Christmas Books: MUSIC - All Kinds of Blue

Article excerpt

So far, the new millennium has thrown up some good music titles, notably on the popular side where the currency is usually much debased. Indeed, 2001 presented jazz fans with an embarras de richesses. Their patient wait for the long-promised TV series finally rewarded, true aficionados will want the videos, not to mention the CDs and the book: Jazz: a history of America's music (Pimlico, pounds 30) by Geoffrey C Ward and Ken Burns. Much more than a tie-in, Jazz is a volume that can stand on its own 500 pages, lavish with photos: a great book to dip into or - if you've time - to read straight through. The interview with Wynton Marsalis alone is worth the cover prize: "The real power and innovation of jazz is that a group of people can come together and create art - improvised art - and can negotiate their agendas with each other. And that negotiation is the art."

Alyn Shipton's A New History of Jazz (Continuum, pounds 29.95) is another volume deserving of superlatives which, unlike Burns and Ward, looks beyond America, to Europe and even to Russia, India and Latin America, and beyond jazz itself to its interface with folk music, theatre and the concert hall. This unusually wide-ranging study, at almost 1,000 pages, is not for the fainthearted.

No less substantial, physically or intellectually, is Collected Works: a journal of jazz 1954-2000 by critic Whitney Balliett (Granta, pounds 20), whom Philip Larkin, no mean jazz critic himself, thought "a master of language". From a report on the first Newport Jazz Festival to a meditation on the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, this is "a cumulative and indirect history" of jazz which far outshines Such Sweet Thunder, a collection of essays, concert notes and obits, some previously unpublished, by the late Benny Green (Simon & Schuster, pounds 25). Where Balliett's erudition is worn lightly, Green - in print as on radio - can be an irritating know- all. Perhaps that's part of the attraction.

Like Green, Bill Wyman grew up far from the Mississippi, which links the great centres of jazz and its near-relative, the blues. The Stone's Blues Odyssey: a journey to music's heart and soul (Dorling Kindersley, pounds 19.99) offers little of novelty, but it's a handsome volume, and Wyman's devotion to the music rings out clearly.

It also links the blues with rock'n'roll, reminding us just how squarely Bob Dylan fits in the tradition he reveres. His 60th birthday was marked by two excellent new studies. Down the Highway by Howard Sounes (Doubleday, pounds 17.99) is that rare thing - a serious biography that does not seek to dig dirt but offers a balanced account of Dylan's life and career without getting mired in the sort of train-spotters' arcana that passes for "Dylan scholarship". In Positively Fourth Street: the lives and times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina (Bloomsbury, pounds 17.99), historian David Hajdu chronicles the complex personal and professional relationships, jealousies and rivalries of four gifted but difficult individuals who were a sort of 1960s musical equivalent of the Bloomsbury Group. …