What to Listen For in Jazz


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Barry Kernfeld

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Exhilarating and exciting, subtle and profound—jazz requires knowledge and understanding to be truly appreciated. Barry Kernfeld here provides a thorough, learned, and accessible introduction to jazz, discussing its musical concepts, procedures, and styles and providing the background necessary to fully enjoy this musical art. The book is organized around twenty-one historical jazz recordings—from the New Orleans Rhythm Kings' Tin Roof Blues (1923) to Ornette Coleman's Honeymooners (1987)—that are analyzed in the text and included in a compact disc that accompanies the book.

Barry Kernfeld draws from these musical works to illustrate jazz rhythm, forms, arrangement, composition, improvisation, style, and sound (recording fidelity, tuning systems, instrumentation, and timbre). Included in the book are eighty-five notated music examples keyed to the compact disc and a biographical dictionary of musicians who figure prominently on the disc. 

By laying out musical ideas that unify the genre, rather than by splintering it along stylistic lines, this authoritative book offers a new method for enhancing enjoyment and understanding of jazz. It will be a valued resource for students and general listeners who wish to know more about this unique musical form.

Barry Kernfeld is editor of The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz and The Blackwell Guide to Recorded Jazz

"In what must be one of the most useful descriptive studies of jazz, Kernfeld focuses on analyzing the music's basic elements and showing how the music's foundations have been shaped and changed during each stage of its evolution. . . . Students and fans alike have much to gain from thoroughly reading this incisive guide; indeed, so do professional critics humble enough to admit that they probably don't know all this stuff already."—Aaron Cohen, Booklist

"The fidelity of the recordings is quite wonderful, a superb job of audio-laundering having brought this about—brilliant, rich sound quality indeed. . . . A most inspired and inspiring selection."—Ken Rattenbury, Crescendo & Jazz Music

"[A] work that is not only long overdue but eminently readable as well."—Jack Sohmer, Jazz Times

"Barry Kernfeld's survey of the music provides insight into its composition and performance, and an accompanying compact disc illustrates each point."—Calvin Wilson, Kansas City Star

"[A] work of exceptional scholarship. . . . For those who have a real love and curiosity for the music and some skill, reading this book will be one of the most rewarding experiences they could have. All students of the music, exponents and musicologists, should read it. It's an exceptionally good buy for the price of two CDs.—Eddie Harvey, The Musician

"Kernfeld's writing is clear, informed by a lifetime's listening to jazz, and full of good sense. . . . Anyone who wants to understand jazz will need to get hold of this groundbreaking study. It's an essential work."—Andy Hamilton, Jazz on CD

"Barry Kernfeld here enters the field of practical musicology with a work that is not only long overdue but eminently readable as well."—Jack Sohmer, Jazz Times

"All in all, this is one very exciting book and I strongly encourage you to investigate it at your earliest opportunity. My guess is, it's likely to end up on your bookshelf just like mine: in a place of prominence!"—Dr. Lee Bash, Jazz Educators Journal

"A lucid and contagiously enthusiastic intro to jazz. Having trouble identifying the difference between two-beat & backbeat? between stop-time & swing rhythm? This book clears up the mysteries and gives even the tone deaf a sense of rhythm."—The Front Table

"Kernfeld writes so well, sometimes amusingly, sometimes with passion, about so many interesting things, managing to convey a great deal of incidental information in the process, that a reader at any level of sophistication should find much that is worthwhile herein; accordingly, it is recommended for purchase by any library."—Lawrence Gushee, Notes

"This book will appeal most strongly to students and teachers of jazz, because it offers musical analysis with enough of an enthusiast's edge to give a balance to what would otherwise be a purely scholarly discussion. . . . Deserves to find a home in academic halls."—Kirkus Reviews

"Kernfeld gives a wonderful description of jazz, its history and traditions. The exploration is non-technical and the text is conversational, It's a great book for neophytes and enthusiasts alike."—Ken Moore, Naples Daily News

"Barry Kernfeld's survey seems aimed at the musically literate who don't know much about jazz specifically, and I believe there's much of interest in his lucid prose for the dyed-in-the-wool jazzist or even the musically indifferent."—H. J. Kirchhoff, Toronto, Ontario Globe and Mail

"Kernfeld’s book is so intelligently written that it should be given out as gifts to every potential jazz fan."—Jazz Educators Journal

ISBN: 9780300072594
Publication Date: October 20, 1997
294 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4