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How to listen to jazz

guidance notes for beginners Knowing how to listen to jazz isn’t easy. It’s an improvised music, but it is based upon well-defined and disciplined musical structures. Does that seem like a contradiction? Here’s how it works. When jazz musicians play together, they often choose well-known songs. They don’t need printed musical scores, because they have […]

How the Beatles Destroyed Rock N Roll

an alternative history of American popular music How the Beatles Destroyed Rock N Roll is a serious and well-informed piece of cultural criticism. I am no committed student of rock and roll, though my life to date, from about ten years onwards spans that of rock and roll and much else in the world of […]

Hallelujah Junction

John Adams’ personal biography and musical Odyssey John Adams is probably the best-known American composer of classical music alive today. His operas Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer have played to audiences all over the world, and his orchestral sketch Short Ride in a Fast Machine is such a favourite concert opener that […]

Escaping the Delta

Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues Escaping the Delta isn’t a conventional biography of Robert Johnson, the most influential blues player ever, but a critical study of the blues itself as a social and musical phenomenon. It takes Johnson as a central, crucial figure and looks at the musical traditions out of which […]

Coltrane: The Story of a Sound

biographical outline of a musical Odyssey This is not a conventional biography but a study of the development of John Coltrane as a major figure in American musical culture in the two decades of major creativity that embraced his tragically short life. Ben Ratliff bases his study on a combination of interviews and his analyses […]

Artie Shaw: his life and music

critical and illustrated biography – plus discography As the handsome (and much-married) leader of a series of big bands and small groups in the 1930s and 1940s, clarinetist Artie Shaw achieved measures of fame and fortune that temporarily eclipsed those of his great rival, Benny Goodman. Shaw’s five top single recordings had sold over 65 […]

A New History of Jazz

encylopedia of jazz and its history to the present Do we really need yet another weighty ‘history of jazz’ in what is already a crowded field? When the author (also a bass player) has already produced excellent biographies of (among others) Dizzy Gillespie and Fats Waller, and regularly presents ‘Jazz Profiles’ on Radio 3, the […]

Vanessa Bell a biography

  • December 14, 2018
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Bloomsbury painter, matriarch, and bohemian Vanessa Bell is best known as the sister of Virginia Woolf, but she was a distinguished artist in her own right, and her reputation has risen in recent years, along with other women artists such as Dora Carrington and Gwen John. Her father Leslie Stephen was a literary figure (editor […]

Understanding Comics

  • December 14, 2018
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the techniques, philosophy, and interpretation of comics Whenever there is a discussion or an exchange of messages concerning comics or visual narratives, one name crops up again and again – Scott McCloud. Understanding Comics is his now classic work on the comic designer’s art. It’s presented in the form of a comic itself – but […]

The Russian Experiment in Art

  • December 14, 2018
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the rise of Russian modernism 1863-1922 Camilla Gray was a young and pioneering scholar of Russian modernist art. She was a former ballet dancer, with no academic background. She married Oleg Prokoviev (the composer’s son) and died tragically young at the age of only thirty-five. And yet she established a body of work on Russian […]