There’s an English saying that goes like “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.  This book by a music professor is more than just a beginner’s guide.  There’s quite a lot to learn from it. His previous books include Jazz and Culture in a Global Age, Is Jazz Dead (Or Has It Moved to a New Address), Reminiscing in Tempo: A Portrait of Duke Ellington, Jazz – Rock: A History, biographies of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

This 2017 release by the 69-year-old Stuart Nicholson who received a jazz journalist of the year award in 2007 talks about all the big names in the jazz industry.  He questions whether it is accurate to credit the Americans as the founders of what it known as jazz today when other countries in Europe have their own artists who are very successful in the music genre.

Students studying music and teachers, lecturers and tutors have a lot to learn to learn from this book as Nicholson writes about different bars that musicians perform when recording jazz tunes. On defining the meaning of jazz, he states that, “Jazz is a product of a restless age; an age in which the fever of war is only now beginning to abate its fury; when men and women, after their efforts in the great, are still too much disturbed to be content with a tranquil existence”.  This was the definition after the end of the First World War in 1917.

Nicholson goes on to state the blues playlist of all time which includes Elmore James, Sidney Bechet, Sammy Price, Count Basie, Donald Byrd, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Gil Evans, Monty Alexander, Dave Brubeck and many others.  He goes on to state his all favourite standard playlist made up of artists such as John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Betty Carter.

According to Nicholson, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis is a must have for any jazz collector.  He believes this one of the best studio recording by Davis.  However, he says that that attention Columbia gave to the 20-year-old Wynton Marsalis in 1981 led to Davis quitting the label to record with Warner Brothers. A lot has been written about the rivalry between the two trumpeters.  The long list of artists that worked with Davis include Keith Jarret, Jack DeJohnette, Marcus Miller, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley to mention but a few.

When there were concerns that rock ‘n roll was making jazz look redundant, Miles Davis recorded an album entitled Bitches Brew which was classified as a jazz rock album.  Through this album, Davis showed how relevant jazz still was and that the fusion of the two genres was possible.

Record companies have also played an important role in the chapter of jazz.  Editions of Contemporary Music popularly known as ECM was founder by Manfred Eicher based in Munich, Germany.  Some of the biggest names that have recorded with ECM include Keith Jarrett, Paul Bley, Jan Garberck Chick Corea and Gary Burton.  This record label has encouraged collaborations between American and European artists. Pat Metheny is one of the artists that has had an illustrious career at ECM.

Jazz involves a lot if improvisation and artists can make such improvisations come out clear in recordings. This tells brief yet important stores of artists like Ferdinand Joseph ‘Jerry Roll’ Morton, Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong, Paul Whitemen, Leon Bismark ‘Bix’ Beiderbecke, Edward Kennedy ‘Duke’ Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Goodman, William ‘Count’ Basie, John Birks ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Diango Reinhardt.

This book would not have been complete without the mention of the Blue Note record label which was formed by Francis Wolff and Alfred Lion who fled from Germany to settle in the US IN 1939.  Some of the artists that made hits with the label include John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Kenny Burrell, Art Blakey, Tina Brooks, Donald Bird, Herbie Hancock, Horace Silver, Jack McLean and Andrew Hill.

Closer to home, Nicholson states that township jazz as an enduring and recognisable local variant of big band jazz combining marabi, which is the oral tradition of African songs adapted by South African jazz instrumentalists with the sound of the American big bands. African Jazz Pioneers made this style of music very popular.