had to Be You, Alone Together and other splendid items are left unmentioned. Also Charlie Barnet and Woody Herman might have been dealt with in a more positive way.
Schuller listened to literally thousands of recordings to form his opinions and the book invites the reader to do the same. When you do (as I did), you'll find that quite often he is right in his conclusions. Since music is also a matter of taste you may not always agree despite his being right.
In the almost ten years I've owned this book I have almost read it to pieces, jumping from chapter to chapter, always finding something new to discover.
The greatest asset of the book is that it made me listen again in depth to recordings and bands I took for granted, plus that it made me dicover music and bands I would not have otherwise given serious consideration (like Boots & His Buddies) and that it helped me form an opinion of my own of what I like and what not and why. As such I cannot praise the book too highly.

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on 1 June 2005
The review Amazon publish of this book is largely incorrect and therefore misleading. There is, for example, no coverage of either Peggy Lee or Frank Sinatra. And it's focus isn't on American social history - it's an in-depth musicological study of the music of the Swing Era itself. Enough said: it's very, very good.
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on 9 July 2009
This is sad I know but I have to add at least some form of moderation to all the salivating reviews!!! It is a TOUGH read. For instance; the analysis of Bebop's harmonic modifications on Swing is hard to understand even when you know all about it already! Particularly a ridiculous graph on Pp 363, which he must have spent HOURS on, I ignored it I'm afraid - life is too short... It's like something you'd do for yourself and then realise what a waste of time it was! Which brings me to point out that, lets face it, if you want to learn about your favourite players then bloomin well transcribe it yourself!!! Why should he get all the good learning! The book is a tad self indulgent at times and he can be a bit of a snob - there, I've said it!

So, with that off my chest, I do think it's a brilliant book and I've learnt loads of surprising things from it. It definitely makes you want to delve further into the idiom. I would recommend it to someone already knowledgeable about Jazz who can maintain a healthy distance from Schuller's opinions.

On a different issue, I found it easier to occasionally skim the analysis parts and come back to them when I wanted to in a reference kind of fashion. In my opinion this is a good way to go about reading the book and not getting too bogged down. Perhaps this should be an inclusion in the actual publication? Viz: How to Read This Book???
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on 2 May 2012
I find it alarming that 3 reviewers of this far too analytical examination of the Swing Era are prepared to let Gunther Schuller off carte blanche for setting-out to impose his views (once and for all) on this period of musical history. While initially it might be fun to dip into its contents to check whether one's own opinions coincide with his in a very short time one discovers his supposedly analytical approach is no more than an excuse to impose musical snobbery onto a subject which calls for nothing more than explaining why big bands can still provide unique listening pleasures not to be found in any other musical form.

Schuller's' worst trait (as in all snobbery) is in order to reinforce his own preferences he feels compelled to run-down any musician and any recording which doesn't meet his better-informed standards. While it's true no one is forced to read his opinions for those who might be temped to think (on the basis of size) this tome makes him the definitive swing music oracle I enclose a review written for Amazon US defending one of my heroes from Schuller's undisguised intent to destroy the perception that Don Redman remains one of the most original (and amusing) musicians in jazz history. (I should explain this review did not come out of the blue as I was encouraged by other commentators - equally incensed by his views on Count Basie and Art Tatum).

In Redman's case why would anyone start a chapter with this statement "Don Redman's role in Jazz seems to me to be one of ultimately unfulfilled promise" unless they wanted to write him off as a failure? A calculated insult apparent to every well-read swing fan because Schuller himself in "Early Jazz" never contests that Don Redman single-handedly invented the basic framework for big band jazz - which held good for the next 20 years. Nor does he dispute every musician in New York came to listen to Don Redman's arrangements for Fletcher Henderson - which began in 1924 - a full 3 years before other would-be big band leaders like Duke Ellington got into their stride. On these grounds alone Volume 2 should have begun by extolling Redman and Henderson as the creators of the swing era and not with Benny Goodman - and then work backwards

However it was already apparent in "Early Jazz" that Schuller goes out of his way to snipe at Redman. Discussing Armstrong's classic last Hot Five recordings he says both "St James Infirmary" and "It's Tight Like This" "are comparatively inferior and suffer from a variety of weaknesses" (all due to Redman's input)and one instantly recognises one's own preference for these 2 songs is a severe lapse of taste. Later Redman's 1925 arrangement of "Sugarfoot Stomp", which was Fletcher Henderson's favorite record of his own band is for Schuller "of very mixed quality". Inevitably, in this volume, Don Redman's "Chant of the Weed" gets another Schuller thumbs down because it has "serious blemishes, in conception as well as in performance". A needless derogatory opinion of Redman's most famous composition - which Duke Ellington went out of his way to praise. Who do you trust?

Elsewhere Schuller goes for broke demeaning Redman's impact on the McKinney's Cotton Pickers which every other expert says was a "nothing band" before Redman's arrival. Those with patience then have to plough through 16 pages extolling John Nesbit as being a far superior arranger as compared to the man who literally invented big band arranging. At this point it's clear Schuller refuses to accept light-hearted fun has any place in jazz. Except of course it's one of the vital components. Which is why McKinney recordings will always be treasured for Don Redman's endearing idiosyncratic interpretations of his own compositions and not much else.

Next there is the matter of historical accuracy. Schuller is pleased to point out the Redman band's 3 best recordings were Horace Henderson arrangements. But a Smithsonian box set devoted to George Gershwin clearly states "I Got Rhythm" was arranged by Redman and the busy arrangement clearly replicates the style he invented with Fletcher. On a Hep CD Frank Driggs says "Hot and Anxious" was a Redman rearrangement - and that Redman arranged the original 1928 version for a Broadway show. Why then would Schuller have cause to doubt his input on his own 1932 recording? Unless he was determined to undermine Don Redman's rightful place as the pioneer of a vibrant brand of musical entertainment which for a few precious years "ruled the charts".

Lastly a typical example of Gunther Schuller's inability to communicate the "thrill" to be gained from great swing records. In this instance 4 pages are devoted to Duke Ellington's "Cotton Tale" but nowhere during his usual pointless digressions and notation of Webster's solo does he mention the only purpose of this piece was the build-up to a climax where one is inescapably waiting for the resolution (relief) provided by the 5 member Ellington saxophone section playing an extremely fast sinuous chorus with one voice. But of this famous passage Schuller merely says "a saxophone ensemble follows". A flat description which neatly sums up how, at some stage in the nineteen years it took to get this self-imposed monster assignment published Gunther Schuller forgot who he was writing for and eventually couldn't see the wood for the trees.
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on 14 September 2012
The work of many many years, this is totally scholarly but equally very readable. It's not dry at all. I'm a professional jazz musician and so appreciate the detailed musical analysis, but you can easily skim over those bits if that's not of interest. There's copious personal, social, cultural analysis. It's a really wonderful read. Oh, and you can totally just dip into it wherever you want - it's so huge that thankfully you won't do any harm by not necessarily reading it cover to cover!
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on 31 October 2007
who provides the reader with an in-depth examination of key musicians and styles of the Swing eras. In conjunction with the Smithsonian Museum in Washinton, he assembled the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. In short, this book is the business! If you are a sax or trumpet player, these kinds of analyses are really helpful in helping you learn other people's style and solos as a way of developing your own special sound.

From Publishers Weekly
Twenty years after the publication of Early Jazz , French hornist, conductor, composer, educator and broadcaster Schuller brings forth this 900-page second volume in his monumental "History of Jazz." He is perhaps better equipped to analyze style and technique than anyone else who has written about this music. No previous critic has delineated in as great detail how the various styles developed and coalesced. Schuller devotes 40 pages to Louis Armstrong, 110 pages and 62 musical examples to Duke Ellington. He identifies the unique characteristics of each of the big bandsamong them, Count Basie, Benny Carter, Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Earl Hines, Jimmie Lunceford and Chick Webb; of arrangers Mel Powell, Don Redman and Eddie Sauter; of such soloists as Bunny Berigan, Charlie Christian, Roy Eldridge, Billie Holiday, Art Tatum, Jack Teagarden, Ben Webster and Teddy Wilson; of the small groups of Nate Cole, John Kirby, Red Nichols and Rex Stewart; even of the "territory bands" of the Middle West. He also explicates the contributions of the big white bands of Charlie Barnet, Bob Crosby, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Harry James, Gene Krupa, Glenn Miller and Claude Thornhill, who, by codifying and expanding upon the innovations of their black counterparts, played as crucial a role and brought jazz to millions who otherwise would never have heard any jazz at all. Schuller's evaluations are original, trenchant and even-handed: He discusses shortcomingsstylistic stultification, topheavy sound, exuberant vulgarity, for exampleas well as achievements. And he demonstrates the gradual atrophying of swing by repetition, formularization, the reduction of improvisation and loss of spontaneity. More brilliantly than anyone before him, Schuller has explained a glorious period in the history of American music. Illustrated.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal
Successor to Schuller's Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development ( LJ 7/68), the present volume opens with three long chapters devoted to Goodman, Ellington, and Armstrong, then focuses on individual black and white bands and influential soloists. In contrast to the proliferating reminiscences and social histories of the big band era, Schuller's concern is purely with the music. His analyses of recordings are thick with musical transcriptions and other graphic representations. Iconoclastic in his critical analysis of the Basie-Young recording of "Lester Leaps In," presumptuous in his reharmonization of Ellington's "Lightnin'," Schuller is never absent from the text. Yet his unparalleled survey is one of the most far-reaching musical studies of jazz; his astute criticism deepens our understanding not only of the period but of jazz itself.William S. Brockman, Drew Univ. Lib., Madison, N.J.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

See all Editorial Reviews
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on 21 November 2015
A fine review of an important musical era in America's popular music. His depth of knowledge on Duke Ellington's music is quite exceptional and helps to explain the genius Ellington's writing and arranging.
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on 6 November 2015
Fantastic information on a really big subject!
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on 12 September 2015
very good value for a second hand book
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on 3 July 2016
Great book!
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