““I am the world’s greatest listener,” Duke Ellington wrote in his autobiography, “Music Is My Mistress.” It was far from an idle boast, because it was Ellington’s talent for listening that made him the greatest jazz composer ever.
He understood the abilities and instincts of his musicians so well that he wrote a remarkable body of work built on their individual strengths. All of us, Ted Gioia writes in his latest book, “How to Listen to Jazz,” could benefit from Ellington’s keen-eared approach to music.
Jazz is a quintessentially American form of musical expression that has often defied attempts to explain it — and to make it popular. Gioia, a jazz pianist who has written several previous books on music history, seeks to demystify jazz and make it accessible to anyone willing to listen. He seeks a middle path between popular writing — “5 Stars!” — and academic explication. In spite of his background as a musician, Gioia does not include a single example of musical notation in this engaging book.“