This new book, intended as a supplement to American Musicians, offers sixteen additional profiles--seven of which have never appeared in book form before. (The article on clarinettist Buddy De Franco has never been printed anywhere. The eight previously published works have been culled from long-out-of-print books.) As Balliett tells us in an introductory note, the book is structured to take us "from the edges of jazz to its heart." Beginning with a profile of the jazz fan Jean Bach, who calls herself "the first jazz groupie," he continues with club owners Max Gordon (The Village Vanguard), Barney Josephson (Cafe Society), and Bradley Cunningham (Bradley's), and finally introduces us to such virtuoso jazz musicians as Benny Goodman and Charlie "Bird" Parker. In between are thoughtful pieces about pianists Claude Thornhill, Mel Powell, and George Shearing; trumpet player Ruby Braff; and more.
All the classic Balliett touches are here: his sensitivity to the nuances of both music and personality, his ability to describe the subtleties of tone and rhythm, and, of course, the lyric quality of his own writing. Here is his report of Jimmy Rowles' warm-up routine:
"In one motion, he sat down, leaned over, poised his fingers a second over the keyboard, and sank into a very slow 'Mood Indigo.' He moved in a gentle, circular fashion, as if he were leafing through a stamp album, and he punctuated his felicitous phrases by pointing his right toe at the ceiling."
Balliett fans and jazz aficionados, as well as lovers of good writing will welcome this new collection by the man the late Philip Larkin said "brings jazz journalism to the verge of poetry."
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