August 11, 2012


Review: A fascinating education in 'The Jazz Standards' : Ted Gioia's monumental guide is an extended improv on the genre, looking not so much at the musicians as at the songs --252 classic pieces. (David L. Ulin, 7/22/12, Los Angeles Times)

"I recall the lament of a friend," Gioia writes, "who was enlisted to back up a poll-winning horn player at a jazz festival -- only to discover that he wouldn't be told what songs would be played until the musicians were already on stage in front of 6,000 people. Such instances are not unusual in the jazz world, a quirk of a subculture that prizes both spontaneity and macho bravado. Another buddy, a quite talented pianist, encountered an even more uncooperative bandleader -- a famous saxophonist who wouldn't identify the names of the songs even after the musicians were on the bandstand. The leader would simply play a short introduction on the tenor, then stamp off the beat with his foot ... and my friend was expected to figure out the song and key from those meager clues."

What makes "The Jazz Standards" so engaging is just this sort of anecdotal texture, Gioia's ability to write as an inhabitant of both the tradition and the songs. He takes us through music that's well known ("Beale Street Blues," "My Funny Valentine," "Mood Indigo," "Embraceable You") and not so well known ("Nardis," "Billie's Bounce," "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)"), but either way, his connection is a starting point.

"When I was a very young child," he recalls, discussing the song "I'll Remember April," "I saw the Abbott and Costello movie 'Ride 'Em Cowboy' on several occasions on television, but I have no recollection of 'I'll Remember April,' which was introduced in this unlikely film by Dick Foran. But a decade later, I encountered 'I'll Remember April' again -- this time in a version by pianist Erroll Garner from his landmark album 'Concert by the Sea.'" From there, he riffs briefly about Garner ("I am convinced that a young musician could build a killing style using his tricks and techniques as a foundation") before highlighting a dozen or so covers by artists including Getz, Keith Jarrett and Frank Sinatra, who recorded it in 1961.

Here we see Gioia's method in microcosm: to move from the general to the specific, and in so doing, to trace the saga of the song. 

Posted by at August 11, 2012 8:24 AM

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