cover image Weather Bird: Jazz at the Dawn of Its Second Century

Weather Bird: Jazz at the Dawn of Its Second Century

Gary Giddins. Oxford University Press, $35 (632pp) ISBN 978-0-19-515607-2

In 146 lively essays, articles and reviews, most of them written for his Weather Bird column in the Village Voice, critic Giddins surveys the jazz scene from 1990 to 2003. He covers concerts, recordings and jazz festivals, and considers new artists as well as older singers and instrumentalists (e.g., Doc Cheatham, Rosemary Clooney, Benny Carter) and those long gone but brought to life on reissued recordings (e.g., Billie Holiday, the Boswell sisters and especially Louis Armstrong, whose seminal place in jazz is underscored by the book's title, which comes from the famous Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines duet). Designed to be a companion volume to Giddins's landmark reference, Visions of Jazz, the volume offers an overview of jazz's avant-garde and discussions of dozens of familiar contemporary artists and relative newcomers, such as pianists Bill Charlap and Jason Moran. Giddins pays tribute to two deceased critics, Martin Williams and Leonard Feather, and praises engineer Robert Parker for his pioneering work in recovering the best sound from remastered 78s. As a reviewer, Giddins is opinionated but generous, with the laudable ability to capture the essence of a performer's style in vibrant language that makes the music described seem almost audible. In a final essay, he outlines the history of jazz and shows that, contrary to some opinions, the form is very much alive.