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`JAZZ IS KING, JAZZ IS THE THING ...'.

Byline: Tom Nolan and Dick Lochte Special to the Daily News

For the score to the film ``High Society,'' Cole Porter penned the lyric, which Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby sang, ``Jazz is king, jazz is the thing that folks dig most ...'' They might have been talking about this month's collection of entertainment books.

In the 1977 preface to his third collection of pieces from the New Yorker, the usually perceptive critic Whitney Balliett guessed that that work would constitute his final word on jazz: ``I have been writing about the music since 1947, a more than ample time to say what has to be said on any subject.'' Fortunately, he was wrong. Twenty years later, the brilliant Balliett is still writing beautifully about jazz and its makers for the same New Yorker (well, maybe not the same, but close enough); and nearly four score of his well-crafted, insightful and subtly exuberant profiles are gathered now in ``American Musicians II: Seventy-one Portraits in Jazz'' (Oxford, 520 pages, $39.95). This satisfyingly hefty volume, an expanded version of a 1986 book, adds 16 new faces to Balliett's classic sketch gallery. (Among the latest: Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Ruby Braff and Paul Desmond.)

Whether writing of legends long gone (Sidney Bechet, Fats Waller) or still with us (Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor), Balliett brings a sympathetic enthusiasm to his subjects that helps us see them in fresh perspective, describing their actions and music with the same fluid grace that characterizes their playing. As Balliett guesses in the book's preface (accurately, this time), his collected pieces make up a gapped history, a sort of highly personal encyclopedia of a beautiful music and its irresistible creators.

The subject of one of Balliett's newer chapters is scrutinized at book length in ``Charlie Parker: His Music and Life'' (University of Michigan Press, 277 pages, illustrated, $29.95), a valuable work by saxophonist and Oregon University instructor Carl Woideck. Although Parker's life story is amply sketched here, this book (as its subtitle indicates) is principally an examination of the alto saxophonist's playing. Woideck explicates Parker's technique through close scrutiny of his recordings, both major-label releases and informal and broadcast material more recently available. Several solo excerpts are included, along with four significant solos transcribed in their entirety. Music students will find Woideck's informed analysis of much interest; and the general reader will benefit from a greater appreciation of the skill and creativity of this highly influential artist.

Parker is a frequent presence in the many pages of editor Robert Gottlieb's massive anthology, ``Reading Jazz: A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage, and Criticism from 1919 to Now'' (Pantheon, 1,068 pages, $37.50), an instant classic that collects a whopping 106 entries from a wide range of sources. Inspired in its choices, the indispensable ``Reading Jazz'' encompasses much of the history and passion and flavor of our own American art form. If an anthology can be a work of art, ``Reading Jazz'' is a masterpiece. Some of its wonderful finds are a droll Lillian Ross account (from the New Yorker) of the scene at the first Newport Jazz Festival; Bobby Scott's sublime reminiscences of Lester Young; pairings of autobiographical excerpts (Count Basie on meeting John Hammond, John Hammond on meeting Count Basie); views of the same subject from different perspectives (Charlie Parker by Ralph Ellison, Charlie Parker by Miles Davis). There are meaty excerpts from books by Louis Armstrong, Artie Shaw, Hoagy Carmichael, Buck Clayton, Charles Mingus, Art Pepper and many others. Most of the best jazz critics and reporters are splendidly represented, including Balliett, Gene Lees, Martin Williams, Leonard Feather, Gary Giddins, Leonard Bernstein - and that noted jazz raconteur and bon vivant, Jean-Paul Sartre. This terrific book is as vital, surprising, raunchy, beautiful and transcendent as the music it celebrates.

Some of the best jazz reading over the years has been found in the liner notes on the backs of long-playing records. Such notes are still with us; but in the age of compact discs, they're harder to decipher. Writer Tom Piazza has resurrected nearly 50 such back-of-the-LP essays (including his own) in the trade paperback ``Setting the Tempo: Fifty Years of Great Jazz Liner Notes'' (Anchor Books, 369 pages, $14). Its contributors include the deservedly ubiquitous Balliett, Nat Hentoff, producer Orrin Keepnews and such musician-annotators as Duke Ellington, Art Hodes and Bill Evans. Among the gems here are George Avakian's vivid description of the wild scene at Newport in 1956 when the Ellington band, with tenor player Paul Gonsalves, unleashed a revamped piece called ``Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue''; Gunther Schuller's wryly frantic account of his efforts to bring off a recording session with legendary altoist Buster Smith; and guitarist Danny Barker's remembrances of tenor saxophonist Chu Berry.

Jazz, in Whitney Balliett's famous phrase, is ``the sound of surprise.'' Often that sound is vocal. ``Jazz Singing'' (Da Capo, 505 pages, illustrated, $16.95), an updated trade paperback reissue of a crucial and thoroughly engaging work by Will Friedwald, evokes and analyzes several generations of jazz vocalists. Highly opinionated and idiosyncratically authoritative, Friedwald does for jazz singing something like what Alec Wilder did for the American popular song in his essential history. In its encyclopedic knowledge of vocalists and recordings, through the courage of its convictions and the soundness of its judgments, in the wit of its photo captions, and in the solid way it swings, ``Jazz Singing'' is a great, great book.

As Leonard Feather points out in his foreword to William Claxton's collection of amazingly intimate portraits of musicians, ``Jazz...'' (Chronicle, 124 pages, $22.95), the Southern California photographer has an eye for more than the obvious picture presented by his subjects ... This is apparent beginning with the cover shot of a pensive Chet Baker and continuing through an extraordinary gallery of performers exhibiting a variety of moods. Here are Joe Williams, psyching himself up for a performance, Gerry Mulligan looking on in bemusement at Ben Webster making music, a pained Miles Davis, Charlie Parker in a surprisingly happy frame of mind with a trio of fans in Pasadena. Anyone wishing to get a feel of what the jazz scene was like back in the 50s and early 60s need only peruse this outstanding volume.

Jazz singers and musicians alike had an affinity with and dependence upon the American popular song. Tin Pan Alley and the jazz genre developed more or less at the same time, and their relationship was to some extent symbiotic. One of the greatest American songwriters was Irving Berlin (born Israel Baline, in Western Siberia, in 1888). The events and particularly the tunes of the very earliest part of Berlin's long career are examined in Charles Hamm's ``Irving Berlin: Songs From the Melting Pot - The Formative Years 1907-1914'' (Oxford, 292 pages, illustrated, $35). The author, a professor emeritus of music and a scholar of popular song, traces Berlin's development from his first vaudeville numbers, done in dialect for immigrant audiences, through his ragtime borrowings and up to the brink of his Broadway phase. Of interest perhaps mostly to serious students of popular culture and musical theater, Hamm's work - with its many excerpts of published songs and its lengthy appendix of period recordings (discs and cylinders) - is a formidable piece of scholarship.

Irving Berlin kept a picture of Stephen Foster on his office wall, and Berlin's huge hit ``Alexander's Ragtime Band'' had a reference to Foster's ``Swanee River.'' Foster, according to biographer Ken Emerson, was ``America's first full-time professional songwriter.'' Emerson's ``Doo-Dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture'' (Simon & Schuster, 394 pages, illustrated, $30), shows how his subject ``blazed the trail that eventually led to Tin Pan Alley.'' Foster's music became ``all things to all people,'' Emerson says; performed by everyone from Al Jolson to Louis Armstrong to Bob Dylan, from Antonin Dvorak to Louis Gottschalk to Charles Ives. Emerson acknowledges and explores Foster's songs' position ``at the heart of the tangled, tortuous interchange between whites and blacks that both dishonors America and yet distinguishes its culture worldwide.'' This is a well-researched and fascinating survey of an artist who ``saw the potential of popular music'' and paupered himself into an early grave in an attempt to realize it. If one tributary of Foster's music leads to Tin Pan Alley, another feeds into country and western. The novice years of one of that genre's greatest contemporary stars are remembered in ``Garth Brooks: The Road out of Santa Fe'' (University of Oklahoma Press, 202 pages, illustrated, $19.95), a modest but engaging memoir by Tulsa copywriter Matt O'Meilia, former drummer in Brooks' late-1980s pre-Nashville band. The Santa Fe of the title refers not to a New Mexico city but to the Stillwater, Okla., group Brooks fronted and O'Meilia joined for 10 months.

There are no startling revelations here, no accounts of a temperamental egomaniac or a blindly ambitious double-dealer. Instead, drawing on memory and subsequent interviews, O'Meira effectively conveys the workaday grind of laboring in a pretty good bar band - and the dawning realization that its leader (and most everyone else in the band, too, for that matter) is more serious about this music thing than you are. Brooks, his ex-drummer makes clear, stood out from his Oklahoma colleagues. ``He couldn't get enough of performing,'' O'Meira recalls. ``When he wasn't performing, he was looking forward to the next performance ... Garth was burning with music fever like no one I had ever seen.'' And, O'Meira notes, ``when Garth played - whatever he played - he played for keeps.''

Some of that same intensity can be sensed in most of the more than 80 subjects profiled in ``Music to My Ears: The Billboard Essays'' (Henry Holt, 353 pages, illustrated, $27.50), by Timothy White, award-winning editor of that music business trade paper. Trisha Yearwood, Alanis Morissette, Liz Phair, PJ Harvey and Tracy Bonham are among the artists White first or early drew attention to. He also used his column to note outstanding work from mid-career artists such as Annie Lennox and well-established performers such as Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel and Ray Charles. White's style is sensitive (sometimes to the point of being mannered), and he offers a sympathetic forum for his subjects. This compilation constitutes a tantalizing survey of some of the best pop music of the '9Os; and White makes you want to discover or reappraise these artists who have so aroused his interest.

CAPTION(S):

3 Photos

Photo: (1) Charlie Parker is scrutinized in one volume, and is a frequent presence in a jazz anthology.

(2) ``Reading Jazz'' includes pairings of autobiographical excerpts, including Count Basie ...

(3) ... on meeting John Hammond, and John Hammond on meeting Count Basie.
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Title Annotation:Review; L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 27, 1997
Words:1777
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