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Jazz:
A History of America's Music

by Geoffrey C. Ward, Ken Burns

ISBN 067944551X / 9780679445517 / 0-679-44551-X
Publisher Knopf
Language English
Edition Hardcover
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Book summary

First off, let's get the kudos down: Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns deserve far more than simple gratitude for bringing jazz to the limelight with this lavishly illustrated volume. The book features among its 500-plus pictures many of the previously unseen shots of musicians and venues glimpsed in Burns's 10-part documentary, Jazz. (See our Ken Burns Jazz Store for the lowdown on the series.) Jazz: An Illustrated History follows the film episode by episode, and it's filled with rich historical detail in the early chapters. Like the series, however, the book trails off after a certain point in chronicling jazz's history. It gives background aplenty on early New Orleans music, the migration of jazz up the Mississippi to major urban centers, and the developments of swing and bebop. After bebop, the history gets a bit perfunctory. Dozens of major figures get mere sidebar coverage. Little is said of substance on Latin or Brazilian jazz, European contributions to the music, fusion, or umpteen smaller deviations from the mainstream. There are wonderful essays that highlight elements of jazz culture, particularly Gerald Early's consideration of race and white musicians in jazz and Gary Giddins's five-page essay on avant jazz. And there are fine sidebars as well. But developments during and after the 1960s are dealt with primarily in impressionistic guest essays rather than detail-oriented historical narrative. It is, of course, difficult to capture all jazz history in any single volume. So perhaps this ought to have been called Jazz: A Historical Appreciation, since the hundreds of images certainly create an intense sense of the music's milieu. --Andrew Bartlett [via]