Setting the Tempo: Fifty Years of Great Jazz Liner Notes

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Tom Piazza
Anchor Books, 1996 - Music - 369 pages
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Since the introduction of the long-playing record, some of the best writing about jazz has appeared on the backs of record covers. Over the years, jazz writers and prominent jazz musicians have annotated record albums with background on the musicians and the recordings, historical context and musical analysis. These annotations, or "liner notes, " provide a window on the recording process, as well as intimate anecdotes and personal views of the musicians that have an immediacy and warmth rarely found elsewhere--setting the tempo, in a sense, for the listener's appreciation of the music.

Jazz liner notes, both for new releases and classic material, comprise a rich and vibrant genre of jazz writing that has never been collected--until now. In "Setting the Tempo," author and jazz authority Tom Piazza presents fifty of the finest and most distinctive notes from the beginning of the genre, in the 1940s, through the present. Among them are Duke Ellington's moving reminiscences of stride piano master James P. Johnson, brilliant impressions of John Coltrane by poet Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka); bass virtuoso and composer Charles Mingus's harrangue against his critics, composer Gunther Schuller's extrordinary story of locating Charlie Parker's alto saxophone teacher, and meditations on different meanings of freeedom in jazz by pianist Bill Evans and alto innovator Ornette Coleman. Stanley Crouch, Dan Morgenstern, Ira Gitler, and Ralph J. Gleason and other critics are also represented by some of their strongest work.

A mosaic history of jazz as seen through the occasions of its signal recordings and the sensibilities of some of its foremost observers, "Setting the Tempo" is one of the mostlively collections of jazz writing ever assembled.

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Setting the tempo: fifty years of great jazz liner notes

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Fordham, who has written several jazz books including Jazz Man (Trafalgar, 1996), offers a collection of his journalism published in British periodicals between 1970 and 1995. These reviews feature ... Read full review


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About the author (1996)

Tom Piazza's writing on American music has appeared in the Sunday New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, and The Village Voice. He is the author of The Guide to Classic Recorded Jazz (University of Iowa Press), which won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor award for music writing, and Blues and Trouble (St. Martin's Press), which won a James Michener award for fiction. He lives in New Orleans and is working on a novel.

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