A new thick-brick of a jazz history has just been published by Continuum books. A New History of Jazz by Alyn Shipton is a revised and expanded volume, that is a welcomed and much needed addition to the story of jazz. At 800 pages, it may be a tad overwhelming for most casual readers, but the true jazz devotee will be grateful for this balanced, detailed, essential, and readable non-acedemic history. Shipton is the author of Jazz Makers, and often reviews for the BBC. He’s also a jazz musician (double bass) and perhaps this gives his history a sense of insider “been-there” awareness.

“Shipton presents his history not as a lineal succession of great men but as an overlapping series of stylistic movements, each of which he describes with a catholicity of taste unusual among jazz commentators….

No less striking is the ease with which Shipton negotiates the great stylistic divide that separates pre- and post-1960 jazz. Most authors of survey histories in any field of art come to grief when writing about movements for which they feel no sympathy. Paul Johnson’s Art: A New History (2003), for instance, is willfully, almost obsessively dismissive of modern art. In A New History of Jazz, by contrast, the avant-garde jazz of the 60’s is described with a relish rarely to be found among performers who, like Shipton, have been closely identified with traditional jazz Shipton explains his position:

Jazz is not a what, it is a how. If it were a what, it would be static, never growing. The how is that the music comes from the moment, it is spontaneous, it exists in the time it is created. And anyone who makes music according to this method conveys to me an element that makes his music jazz.

“Alyn Shipton clearly understands the implications of this remark, and the catholicity with which he describes pre-1970 jazz promises an equally clear understanding of later styles. “In what follows,” he writes in his introduction, “I have attempted to examine what was being described as jazz throughout its history, and I have taken a very broad view of how jazz should now be defined.” But, despite this broad perspective, he does not succeed in integrating postmodern jazz into his narrative. Source: ALL THAT JAZZ in


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