Washington University assistant professor of music Ingrid Monson has published a fascinating book on the interplay between the core of the jazz group: drums, bass and piano. "Saying Something: Jazz Improv isation and Interaction" (University of Chicago Press, $14.95) weaves musician interviews, musical examples and her background as a trumpeter and ethnomusicologist into a smart analysis of just what all the jazz is about.
"Saying Something" isn't a music theory book, nor is it casual reading. Monson says in her introduction that "Music theory...has had trouble relating structural description to aesthetics, meaning, and history." Her intent is to build a "more cultural music theory and a more musical cultural theory...." During a recent interview, Monson said "It's time to put what musicians do into the larger framework of culture." As an academic discipline, the role of ethnomusicology involves documenting the music from insider points of view, according to Monson, and thus draws upon the fields of sociology and anthropology. It's that approach--looking at music as a cultural process-that, Monson says, is the distinguishing perspective from other forms of music studies. For general readers, some sections may be excessive and academic, such as the musical analysis portions. For those interested in jazz and its history, Monson clearly has something to say. "I was a musician and was sort of dissatisfied with many of the things I read in the jazz literature. Academics and writers don't have a very good reputation with jazz musicians...they don't know enough about the music and they tend to discount what musicians have had to say about the music." After working in the early 1980s as a jazz trumpeter in Boston, Monson got fed up with the business. "I thought I would have something to contribute to as a scholar, so I went back to school in ethnomusicology." In 1991, she received her Ph.D. from New York University. As a trumpeter, Monson learned that when improvising, the rhythm sectio n makes a big difference in how one plays. "When I started to gear into what the drums, bass and piano were doing, that's when I started to really get better or reach new levels as a soloist. …