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The Jazz Ear

Jazz is conducted almost wordlessly: John Coltrane rarely told his quartet what to do, and Miles Davis famously gave his group only the barest instructions before recording his masterpiece "Kind of Blue". Musicians are often loath to discuss their craft for fear of destroying its improvisational essence, rendering jazz among the most ephemeral and least transparent of the performing arts. In "The Jazz Ear", the acclaimed music critic Ben Ratliff sits down with jazz greats to discuss recordings by the musicians who most influenced them. In the process, he skillfully coaxes out a profound understanding of the men and women themselves, the context of their work, and how jazz from horn blare to drum riffs created conceptually. Expanding on his popular interviews for "The New York Times", Ratliff speaks with Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Branford Marsalis, Dianne Reeves, Wayne Shorter, Joshua Redman, and others about the subtle variations in generation, training, and attitude that define their music. Playful and keenly insightful, "The Jazz Ear" is a revelatory exploration of a unique way of making and hearing music.
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About the Author

Ben Ratliff has been a jazz critic at The New York Times since 1996. The author of Coltrane: The Story of a Sound and The New York Times Essential Library: Jazz (ISBN: 978-0-8050-7068-2), he lives in Manhattan with his wife and two sons.


Ratliff, the jazz critic for the New York Times, spent just over two years interviewing jazz greats for a recurring feature at the paper: rather than ask musicians like Pat Metheny or Dianne Reeves to name their favorite records, Ratliff sat with them as they listened to songs and picked out the qualities they found most artistically compelling. The approach brings some surprises, as his subjects pick everything from Ukrainian cantorial music to Ralph Vaughan Williams to the Fifth Dimension, but each chapter brings provocative insights and will have readers scurrying to track down various records. (Ratliff also provides a listening guide for each of his interviewees.) Though each chapter stands alone, connections are made from one interview to the next; Metheny and Joshua Redman, for example, both select songs from Sonny Rollins. The interview with Redman also hints at Ratliff's argument in his 2007 Coltrane: The Story of a Sound about jazz as a collaborative medium, while Branford Marsalis speaks candidly about young musicians' failure to understand the melodic legacy they've inherited, then plays a jazz-influenced piece by Stravinsky to make his point. Whether you're a seasoned listener or just discovering the form, Ratliff is a wonderful guide. (Nov. 11) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

"THE JAZZ EAR will be a permanent part of learning how to listen inside the musicians playing." - Nat Hentoff, Jazz Times. "A small treasure. Ratcliff takes his curious, catholic ear to 15 artists and tangos with them on their own physical and psychic turf." - Time Out New York"

Admirers of jazz should be deeply thankful for Ratliff, New York Times jazz critic and author of Coltrane: The Story of a Sound. Jazz is perhaps the most elusive art form to discuss and critique, and Ratliff's latest book fills a vacuum in the realm of understanding jazz. Originally published as a series in the New York Times, the 15 conversations presented here consist of Ratliff sitting down with such diverse and talented luminaries as Sonny Rollins, Pat Metheny, Paul Motian, and Dianne Reeves. The treasure of these conversations is not just their fluid and intimate manner but their focus on the recordings that had the greatest influence on the artists and their musical paths. Ratliff's insight that one may understand musicians more by discussing the music that moves them rather than the music they have created results in a unique rendering of some of the major jazz artists of our time. An added bonus is the recommended-listening section, in which Ratliff shares his list of his subjects' seminal recordings. Highly recommended for all libraries.--Peter Thornell, Hingham P.L., MA Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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