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Review: Thinking in Jazz by Paul F. Berliner

The Infinite Art of Improvisation (Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology Series)
Thinking in Jazz by Paul F. Berliner - review and discussion

Author: Paul F. Berliner
904 pages
Published by University of Chicago Press

Summary:

This is a unique book that gives a wide variety of perspectives on jazz and improvisation with interviews, musical examples, and more. If you were able to sit down with the jazz greats throughout history and pick their brains about how they approached music, you'd get something like this. A coffee table book full of inspiration and insight.

Description (book jacket or other publisher notes):

A landmark in jazz studies, Thinking in Jazz reveals as never before how musicians, both individually and collectively, learn to improvise. Chronicling leading musicians from their first encounters with jazz to the development of a unique improvisatory voice, Paul Berliner documents the lifetime of preparation that lies behind the skilled improviser's every idea.

The product of more than fifteen years of immersion in the jazz world, Thinking in Jazz combines participant observation with detailed musicological analysis, the author's experience as a jazz trumpeter, interpretations of published material by scholars and performers, and, above all, original data from interviews with more than fifty professional musicians: bassists George Duvivier and Rufus Reid; drummers Max Roach, Ronald Shannon Jackson, and Akira Tana; guitarist Emily Remler; pianists Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris; saxophonists Lou Donaldson, Lee Konitz, and James Moody; trombonist Curtis Fuller; trumpeters Doc Cheatham, Art Farmer, Wynton Marsalis, and Red Rodney; vocalists Carmen Lundy and Vea Williams; and others. Together, the interviews provide insight into the production of jazz by great artists like Betty Carter, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, and Charlie Parker.

Thinking in Jazz overflows with musical examples from the 1920s to the present, including original transcriptions (keyed to commercial recordings) of collective improvisations by Miles Davis's and John Coltrane's groups. These transcriptions provide additional insight into the structure and creativity of jazz improvisation and represent a remarkable resource for jazz musicians as well as students and educators.

Berliner explores the alternative ways—aural, visual, kinetic, verbal, emotional, theoretical, associative—in which these performers conceptualize their music and describes the delicate interplay of soloist and ensemble in collective improvisation. Berliner's skillful integration of data concerning musical development, the rigorous practice and thought artists devote to jazz outside of performance, and the complexities of composing in the moment leads to a new understanding of jazz improvisation as a language, an aesthetic, and a tradition. This unprecedented journey to the heart of the jazz tradition will fascinate and enlighten musicians, musicologists, and jazz fans alike.

Full Book Review and Other Notes:

Paul Berliner's Thinking in Jazz is a unique book. After years of research and interviews, Paul put together a window into the minds of a host of great jazz musicians. How they got started, where their minds are at, how they think about their music, that sort of thing.

When I first started reading it, some of the things the masters were saying in the book really made me sit back and think about my own playing, why I was doing it, and the kinds of changes I could make to get on the path of greatness. I'm not there yet, but I know I'm doing the right things to get there.

This book is a great resource for beginners and experts alike. Over 900 pages of interviews and music analysis. You see, not only does the book cover ways the masters think about jazz, around 1/3 of the book is devoted to analyzing their music, their musical tendencies, the things that gave them their sound.

One of the things I really enjoyed in the book is reading about the kinds of things the greatest players did when they were first getting started. The paths they took to becomming great players were all very different. I liked that because it showed that it doesn't matter where you're coming from, what matters is where you're going.

This is a great book and one that you won't be sorry to invest in.


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