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The Music Column

All That Jazz

Extraordinary writing about music doesn’t come along very often, as I have been forced to notice by my own experience—as have my own put-upon readers!  But in the realm of classical music, I would suggest that Donald F. Tovey’s Essays in Musical Analysis is an imposing composition, a stunt of writing—the freight of its assertions being something else again.  Since Sir Donald died in 1940, I must admit that I was a bit late to the feast, but at least I got there.  Another feast I was late to is also a demonstration of powerful writing, but it is a long way from being by one author.

Reading Jazz: A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage, and Criticism From 1919 to Now, edited by Robert Gottlieb (1996), is 20 years old, but is as indispensable as it ever was in those years.  It is without doubt the best thing of its kind, so good as reading that a commitment to the subject isn’t really required.  But perhaps a commitment to over a thousand pages is required, though it does break down into many quite reasonable parts.

For some perspective, we would have to note that the editor has been editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster, Alfred A. Knopf, and The New Yorker.  His extended research and assembly suggests that various fugitive pieces gain in authority and power of suggestion by being aggregated as an imposing...

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