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Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Wynton Marsalis

Product Description  "In this book I hope to reach a new audience with the positive message of America’s greatest music, to show how great musicians demonstrate on the bandstand a mutual respect and trust that can alter your outlook on … see full wiki

Author: Wynton Marsalis
Publisher: Random House
1 review about Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change...

Marsalis' pen really swings

  • Jan 30, 2009
One of the happiest art-related occurrences for me in recent years has been my discovery of jazz. I've listened to a lot of it since then, and while I still can't say I really "get" jazz all that well, I'm starting to recognize the great and important players and composers, the standards, and -- maybe most important -- what I do and don't like. My reaction to this book by Wynton Marsalis and Geoffrey C. Ward is similar: I can't say I "get" it all, but I followed most of it, picked up its swing when I encountered it, and had a really good time with it. I recommend "Moving to Higher Ground" very highly.

Like in any complex jazz piece, there are a lot of different things going on in this book, so it's hard to describe. It's hard even to answer the obvious question "So how CAN jazz change my life?" Marsalis writes a lot about how jazz works, what's going on during a performance, what good players have to be able to do in order to swing together, and maybe most fundamentally, where jazz came from and why that matters. I felt fortunate to have what familiarity I do with a good percentage of the names, albums, and tunes he mentions -- I think it would be a lot harder for someone without any exposure to jazz to begin to process what Marsalis is saying. My list of things to find and listen to definitely got a lot longer because of what I read here.

Although Marsalis has, by his own telling, softened his tone from the angry young man he was 25 years ago, there's still a fair amount of opinion and criticism in these pages, as well as jokes directed at, particularly, tenor sax-men, bass players, and drummers. He also doesn't have much good to say about hip-hop, the musical chops of rock bands, or the disregard paid to jazz, not only by the culture at large, but particularly by the African-American community. As you might expect, there is a lot of discussion of racial issues in these pages -- but you might be surprised, as I was, by the convincing passion with which Marsalis argues that at its finest (and here IS a partial answer to the question of how jazz can change your life), jazz transcends race ... drawing from the African-American blues idiom but speaking to the universal human experience of pain, longing, overcoming, and triumph. It's an inspirational message.

Some of the other lessons are more fundamental: discover your voice, but know how to use it in community; honor your elders and build on the work they did, instead of ignoring the past in your drive to invent the future in your own image; and, at the risk of sounding like a Nike commercial, don't do it for the money, do it for the love. This book says a lot about music, about creativity, about relationships, and about jazz's solid claim to be America's greatest indigenous art form. That's a lot to pack into one book, but Wynton Marsalis -- and of course Geoffrey C. Ward, whose young-FDR books I also much admire -- are more than up to the task. This book swings, and it takes you along with it.

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