Recent listening, current

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

195. Jazz Anecdotes by Bill Crow (1991)

This music we have come to call jazz is long and storied, its course determined by thousands of musicians, singers, bandleaders, producers, patrons, and hangers on. Music is more than harmonically related pitches that sound off in regularly timed intervals. It's a living and growing mode of expression, a self-description of our culture. a sentimental record of our times. Bill Crow's Jazz Anecdotes is exactly what the title implies. Drawn from many sources, readers are treated to a rich assortment of personal recollections, rumors, legends, inside jokes, and more than a few stories with very long legs. In his introduction, Crow shares a fundamental truth about storytelling: every good tale has a life of its own, eclipsing even the storyteller. In this way, real or imagined, the contents of Crow's compendium leap right off the pages, straight into the annals of popular culture. I'll equate jazz with my favorite sport, baseball. A listener can enjoy a song without knowing the musicians much like how a spectator can enjoy a ballgame without knowing too much about the players. But understanding the personal dimension of their collective small-game and their colorful arc of backstory enriches the experience tenfold. If you stay interested for your entire life, it's more than 18 guys on a diamond. The sport actually fulfills the obligation of a cultural phenomenon in which the spectator is a willing participant in the creation of its legend.

But back to jazz... Through Crow's work, which is subdivided into manageable sections covering certain musicians or styles, or certain aspects of being a musician, you get all the behind-the-scenes gossip, juicy tidbits, and wild memories of the women and men who made the music happen. In other words, the material is so vivid, it's as if the subjects are right there in the room, talking to you. In his acknowledgements, Crow thanks Nat Hentoff, whose book Hear Me Talkin' to Ya is a similar work that bears mention here. Likewise, and with a stronger recommendation for its beautiful prose and sense of relational self identity, please see Living with Music: Ralph Ellison's Jazz Writings. I'll close by saying this: When I put the book in the nightdrop and left it there to resume a lonely life on the shelf for two or three more years, whenever the next patron should come along, I actually said goodbye. Startlingly, as I drove off in my car, I felt like someone heard me.

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