On Jazz

I’m driving full force into Alyn Shipton’s A New History of Jazz, although it is tough to read in bed due to size. But the size is worth the trouble. John Timmons and I have been doing more than a semester’s worth of work on the history and listening to lots of music and we’re planning some podcast discussions.

I first got into the music in high school when I played jazz band. I was a trumpeter and not half bad, earning first chair player as a freshman. I lost interest after graduating (turning to computer science and engineering) but my love of the music stayed. And we’re seeing lots of new media connections. The connections have a lot to do with cultural movement, transitions, and change. The transitions of jazz, relatively speaking, are swift. Ma Rainey to Miles Davis is not a lot of time difference.

Generally speaking, the music’s morphogenesis is mysterious and alluring. But it’s also palpably evident in its retentions–it has a persistent core set of ideas. Some historical questions seem obvious: jazz follows technological change both in instrumentation, writing (Jelly Roll Morton, for example), and recording device. But how? What are the details? What did the people on the street see? Shipton probes these areas to detail. I like it.