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The Jazz Masters: Setting the Record Straight (UP of Mississippi, 2021) is a celebration of jazz and the men and women who created and transformed it. In the twenty-one conversations contained in this engaging and highly accessible book, we hear from the musicians themselves, in their own words, direct and unfiltered. Peter Zimmerman’s interviewing technique is straightforward. He turns on a recording device, poses questions, and allows his subjects to improvise, similar to the way the musicians do at concerts and in recording sessions. Topics range from their early days, their struggles and victories, to the impact the music has had on their own lives. The interviews have been carefully edited for sense and clarity, without changing any of the musicians’ actual words.
Peter Zimmerman tirelessly sought virtuosi whose lives span the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The reader is rewarded with an intimate look into the past century’s extraordinary period of creative productivity. The oldest two interview subjects were born in 1920 and all are professional musicians who worked in jazz for at least five decades, with a few enjoying careers as long as seventy-five years. These voices reflect some seventeen hundred years of accumulated experience yielding a chronicle of incredible depth and scope.
The focus on musicians who are now emeritus figures is deliberate. Some of them are now in their nineties; six have passed since 2012, when Zimmerman began researching The Jazz Masters. Five of them have already received the NEA’s prestigious Jazz Masters award: Sonny Rollins, Clark Terry, Yusef Lateef, Jimmy Owens, and most recently, Dick Hyman. More undoubtedly will one day, and the balance are likewise of compelling interest. Artists such as David Amram, Charles Davis, Clifford Jordan, Valery Ponomarev, and Sandy Stewart, to name a few, open their hearts and memories and reveal who they are as people.
This book is a labor of love celebrating the vibrant style of music that Dizzy Gillespie once described as “our native art form.” Zimmerman’s deeply knowledgeable, unabashed passion for jazz brings out the best in the musicians. Filled with personal recollections and detailed accounts of their careers and everyday lives, this highly readable, lively work succeeds in capturing their stories for present and future generations. An important addition to the literature of music, The Jazz Masters goes a long way toward “setting the record straight.”
Adam Bobeck is a PhD candidate in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Leipzig. His PhD is entitled “Object-Oriented Azadari: Shi’i Muslim Rituals and Ontology”. For more about his work, see www.adambobeck.com.
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