Books about Music

Kyle Gann, Charles Ives’s Concord: Essays After a Sonata. A major work gets a major analysis: a masterpiece gets a masterpiece. Gann has lived with the Concord his whole life, and now all that love and experience has produced lucid exegesis. I doubt Gann himself would argue that his text is exhaustive, but it’s hard to imagine that there is much more to be done.

Gann is kind to performers (he enjoys every Concord recording), he is opinionated but not dictatorial about textural variation, he is constantly looking for ways to connect Ives’s pitches to the ethos of American Transcendentalism. As a bonus, there are substantial notes on the Piano Sonata No. 1 and an essay on the complete songs. The book is vast but each and every paragraph is valuable.

Excerpt here.

Drew Massey, John Kirkpatrick, American Music, and the Printed Page. The Concord‘s first champion was John Kirkpatrick, who went on to be a major figure in the confusing posthumous dialogue about Ives. Kirkpatrick also worked with other composers, most notably Carl Ruggles, but also worthy talents like Hunter Johnson, Ross Lee Finney, and Robert Palmer. Massey’s excellent book offers a close look at the power dynamics in a rather hothouse environment, and will be crucial source for anyone interested in this vibrant era of American fully-notated music.

Kyle Gann on Drew Massey’s book.

Amy C. Beal, Carla Bley.  It is rare to have a worthy book produced about a living jazz artist. Indeed, Beal’s book may be unprecedented, a technically accurate explanation of a jazz composer informed by interviews with the subject and their circle. Bley’s career has been fecund and eclectic. Carla Bley is not a long book, Beal doesn’t attempt to go deeply into everything, but what is there seems inarguably correct.  I am about to produce an essay on Bley myself and this volume has been a spectacular resource.

More at the publisher’s page.

Sam Stephenson, Gene Smith’s Sink: A Wide-Angle View. Smith was a famous photographer, but there’s notable jazz in this poetic overview. There’s very little in print about Hall Overton, Thelonious Monk’s arranger and a particular interest of mine, and Stephenson’s book offers many new Overtonian insights. There’s also substantial reporting on Sonny Clark and harrowing first-person narration from drummer Ronnie Free and pianist Dorrie Woodson. However, the focus is naturally on Eugene Smith, who’s life story is a breathtaking tale of triumph and tragedy.

More at the publisher’s page.


Blues Everywhere


Houston Person is playing great. He’s one of the last of the old-school tenor sax masters. Houston and Chris Potter played Monk tunes together last year, and I wrote at the time about one of the most cinematic moments I’ve ever experienced on the bandstand:

“Houston took the first solo on ‘Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues Are.’ He was wearing his glasses in order to read the tricky melody, and began blowing with the eyewear still on. However, after a few perfect blues phrases, Houston paused. He slowly took off the glasses placed them in his breast pocket while the rhythm section ticked over. (The thought bubble over Houston’s head read, ‘I got this.’) Then he recommenced laying down the law.”

When we first played together a couple of years ago, I commented:

“Tenors before Coltrane had more leeway. There was lots of vibrato: it was even furry, burry, or murky. There was less emphasis on nailing complex changes, although there was actually more detail per note. Transcribing someone like that on a slow blues or ballad is essentially impossible compared to transcribing a post-Coltrane tenor.”

I don’t know Chris Smith (who is also known as Cee Smith) as well but he’s awesome. He’s frequently in the soul/R&B scene but when we did a session his ears and command of jazz were fabulous. (For example, he made up a counter-line to “Wee” that I’d never heard before.) When I told Houston I got him a R&B bassist, he replied, “Oh, I’ll like him, then.”

Set list possibilities:

Holy Land
Blues Everywhere
Lover Man
If you See Me Now
Once in a While
Out of Nowhere
I’ve Never Been in Love Before
Lester Leaps In’
Round Midnight (F – )
Blue Monk
After Hours
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore
There is no Greater Love
Stormy Weather
Strike Up the Band
If I Had You
In A Mellow Tone
Good Bait
Everything Happens to Me
These Foolish Things
If I were a Bell