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But Beautiful - A Book about Jazz by Geoff Dyer

But Beautiful is both ingenious and a brilliantly written book. Dyer sets the stage for each musician, we can decipher each note played by Theolonious Monk, Lester Young, Bud Powell, Art pepper, Ben Webster, Chef baker and Charles Mingus. We visualized the crowded nightclubs; we hear the tingling of glasses and the chatter of the patrons. The men who made jazz are at their starting point, ready to take center stage.

As the sun peers over the horizon, the author takes you on the road with Duke Ellington and Harry Carney where they count time in miles and not hours. They are in route to their next gig.

On each trip Duke is forming a new song in his head, as he turns the radio to bits of music from the past and modern era. The Duke has composed some of his greatest original scores scrawled on anything that comes to hand: envelopes, cereal packets, postcards, etc.

Throughout the book Dyer presents the musicians not as they appear to anyone but as they appear to him, drawing on the way he hears their music.

Dyer reconstructs scenes from the embattled lives of some of the greats:

Lester Young: whose sound was soft and lazy but there was always and edge in it somewhere. Sounding like he was always about to cut loose, knowing he never would.

Thelonious Monk: you had to see Monk to hear his music properly. The most important instrument in the group whatever the format was his body. He didn"t play the piano really. His body was his instrument.

Bud Powell: he stood up, pushing back the stool with his leg, his shadow rearing up above him, devastation scarring his face, pouring sweat, pulling a white handkerchief out of his pocket, rubbing it over his face like a child over a blackboard hoping to wipe himself out.

Charles Mingus: at the White House, an all star concert, an official recognition of the great contribution jazz made to American culture, everybody was there. Mingus was in a wheel chair, unable to move his arms or legs, trapped inside himself. When they called for a round of applause for the greatest living composer in jazz and everyone rose at once and gave him a standing ovation he broke down.

Chet Baker: only the talent-less waste their talent-but there is also a special talent more than it can ever fulfill; those are the terms it comes with Chet. You can hear it in his playing; thats what gives it quiet suspense.

Art Pepper: the horn is cradled in his arms he lifts it to a vertical position feeling the keys rattle against the buttons of his prison tunic. The shadow has crawled to within a couple feet of him and he steps out of the glare into the cool. After blowing a few scales he starts to play a simple melody something he knows well something he can feel his way by get used to the mouth piece the fingering.

Ben Webster: increasingly he likes to play close to the water. In Copenhagen after the clubs had shut down he would walk down to the port and play there as the pale sun broke over the gray sea. The sea was the perfect audience making every note a little deeper holding it a little longer.

Dyer skillfully evokes the music and the men who shaped modern jazz and the brilliance of each musician's style. But Beautiful is one of the best books I"ve read. Not surprisingly it's highly recommended to jazz buffs and those who will soon be one.'But Beautiful is both ingenious and a brilliantly written book. Dyer sets the stage for each musician, we can decipher each note played by Theolonious Monk, Lester Young, Bud Powell, Art pepper, Ben Webster, Chef baker and Charles Mingus. We visualized the crowded nightclubs; we hear the tingling of glasses and the chatter of the patrons. The men who made jazz are at their starting point, ready to take center stage.

Additional Info

  • Book Title: But Beautiful - A Book about Jazz
  • Author: Geoff Dyer
  • Publisher: North Point Press
  • Year Published: 1997
  • Book Type:: Non-Fiction
  • ISBN: 865475083
  • Rating: Five Stars
  • Number of Pages: 240
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