Why Jazz?

Kevin Whitehead’s primer covers lots of ground without being preachy

Why Jazz? A Concise Guide, by Kevin Whitehead, OUP, RRP£11.99, 172 pages

Jazz can be seductive, but too often even those drawn to it get tangled in a thicket of dates, technical terms and rivalries. Kevin Whitehead, jazz critic on National Public Radio in the US, has written an admirably concise primer in Q&A format that covers lots of ground without being preachy.

The opener, “Why listen to Jazz?”, sets out the point to which he intends to take his readers – that jazz is “fun to listen to”. Along the way plenty of factors crowd in; African-American roots and world significance for starters. Whitehead swiftly moves on – this is a quick read – to big-issue basics, such as the importance of improvisation, before delivering a closely narrated and well-chosen chronology.

Newcomers to jazz are taken from its origins to the importance of Thelonius Monk through to Miles Davis’s contribution to electric jazz and how jazz responds to pop. Answers are unpartisan and full without getting bogged down in details.

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