Massive Words: But Beautiful, Geoff Dyer

To criticize music isn’t to list its faults: it’s to orient the listener, to give them a Way To Hear music; sometimes that makes all the difference; in the wrong mood, music you might’ve lived your life by… could pass by.

You can’t often “just listen”: complex music is often off-putting and resistant to you, like complex art of any kind: see Ulysses or Infinite Jest: they WILL reward your investigation of them, but they’re bastards to get along with in the interim.

Good criticism helps navigate the tantrums of genius.

Critics, at their best, are translators, shamen, soothsayers… and only slightly reporters.

But Beautiful: a book about Jazz is the first book to read if you want to understand What The Fuss Is About.

It dispenses with the unnecessary, pares right down to why one should listen to the sounds that we usually call Jazz.

Reporter segment: it’s written as a series of vignettes, extrapolated from photos and interviews, about pivotal moments in seminal jazz artists’ lives. Dyer actually found a way to improvise words that’s analogous to live jazz: he riffs in words on the ellipses in the Official History of Ben Webster, Art Pepper, Chet Baker, Lester Young, and others.

It is, frankly, great. The chapter on Lester Young made me cry, and my affect is normally flatter than Kansas.



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