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The Reluctant Art: Five Studies in the…
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The Reluctant Art: Five Studies in the Growth of Jazz

by Benny Green

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1211,176,135 (3.83)5
The Reluctant Art, first published in 1962 and long out-of-print, stands as one of the most important books on the art of jazz. Comprising five studies-of Bix Beiderbecke, Benny Goodman, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, and Charlie Parker (with the addition of an essay of Art Tatum for this new edition)-Benny Green's humorous, eloquent, and often angry book attempts to point out the gulf between the reality of the jazz musician and his music, on the one hand, and the romantic conceits of early jazz writing and fandom, on the other. Green, himself an excellent early jazz musician, was one of the first jazz writers to bring to the task firsthand knowledge of the music, and this illuminates his understanding of the factors involved in jazz innovation. He discusses jazz in terms of musical and social history, retelling the over-mythologized stories of these great artists with a unique combination of joyous irreverence and acute critical insight, of inspired metaphors and masterly knowledge. Benny Green's classic book swings with the same energy and passion as the timeless music it discusses.… (more)

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Benny Green was an English jazz musician of some prominence who, beginning with this book, originally published in 1962, began a transition from musician to full-time author of books both fiction and non-fiction. At any rate, the "studies" here provide great informatin about Bix Beiderbecke, Benny Goodman, Lester Young, Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker. When the book was republished in 1991, Green added in an essay on Art Tatum that he'd written in in 1976.

Green was (he passed away in 1998) a good writer, with a sometimes acerbic wit and plenty of scorn for those not as enlightened as he was. These essays are very informative, but probably best for folks who already possess a rudimentary (at least) knowledge of the subject matter, as Green supplies only the biographical material needed to inform his theories. There's lots of great information here for jazz fans. I learned a lot, for example, about what it was about Charlie Parker's music that made him such an innovator, and also much about what made both Lester Young and Billie Holiday so great. Part of what makes the essays interesting is that Green clearly considered himself a bit of a myth buster.

Green was not shy about broadcasting his peeves and aversions, however. He particularly had it in for a) Benny Goodman and b) non-musicians with the effrontery to write about jazz. (That was me for quite a few years in the 2000's. Yikes!) As to Goodman, Green seems to relish relating the famed clarinetist's shortcomings more than his considerable achievements in the essay dedicated to him, and never misses a chance to take a swipe at Goodman in other chapters. In fact, in the Preface to the new edition, Green relates an anecdote about Goodman declining to be interviewed by Green on British television, stating, "Mr. Green does not understand the predicament of the American musician." Green's comment was, "I agreed to tear up my contract, more than consoled for the loss by the knowledge that Goodman had inadvertently endorsed by bona fides, for there is no finer testimony to a man's character than that Goodman should have disapproved of it." Whoa!

Regarding Pet Peeve B, Green couches many of his explanations in technical musical language regarding chord structure and the like that seems designed as much to leave his non-musician readers behind as to bolster his points. No doubt, the technical points are accurate and helpful to those who can understand them, and there was a fun rhythm about them that made the language enjoyable, for all their opaqueness to me.

At any rate, I am emphasizing too much these points about Green's attitudes. All in all, the book is well written, informative and fun. ( )
  rocketjk | Jun 2, 2017 |
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