Gary Giddins: Visions of Jazz. The First Century
Article added in April 2000
For twenty-five years Gary Giddins has covered the jazz
world for the Village Voice. His books include Riding on a Blue Note,
Satchmo and Celebrating Bird. In 1986 he founded the American
Jazz Orchestra and was its artistic director for seven years. His "new"
book, Visions of Jazz, was published in 1998 and won the 1998 National
Book Critics Circle Award.
Gary Giddins' useful overview presents the first
century of jazz - which means that he believes that there are others to come.
He expresses some worries in his introduction about a low-quality revival of
jazz. Giddins himself would be more confident if he had included articles e.g.
on Brad Mehldau - whose name he
only mentions once (as Brad "Meldau") - and on
Diana Krall, who has impressively progressed in recent years. The title of
his book, Visions of Jazz, says it all: this is no dry account of the
history of the first century of jazz but a book that contains lively and
engaging portraits from Giddins' perspective. His 79 chapters tell a lot about
his vision of jazz and his favourites. He dedicates three chapters to Duke
Ellington whereas Cab Calloway has no right to his own. Giddins is not alone
with that vision. Ellington is one of the kings of jazz, maybe together with
Louis Armstrong, who also gets more than one chapter, the king of jazz.
Cab Calloway on the other hand gets hardly credited for his contribution to
jazz. Not only was he the commercially most successful jazz-bandleader of his
time, he also paid best and gave a chance to a lot of musicians who pursued
their own careers later. Cab Calloway's jazz was mainstream, it was dancing
music and therefore even attractive for teenagers. He could reach out to a
wide audience and influence popular culture. Give credit to whom credit is due!
Giddins combines criticism and musicology, history and
biographies as well as anecdotes to a lively account. Visions of Jazz
includes articles on the precursors of jazz such as Bert Williams and Al
Jolson, representatives of a then new music such as Jelly Roll Morton and King
Oliver, classics like Benny Goodman and Count Basie, mainstream musicians like
Miles Davis and Art Blakey, the avant-garde with John Coltrane and Ornette
Coleman and many others. Even for people who do not agree with all of Gary
Giddins' visions, this is still a book of reference.
Gary Giddins: Visions of Jazz. The First Century. OUP, 1998,
690 p. Get it from Amazon.com