As much as I love music I can count on one hand the number of books that I have read about music and musicians— David Hadju’s Lush Life, a brilliant biography of Billy Strayhorn, Crystal Zevon’s oral biography of her one time husband Warren Zevon, I’ll Sleep When I am Dead, Charles Mingus’s autobiography Beneath the Underdog and Peter Guralnick’s Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke and Arthur Kempton’s rhythm and blues devotional Boogaloo: The Quintessence of American Popular Music.
Which not to say that I am oblivious of the books being published as I will display by pointing out three recent notable books—each shining a clear light on a different aspect of music.
One half of the famed song writing Rodgers and Hart, lyricist Lorenzo Hart is well accounted for in Gary Marmorstein’s A Ship Without A Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart (Simon & Schuster). If you aren’t familiar with songs such as “Blue Moon, ” “Where or When, ” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Isn’t It Romantic?,” “My Romance,” “There’s a Small Hotel,” “Falling in Love with Love,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and much more you probably won’t care about the life of brilliant homosexual alcoholic who lived entire short life with his mother.
Whatever defines a jazz “standard” jazz historian Ted Gioia (The History of Jazz) has selected 252 songs to The Jazz Standards A Guide to the Repertoire (Oxford University Press) on which to comment, including composer details and a listen guides that references about 2000 recordings.
David Ulin points out that
“to call “The Jazz Standards” a work of history, however, is to miss at least half the point; it is also a work of criticism, and Gioia is not afraid to offer pointed commentary…
…” What is the book, after all, if not an extended improvisation, beginning with its framing of the repertoire? Such a repertoire is fluid, and if in recent years it has undergone a “process of codification,” his approach can’t help but be subjective, defined by his experience and sensibility. To read “The Jazz Standards,” then, is not unlike listening to Gioia play his way through this music, sharing not just what he likes (and dislikes) but also what he knows.”
What the video that accompanies the Sonny Rollins’ version of “We Kissed in The Shadow” above, means or its connection with this great piece of music has me stumped but the Rollins track (From the LP East Broadway Rundown) is so evocative and mesmerizing I had to include it
Just as I was more simpatico with the Beat movement than much of its literature I found Punk Rock’s anarchical ethos and do it yourself values more interesting than most of the music it spawned. In any case,in Punk Rock: An Oral History (PM Press) John Robb, a punk rocker himself, collects about 150 interviews with seminal figures such as John Lydon, Lemmy, Siouxsie Sioux, Mick Jones, Chrissie Hynde, Malcolm McLaren, Henry Rollins, and Glen Matlock.Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren elucidates,
It was not necessarily a plan to play art colleges first and avoid the pub. I hated beer. And that’s all you got in those stinking pubs in Anglo-Saxon land. Art school preached a noble pursuit of failure. It was part of the legacy laid down by William Morris: art for art’s sake. which we attempted to create and indeed succeeded at one level. We made ugliness beautiful.
Currently reading The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (Knopf)