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Paperback But Beautiful: A Book about Jazz Book

ISBN: 0865475083

ISBN13: 9780865475083

But Beautiful: A Book about Jazz

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Format: Paperback

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Book Overview

"May be the best book ever written about jazz."--David Thomson, Los Angeles Times In eight poetically charged vignettes, Geoff Dyer skillfully evokes the music and the men who shaped modern jazz.... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Prescient, priceless portraits.

This work, along with James Baldwin's short story, "Sonny's Blues," is as good as any I've read about the jazz life, its creators and innovators, and the high cost of such terrible beauty. I had the advantage of being present while Lester was lost on stage in an alcoholic stupor; Monk was dancing around the piano, knocking over cymbals, rather than playing the instrument; Chet Baker, unable to stand, was expending his last breaths on "The Thrill Is Gone"; and Duke was waiting for Harry Carney to swing by with the car to chauffeur him through the wintry night from Kenosha, Wisconsin to Kansas City. But how a young writer like Dyer managed to capture these moments before his time, freezing them unforgettably in a literary living moment, I can't imagine.Dyer knows that the foremost responsibility of a music critic is not to critique but to verbalize his non-verbal subject, bringing it to life for the reader. He does so admirably, creating believable, recognizable, fascinating portraits in unlabored, unpretentious prose.His portraits of the artist ring completely true to the ears of this fellow observer--penetrating glimpses of the creative child trapped in a man's body now reduced to fighting a losing battle against physical and mental entropy. Yet his faith in the living tradition of jazz is refreshing, as is his characterization of the jazz musician's struggle as a valiant contest with the precursor, not unlike that of the strong poet's.Though there's an elegaic tone throughout the book, it's never ponderous or depressing. In fact, its human portraits are more likely to interest newcomers than the many text books that catalog styles and names. This is not to say the book is without shortcomings. The author is much better at capturing the musicians for us than their music. And his appreciation and understanding of Duke Ellington's music seems somewhat limited. Too bad he didn't give at least as much attention to the colorful cast of characters on the band bus as to the private conveyance preferred by Duke.Yet any listener who has the slightest interest in jazz and its makers simply cannot afford to pass this one up. And it goes a long way toward fleshing out some of the caricatures served up on the Ken Burns' television series.

A Must for Those Who Appreciate Jazz and/or Exquisite Prose

Picture this: "Onstage at Birdland, eyes shut, one arm hanging at his side....trumpet raised to his lips like a brandy bottle--not playing the horn but swigging from it, sipping it."Geoff Dyer's employs his exquisite imagery as a starting point for his "imaginative criticism" of the celebrated and tragic lives of several iconic jazz musicians (including figures such as Chet Baker, Lester Young, Thelonious Monk, Ben Webster, Charles Mingus, and Bud Powell). While photographs are the inspiration, Dyer's writing is so precise and sensual that he need only describe the photographs (the book has only one small photo). And this is just right for a book about music, his writing is so lyrical that we almost hear the sounds while reading. (In fact. the least effective aspect of the book is the Duke Ellington "road trip" that introduces each chapter, perhaps because the narrative is not connected to any particular Ellington sound.)Many of the scenes and dialogue (especially the inner dialogue) are necessarily fictions, "assume that what's here has been invented or altered rather than quoted." But Dyer's explains that while his version may veer from the truth, "it keeps faith with the improvisational prerogatives of the form." He mixes truth and fiction into portraits that illuminate what strictly factual history cannot always convey. (Think of Robert Graves' in his WWI memoir/fiction "Goodbye to All That."). Dyer explains that while a photo depicts only a "split second," its "felt duration" may include the unseen moments before and after that split second. "But Beautiful" invites us to improvise (as Dyer does) into that unseen time, and discover our own subjective relationship to the music.Listen to this: "Chet put nothing of himself into his music and that's what lent his playing its pathos...Every time he played a note he waved it goodbye. Sometimes he didn't even wave."The evocative word pictures are unusually perceptive and sensitive. Although personal and often imagined, it's really like an improvised solo that either feels "right" or not. I think "But Beautiful" hits the right notes and rhythms: his words evoke the music, and, after reading it, the music will evoke the words. Not without its flaws, it is still an astonishing feat.

A Window to the soul of Jazz

This book captures the essence of jazz. Every nuance from languid to livid, sad to sublime is etched out by Dyer's poetic and harmonious flow of prose. If you are familiar with these artists, his stories encourage you to say, put on your favorite album by Monk while you read about him -- or after you read about him, so you can reflect on how the writer has connected with the soul of the music. If you aren't familiar with the artists, this work will definitely urge you to acquire some of their music. This book is simply an extended poem, traced so delicately that it allows the experienced and the novice alike, the opportunity to peer through a window and into the soul of Jazz.

Dyer sets an enormous challenge and exceeds expectations.

Dyer has the rare ability to make the reader feel like he is participating in these lives while simulataneously observing them. The idea behind this book (short, fictional accounts of the lives of several different jazz musicians) is fraught with peril: it could have very easily been done poorly. It is to Dyer's credit that the book succeeds as well as it does. The author's essay at the end of the book on jazz, modern and past, is also well worth reading.

Just Beautiful

In But Beautiful the reader is exposed to the greats of jazz through several well written vignetts. The writing just beautiful. With a delicate and often intimate style, Geoff Dyer tells the tales of jazz legends in a perspective unique to each artist. Mean while the author weaves the story of Duke Elinton driving across the country side. This element is used ingeneously to bind the radically different vingetts that make up the solos of this books song. But Beautiful is just that, a song not just about jazz, but of it
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