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Geoff Dyer is the author of Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence, and Ways of Telling, a critical study of John Berger; The Missing of the Somme, about World War I; and the novels Paris Trance, The Color of Memory, and The Search.
I was uneasy as I read in Dyer's preface that he invented dialog and action to produce a type of "imaginative criticism." But I soon found myself immersed in a series of atmospheric vignettes populated by several troubled geniuses of the bebop era. The fictive device allows us to experience the pain and loneliness that led many of these artists to drink, drugs, and madness. Whether we are witnessing Lester Young's humiliation by a sadistic agent, seeing Thelonious Monk lose his cabaret card in a bad bust, or watching Chet Baker getting his teeth bashed in by an unpaid drug dealer, we move through each scene in a type of bleary-eyed disorientation that might follow a late night of jazz, booze, and despair. Dyer evokes the rhythm and feeling of the music as his words echo the forlorn, aching sound of a midnight solo. An essential purchase for all jazz collections.‘Dan Bogey, Clearfield Cty. P.L. Federation, Curwensville, Pa.
Dyer (Ways of Telling) here weaves impressionistic fantasies around the lives of eight jazz legends. Though he calls this ``imaginative criticism,'' the vignettes, inspired by photos and writings about the artists, have little to do with music. Rather, he muses about the musicians' personalities and certain episodes in their lives‘Lester Young's disastrous stint in the army, Thelonious Monk's inability to communicate with anyone but his wife, Bud Powell's mental breakdown, Chet Baker's drug-induced deterioration, Duke Ellington's endless travels. The colorful essays are sometimes excessively fanciful, and they capture the atmosphere of alienation that surrounded these men who, often wasted by drug and alcohol abuse and worn out from days and nights on the road, seemed to function only when making music. The pretentious ``afterword'' is irrelevant. Photos not seen by PW. (Jan.)
"Achingly gorgeous...evokes the lives of working musicians so that you taste the whiskey, smell the stubbed cigarettes, hear the gentle clicking of the valves, the coughs, and shuffling feet between studio takes." --Jonathan Lethem, Entertainment Weekly "The only book about jazz that I have recommended to my friends. It is a little gem." --Keith Jarrett "A masterful effort, which comes as close to the music's essence as prose can go." --Ted Gioia, San Francisco Chronicle "Dyer turns jazz into poetry and his subjects into a beautiful sad music....Few will be unmoved by his passion and eloquence and the harrowing portraits of jazz's haunted geniuses." --Tom Graves, The Washington Post Book World "A gorgeous and lyrical collection of nocturnal jazz reveries." --The New Yorker "But Beautiful is just that, a moving and highly original tribute to Black American music." --Bryan Ferry "An ingenious and brilliantly written book." --Richard Bernstein, The New York Times "Startlingly vivid...a brilliant work...the written equivalent of a jazz performance...[Dyer] has created an unforgettable melody of his own." --Matt Schudel, The Atlanta Journal Constitution