Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Books, April 29, 2016

                                   NEXT FRIDAY, SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRST BOOKS

Geoff Dyer, But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz (from Ron Scheer in the archives)

I guess you’d call this creative nonfiction. A former colleague recommended this book to me after reading some of my thoughts on the life-affirming and health-inducing aspects of listening to jazz as I deal with a visitation of brain cancer. The great irony is that the joyous practice of improvisation in smoky clubs of the bebop era was so virulently self-destructive for its musicians.
In Dyer’s evocative and impressionistic character sketches of several of its iconic figures (Lester Young, Bud Powell, Chet Baker, Art Pepper, Ben Webster, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus) we witness mostly downward trajectories, as drugs, prison, racism, alcoholism, mental illness, and violence take their toll. Whether or not you think of them as survivors, you come to understand that the music they invented and played was an act of defiance and subversion in the face of demons both internal and external.

I don’t want this to sound over dramatized. Dyer immerses the reader in an imagined subjective world of each musician, and that world is seldom as harrowing as it appears from outside. Like some, Lester Young floats in the isolation of an alcohol haze, never quite sure if he is living or already dead. Thelonious Monk glories in an ongoing rage against fellow musicians and the instrument he plays. 

Meanwhile, some escape to Europe, where they find an appreciative audience and are granted a reprieve from the vestiges of Jim Crow discrimination. If anyone fares badly in the book, it is Chet Baker, who is portrayed musically as someone whose seductiveness as a performer was always in the form of promises he never kept—a self-absorption that verged on coitus interruptus

Dyer bases his book on biographical and historical accounts, but is more interested in impressions than facts. The end result is a cross between dream and documentary. While representing jazz composition and performance as driven by the effort to capture evanescent and transcendent moods (think of Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”), Dyer’s lucidly clear prose is a wonder of poetic expression.
He closes the book with a stimulating essay on mid-century jazz, with an overview of the wave of high-profile jazz musicians who followed in the decades since (e.g., Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett), while illuminating some of the key issues that have animated the discourse of musicologists who have never lost their love for the genre. There is also a discography and a lengthy bibliography.

Sergio Angelini, DEAD MEN DON'T SKI, Patricia Moyes
Yvette Banek, MURDER AT ARROWAYS, Helen Reilly
Les Blatt, THE SIRENS SANG OF MURDER, Sarah Caudwell
Bill Crider, THE LAST TALK WITH LOLA FAYE, Thomas H. Cook
Curt Evans, CAPE COD
Ed Gorman, BONJOUR TRISTESSE, Francoise Sagan
Rich Horton, TWO BLACK SHEEP, Warwick Deeping
Jerry House, EARTH'S LAST CITADEL, Moore and Kuttner
Nick Jones, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, Patricia Highsmith
George Kelley, THE SALIVA TREE, Brian Aldiss
Margot Kinberg, THE CASK, Freeman Wills Crofts
Rob Kitchin, JAPAN 1941,  Ari Hotta
B.V. Lawson, MURDER AT THE FOUL LINE, edited by Otto Penzler
Steve Lewis/Barry Gardner, MAKE NO BONES, Aaron Elkins
Todd Mason, FANTASTIC, February 1969, edited by Barry N. Malzberg; F&SF, February 1969, edited by Edward L. Ferman; STARTLING MYSTERY STORIES, Summer 1969, edited by Robert A. W. Lowndes
J. F. Norris, DEATH MY DARLING DAUGHTER, Jonathan Stagge
Mathew Paust, WHAT'S WRONG WITH DORFMAN? John Blumenthal
Reactions to Reading, THE DROWNED BOY, Karin Fossum
James Reasoner, LIAR'S KISS, Eric Skillman
Richard Robinson, First Contacts, The Essential Murray Leinster by edited by Joe Rico
Gerard Saylor, WEST TEXAS, Al Sarrantonio, THE COLD. COLD GROUND, Adrian McKinty
Kerrie Smith, THE BARRAKKE MYSTERY, Arthur Upfield
Kevin Tipple, SHAKEN: STORIES FOR JAPAN, Tim Hallinan
TomCat, THE GREAT MERLINI, Clayton Rawson 
TracyK LIVE AND LET DIE, Ian Fleming 


Charles Gramlich said...

Jazz tends not to do it for me.

Todd Mason said...

I'm always sorry to hear that from people, Charles, though I think it can be a matter of underexposure. The more I encounter any sort of music, the more I tend to like it, unless of course it's forced on me..the "elevator music" sort of "easy listening" music can remain hard listening for me unless very cleverly orchestrated and well-played, as some definitely is. While I'm yet to be impressed by, say, Beyonce Knowles or her husband, that doesn't mean I don't like a lot of what's happening now in r&b and rap, among so many other sorts of music.

Meanwhile, less tardy than some weeks, and no more the complete essay I'd hoped than most, but nonetheless it'll do, and it's up!

FANTASTIC, February 1969, edited by Barry N. Malzberg; F&SF, February 1969, edited by Edward L. Ferman; STARTLING MYSTERY STORIES, Summer 1969, edited by Robert A. W. Lowndes

Yvette said...

Mine is up and running, Patti. I got confused and thought that this week was the First Book theme, but now I realize it's next week. So had to switch reviews around. Confusion is the name of the game at my age. GAK!

Todd Mason said...

FANTASTIC, February 1969, edited by Barry N. Malzberg; F&SF, February 1969, edited by Edward L. Ferman; STARTLING MYSTERY STORIES, Summer 1969, edited by Robert A. W. Lowndes
for linking ease

Richard Robinson said...

I think jazz is great to listen to, but it requires some focus, or at least more than classical orchestral music, which I can let flow around me if I like.

Todd Mason said...

Congratulations to Martin Edwards on his Edgar last night!

The critical/historical shortlist:

The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards (HarperCollins Publishers - HarperCollins)
The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue
by Frederick Forsyth (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam's Sons)
Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald
by Suzanne Marrs and Tom Nolan (Arcade Publishing)
Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica
by Matthew Parker (Pegasus Books)
The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett
by Nathan Ward (Bloomsbury Publishing – Bloomsbury USA)

seana graham said...

I love Geoff Dyer, doesn't matter what subject. And thrilling news about Martin Edwards. I haven't checked out the Edgars results yet.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, yay, Martin. Strong list to come out on top of.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I agree Rick, It's like modern art v. 18th century landscape paintings.

Margot Kinberg said...

I have to admit, I love jazz. And on another note, thanks for including my post in this set of great links, Patti! And of course, well done, Martin, and richly deserved!