Current reading:

Jazz: A History of America’s Music, Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns

Up next on my  list:

Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats, Pannonica de Koenigswarter

Live at the Village Vanguard, Max Gordon

Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, Robin Kelley

Most recently finished:

Why Jazz Happened, Marc Myers

Caveat: I did not finish this book.  Which already tells you something, either about my patience or about the book.  First of all, I think the title is a misnomer: it is not why but How Jazz Happened that is truly addressed.  None of us can really explain why jazz came to be any more than why Louis Armstrong decided to play the trumpet instead of the drums or the trombone.  All we know is, we’re glad he did.  Myers follows the evolution of jazz and gives us historical landmarks along the way, events that were important to shaping jazz and directing it in particular avenues, for example, the progression of recording technology, which initially limited musicians to pieces that lasted three minutes; the introduction of the G.I. Bill, which allowed musician-soldiers easy access to formal training, increasing professionalization in the music world; and the explosion of the movie industry in Hollywood, which created a huge demand for film scores, composers and musicians.  All these were key forces in shaping jazz’s development, providing by turn limitations and opportunities for musicians, disc jockeys, managers and audiences over the past century.  But it’s not really about the music.  It’s about the circumstances around the music.  And that, I think, is why I just wasn’t captivated enough to follow through.

David Kastin, Nica’s Dream: The Life and Legend of the Jazz Baroness

I just finished this book a few days ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed it the whole way through.  David Kastin guides us through a portrait of a very important and vastly underappreciated figure in New York’s jazz scene from the 1950’s to the ’80’s.  Nica, short for Kathleen Annie Pannonica Rothschild de Koenigswarter, was a British noble who moved to the U.S. in the middle of her life to follow jazz.  She set up house in the city, driving a silver Bentley and nipping whiskey from a flask, and in spite of occasional financial troubles and being kicked out of numerous first-rate hotels for the disturbance her musical guests caused, she maintained enough stability to become a major source of support for countless jazz musicians, of whom the most artistically and personally important was probably Thelonious Monk.  Nica’s story gives the reader an incomparable window into the heart of America’s original bebop community.


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