I read the first edition of Ted Gioia’s The History of Jazz in 2005. At that time I just started to develop my passion for jazz; therefore, the book was informative and overwhelming at the same time. Since then I have spent a tremendous amount of time listening, reading and learning more about jazz and its history.
I intended to visit this book for a while and the release of the second edition is just perfect. Rereading The History of Jazz the second time with a bit of background as a listener makes me appreciate Gioia’s work even more. What a daunting task writing about the complexity of the music that refuses to stand still for over a century. Gioia took us way back to the early nineteenth century with a vivid opening scene:
An elderly black man sits astride a large cylindrical drum. Using his fingers and the edge of his hand, he jabs repeatedly at the drum head—which is around a foot in diameter and probably made from an animal skin—evoking a throbbing pulsation with rapid, sharp strokes. A second drummer, holding his instrument between his knees, joins in, playing with the same staccato attack. A third black man, seated on the ground, plucks at a string instrument, the body of which is roughly fashioned from a calabash. Another calabash has been made into a drum, and a woman heats at it with two short sticks. One voice, then other voices join in. A dance of seeming contradictions accompanies this musical give-and-take, a moving hieroglyph that appears, on the one hand, informal and spontaneous yet, on closer inspection, ritualized and precise. It is a dance of massive proportions. A dense crowd of dark bodies forms into circular groups—perhaps five or six hundred individuals moving in time to the pulsations of the music, some swaying gently, others aggressively stomping their feet. A number of women in the group begin chanting.
From there on Gioia takes us from New Orleans to Chicago to Kansas City and then to New York for lively musical analysis and concise but accessible portraits of eminent jazz figures as well as the overlooked artists who contributed to the ever-changing styles of jazz. Must read for anyone who is passionate about the story of jazz.