With a prose as rhythmic as its subject, the essay that fills a third of this volume examines the music that germinated with New Orleans jazz bands and singers like Bessie Smith and reached fruition through such artists as Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker. The remainder of the beautifully designed book consists of superbly reproduced photos of the musicians, their records, and their joyous fans.
Though author Albert Murray’s dismissal of soul and folk-blues and exclusion of other sub-genres is unfortunate, his text rates with the best music writing I’ve read in years. He argues convincingly that blues results primarily not from anguish and suffering but from musical tradition; it is not an expression of bad times but a finger-snapping, foot-tapping way of exorcising them. If Murray can’t convince you of this (which I doubt), just check the photos, each of which is worth a whole lot more than the proverbial thousand words.