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Jazz In The Bittersweet Blues Of Life by Wynton Marsalis and Carl Vigeland

From DeCapo Press, the recently published JAZZ IN THE BITTERSWEET BLUES OF LIFE by musician, Wynton Marsalis, and music writer, Carl Vigeland, intends to be a description of the continuous intensity of the life of Marsalis Septet from 1989 until 1994 the tale starting and stopping in Northampton Massachusetts where Vigeland first met Marsalis. What this book becomes however is a disjointed non-sequiturial set of pastiches destroying the nature of story-telling and referring mostly to a patently masculine view of making music the name of which is for the sake of this book is called jazz (i.e. the masculine view is typified by frequent sexual innuendos and allusion to the group's participation in basketball games).

It is a discouraging venture to desire coherence within the context of the book. The guts that lie in performance and touring and recording are simply lost. Surely Vigeland is a far better raconteur than this book gives him the chance to practice. If the reader follows the ebb and flow of the typeface changes maybe the reader can determine some consistency in what is going on. The question is who wrote what? The italics seem to be the insertion of Marsalis' writing. The italics (here they come again) are interruptions. Is this book just a long theme improvised upon by Marsalis? I wonder. Marsalis makes some sensitive observations about "jazz" and music in general. But Marsalis' contributions evoke so much the idea of a philosophically-oriented self-aggrandizement that Vigeland as co-author completely disappears as does the fact that this book is also about the entire Marsalis Septet and the people who help it to work. The repetitious italic inserts of one-liners read as Marsalis' poeticizing of the prose become annoying. Marsalis' prose in itself tries to be poetic and overly so. The book becomes about Wynton Marsalis not music.

I personally believe that Marsalis' Septet produced the best music of Marsalis' career. Vigeland obviously is very taken with the group the life on the road the bringing of the music to the people...Marsalis. That is fine. He should have been the sole author. His exuberance would have been far more easily understood the characterization of the members of the group more clearly defined and the power of the music more succinctly & beautifully translated to words. The flyleaf quotes I do not know whom but refers to " ...the mysterious healing binding force and beneficence of music..." as life itself. This powerful idea just evaporates .

I would have appreciated a tour biography of a less high profile group because it would have been more interesting. Others groups and musicians exist in the "jazz" improvisation world who live the music more so that Marsalis does. Their lives are far more colorful in the mundane basic grit of the living.

We sincerely do not need any more of Marsalis. He can be as evanescent in his presence as in his absence as is told by the final line of the book which documents to my mind Marsalis' turn of a cold shoulder to a "friend" Vigeland.

"The melody is not the song"...Indeed.'If you enjoy swing music, then this is certainly a winner of a book to have in your home library for reference. You will find Artie Shaw, Anita O"Day, Benny Goodman, and a host of characters that made swing really swing! This is 209 pages of information that is must reading about the era of swing music and its contributions. America invented swing.

Additional Info

  • Book Title: Jazz In The Bittersweet Blues Of Life
  • Author: Wynton Marsalis and Carl Vigeland
  • Publisher: DeCapo Press
  • Year Published: 2001
  • Book Type:: Non-Fiction
  • Rating: Five Stars
  • Number of Pages: 249
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