I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.
The Reluctant Art – Benny Green
This book of jazz criticism, first published in 1962, covered Bix Beiderbecke, Benny Goodman, Lester Young, Billie Holiday (jazz's chanteuse), and Charlie Parker. An update to the book in 1972 included an appraisal of Art Tatum.
An Englishman, Green’s style is concise, his tone ascerbic. Green was himself a jazz musician so he brings real-world experience not only to making the music but living the life of a professional musician. Therefore, he cuts other critics and fans into clueless paper dolls. For instance, Green states, "...we have to remember that for the most part jazz criticism has been conducted by those whose passionate love of the music was never quite passionate enough for them to learn the rudiments of jazz making,..."
His technical discussions went clear over my non-musician head. I know it’s just personal taste, but still I’m startled when he dismisses Ella Fitzgerald, calling scat singing “gibberish.” I confess that I always thought she did her funnest work with Chick Webb (Sing Me a Swing Song) and thought her voice had all the emotional profundity of Art Garfunkel’s. And for me, Billie Holiday’s voice is wondrous about half the time, while the other half it is just growly and weird. In general, I think jazz writers get a little odd when dealing with jazz singers.
He has done his research on the influence of social history on the music. Since I don’t play, it is this context that I find most interesting.