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Ed. Thunder Bay Press, 2000. Hard cover, with bookjacket. Includes 85 photographs on black and white. 176 pages.

Icons of Jazz 8By Dave Gelly

A hundred years ago, jazz was an obscure form of street music flourishing in New Orleans, a seaport on the Gulf of Mexico. It was not unique. Most cities, especially ports, had their own music at the time, but it was jazz -not the tango, habanera, fado, or flamenco- that grew and evolved to become the basis of the entire world’s popular music. How did this come about?

Jazz was lucky in the time and place of its birth. Tt was born with the new century, in a nation destined to become the greatest economic and industrial power in the world. Also born at around the same time were radio and the techniques of sound recording. Put these all together and it is clear that jazz had a huge evolutionary advantage over other forms of urban music. This enabled it to
become the first form of popular music to travel beyond its home territory.

Icons of jazzIn the past, all music was live. If people wanted to hear it, they had to go to where it was being played. The only way of preserving music, so that the same thing could be heard at different times and by more than one audience, was by writing it down. That was how the European classical tradition became established. A composer wrote the music and players trained in standard skills performed it. But most of the world’s music is not composer’s music; it is and always has been performer’s music.

Before Thomas Edison discovered a way to record sound, and Emile Berliner invented the mass-produced gramophone disc, many rich musical cultures must have risen and died, leaving no trace. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s first record (1917) may not be a great work of art, but it marks a profound change in the history of culture. Similarly, the growth of radio through the 1920s meant
that people did not even have to be within earshot of a spinning record. Music could be turned on and off, like tap water.

Naturally, once musicians were able to be heard speaking with their own voices, the voices themselves became a vital part of what was said. That is where the whole notion of a «jazz icon» comes in. Over the course of the 20th century, certain artists had a special appeal. People feel that they know them. Either they set new standards or new styles, such as Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, or they attracted a following because of what they seemed to stand for, such as Bunk Johnson, or simply they were so unusual that they stood out, such as the remarkable Roland Kirk.

Icons of Jazz 5The majority are black Americans, but if jazz ever was a purely ethnic music (and it seems increasingly doubtful), this long ago ceased to be the case. First it became an all-American idiom, and then spl-ead around the world. lts appeal was so strong that even the most brutal repression failed to silence it. In occupied Paris during World War II, Django Reinhardt, a Gypsy, played on under the noses of the Nazi authorities.

Strictly, of course, an icon is an object of veneration or worship. In some cases, this would not be putting it too strongly. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane could all be described as icons in this sense. Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, and that accounts for another large group of icons. To take just three tenor saxophonists -Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Michael Brecker- all have been the subjects of countless imitators, from Japan to iceland.

It has often been noted that jazz has traveled the distance in a single century that it took European music many centuries to accomplish, from folk music to postmodernism. The mass media speeded up the spread of ideas, and therefore the course of history. As time became telescoped in th is way, the stylistic generations overlapped. Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker were less than 20 years apart in age, and Parker and Ornette Coleman only 10 years apart. In European terms, it was like having Bach, Beethoven, and Schoenberg all alive at the same time. Apart from a few early casualties, such as Parker and Jelly Roll Morton, virtually every major name in jazz was alive and working throughout the 1950s.

Icons of Jazz 3Critics gave little thought to this remarkable state of affairs, apparently assuming that it would go on for ever. But with the deaths of Ai.mstrong and Ellington, in 1971 and 1974, respectively, a subtle change came over jazz. It was forced to acknowledge the fact that it had a history, a canon of great work by dead artists, that «new» did not necessarily mean «better», and that the music had become so diverse that, among those who called themselves jazz lovers, very few indeed were going to listen to every style of jazz. Just like European classical music, in fact.

So the status of icon is not something oficially bestowed, like a medal. But, however one cares to describe them, and however one may differ from individual choices, the 84 figures in this book all inspired admiration and affection among jazz lovers and made an indelible mark on the course of jazz history.

Cannonball Adderley
Louis Armstrong
Chet Baker
Count Basie
Sidney Bechet
Bix Beiderbecke
Art Blakey
Carla Bley
Michael Brecker
Clifford Brown
Dave Brubeck
Betty Carter
Charlie Christian
Nat «King» Cole
Ornette Coleman
John Coltrane
Eddie Condon
Chick Corea
Miles Davis
Eric Dolphy
Roy Eldridge
Duke Ellington
Bill Evans
Gil Evans
Ella Fitzgerald
Slim Gaillard
Jan Garbarek
Errol Garner
Stan Getz
Dizzy Gillespie
Benny Goodman
Dexter Gordon
Stephane Grappelli
Lionel Hampton
Herbie Hancock
Coleman Hawkins
Fletcher Henderson
Woody Herman
Earl Hines
Billie Holiday
Abdullah Ibrahim
Milt Jackson
Keith Jarret
Bunk Johnson
J. J. Johnson
Elvin Jones
Jo Jones
Louis Jordan
Stan Kenton
Roland Kirk
Gene Krupa
John McLaughlin
Wynton Marsalis
Pat Metheny
Charles Mingus
Thelonius Monk
Wes Montgomery
Jelly Roll Morton
Gerry Mulligan
Fats Navarro
King Oliver
Original Dixieland Jazz Band
Kid Ory
Charlie Parker
Oscar Peterson
Michel Petrucciani
Bud Powell
Django Reinhardt
Buddy Rich
Max Roach
Sonny Rollins
Artie Shaw
George Shearing
Horace Silver
Art Tatum
Cecil Taylor
Jack Teagarden
McCoy Tyner
Sarah Vaughan
Fats Waller
Ben Webster
Tony Williams
Lester Young

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