...been reading Gary Giddins' Visions of Jazz book the last two or three days. And I am very pleasantly surprised by its thoroughness and perceptiveness. the book, which is essentially an attempt to explore the entire first century of jazz (the birth being a debatable point... but essential at the turn of the century give or take 10 years), is engaging, informative and actually written - it would seem - for adult readers. i would get side-tracked for several paragraphs were i to try to explain my distaste for so-called jazz biographies and so-called jazz-histories that seem to be written with eighth-grade music appreciation book reports in mind. if you are looking for a good jazz biography... be careful... i can only think of three that i have truly enjoyed (three, my friends. and i own well over thirty.)
the main gist is this: Giddin's book does what most jazz writers seem to fear the most: its avoids almost all of the main players. all the big draws like Trane, Miles, Parker, Ellington. and, instead, Giddins gives a more complete story by giving you the low-down on some of the lesser-known cats. Spencer Williams -- who was a gifted black song-writer. Bert Williams and Al Jolson -- a black black-faced mistrel and a white black-faced minstrel respectively. and Ethel Waters -- america's first black pop music singer? and that's just the little bit i've read so far. the book is series of essays and/or articles which dispense with much of the romantic, over-wrought nonsense and bring us within a stone's throw of understanding the true breadth and beauty of the art form.
i will continue to read it as i finish up on the Soweto Kinch post. it may prove worthy of a longer examination.