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Book Review: Why Jazz Happened, by Marc Myers

Why Jazz HappenedThis book by historian/journalist Marc Myers gives a unique view of factors which influenced the development of jazz.  The initial chapter covers  the development of jazz from its beginnings in early 1900s, the first jazz recording by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917 and the influence of radio as it came into broad use in the 1920s.

The real focus of the book is devoted to the period from 1942 to 1972 which, according to Myers, was the period of most profound change in development of jazz music.   The book carries the reader through the two episodes of the recording ban by American Federation of Musicians, the origin  of BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) and development of the33 1/3  rpm long playing ( LP) and  45 rpm records. Lifestyles made a difference, too.  Myers describes the post WWII  rise of West Coast  cool jazz as resulting in part from the fact that musicians were busy with recording dates, active gigs and employment in the movie industry.   Also, the climate was favorable for year-round activity for golf or tennis.  He contends that these produced contentment in the players as well as the music.

Other changes in our society, political and technological, also influenced the music.  The author details the Civil Rights struggle and the rise in prominence of electronic instruments as well as development of more powerful sound equipment as influencing the way music was produced and consumed by the listeners.

Myers interviewed scores of influential musicians especially during 2010.  In communication with him, he indicated what a joy it was to speak with these musicians, many of whom are no longer with us. Throughout the work, there are many anecdotes and quotations from musicians commenting on the personal influences and events which directed their career course and choices.
The book represents scholarly work and integrates sociological and technological factors influencing the music in a way different from the usual writing about the music and jazz musicians.  Highly recommended
University of California Press  © 2013, pp. 267

Review by F. Norman Vickers

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