Christmas books: Music

All kinds of blue
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The Independent Culture

So far, the new millennium has thrown up some good music titles, notably on the popular side where the currency is usually much debased. Indeed, 2001 presented jazz fans with an embarras de richesses. Their patient wait for the long-promised TV series finally rewarded, true aficionados will want the videos, not to mention the CDs and the book: Jazz: a history of America's music (Pimlico, £30) by Geoffrey C Ward and Ken Burns. Much more than a tie-in, Jazz is a volume that can stand on its own 500 pages, lavish with photos: a great book to dip into or – if you've time – to read straight through. The interview with Wynton Marsalis alone is worth the cover prize: "The real power and innovation of jazz is that a group of people can come together and create art – improvised art – and can negotiate their agendas with each other. And that negotiation is the art."

So far, the new millennium has thrown up some good music titles, notably on the popular side where the currency is usually much debased. Indeed, 2001 presented jazz fans with an embarras de richesses. Their patient wait for the long-promised TV series finally rewarded, true aficionados will want the videos, not to mention the CDs and the book: Jazz: a history of America's music (Pimlico, £30) by Geoffrey C Ward and Ken Burns. Much more than a tie-in, Jazz is a volume that can stand on its own 500 pages, lavish with photos: a great book to dip into or – if you've time – to read straight through. The interview with Wynton Marsalis alone is worth the cover prize: "The real power and innovation of jazz is that a group of people can come together and create art – improvised art – and can negotiate their agendas with each other. And that negotiation is the art."

Alyn Shipton's A New History of Jazz (Continuum, £29.95) is another volume deserving of superlatives which, unlike Burns and Ward, looks beyond America, to Europe and even to Russia, India and Latin America, and beyond jazz itself to its interface with folk music, theatre and the concert hall. This unusually wide-ranging study, at almost 1,000 pages, is not for the fainthearted.

No less substantial, physically or intellectually, is Collected Works: a journal of jazz 1954-2000 by critic Whitney Balliett (Granta, £20), whom Philip Larkin, no mean jazz critic himself, thought "a master of language". From a report on the first Newport Jazz Festival to a meditation on the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, this is "a cumulative and indirect history" of jazz which far outshines Such Sweet Thunder, a collection of essays, concert notes and obits, some previously unpublished, by the late Benny Green (Simon & Schuster, £25). Where Balliett's erudition is worn lightly, Green – in print as on radio – can be an irritating know-all. Perhaps that's part of the attraction.

Like Green, Bill Wyman grew up far from the Mississippi, which links the great centres of jazz and its near-relative, the blues. The Stone's Blues Odyssey: a journey to music's heart and soul (Dorling Kindersley, £19.99) offers little of novelty, but it's a handsome volume, and Wyman's devotion to the music rings out clearly.

It also links the blues with rock'n'roll, reminding us just how squarely Bob Dylan fits in the tradition he reveres. His 60th birthday was marked by two excellent new studies. Down the Highway by Howard Sounes (Doubleday, £17.99) is that rare thing – a serious biography that does not seek to dig dirt but offers a balanced account of Dylan's life and career without getting mired in the sort of train-spotters' arcana that passes for "Dylan scholarship". In Positively Fourth Street: the lives and times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña and Richard Fariña (Bloomsbury, £17.99), historian David Hajdu chronicles the complex personal and professional relationships, jealousies and rivalries of four gifted but difficult individuals who were a sort of 1960s musical equivalent of the Bloomsbury Group. An evocative account of burgeoning 1960s counterculture.

After the Beatlefest of last year, '01's been rather quiet but – with George Harrison's death – any fan who doesn't already own Anthology (Cassell, £35) will welcome a copy. Otherwise, Pauline Sutcliffe's memoir of her late brother, The Beatles' Shadow: Stuart Sutcliffe and His Lonely Hearts Club Band (Macmillan, £16.99) is a poignant read. It recalls the band's earliest days in Liverpool and Hamburg and, in particular, the relationship between fellow art students Lennon and Sutcliffe, whose skills on canvas more than compensated for what he lacked on bass.

Though he never worked with either Dylan or the Beatles, the career of composer-arranger-producer Quincy Jones has embraced just about every other popular icon, from Nana Mouskouri to Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra to rapper Melle Mel. The man behind "We are the world" and the first Clinton inaugural concert tells his own extraordinary story of American can-do in Q: the autobiography of Quincy Jones (Hodder, £20).

The Queen was busy celebrating her Silver Jubilee when the Sex Pistols shocked Middle England to the core. Sid's long dead and HM's about to embark on her Golden Jubilee, but the spirit of '77 lives on in Damien Hirst et al. In Punk (Cassell, £35), Stephen Colgrave and Chris Sullivan aim to convey "the feel, the smell, attitude and humour of punk, to allow it to bask in all its brash glory, from its Warhol roots to its eclectic legacy."

Truly specialist volumes aside, classical music has not been well served in the bookshops this year. We pass swiftly over Tunes of Glory (Hutchinson, £18.99), Richard Aldous' account of the late Sir Malcolm Sargent, a conductor whose style is best summed as fur coat and no knickers (fun fur, not mink). Proms Director Nicholas Kenyon has updated his 1986 biography of Simon Rattle, now subtitled From Birmingham to Berlin (Faber, £20). There's more than a whiff of glue here, and in one chapter Kenyon lazily leaves "Friends, Colleagues, Critics, Composers" to speak in bleeding chunks. On the plus side, he allows Sir Simon's trenchant views to be heard above the cacophony. That alone justifies the book.

Finally, a must-have for classical CD buyers: the 2002 edition of The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs by Ivan March, Edward Greenfield and Robert Layton (Penguin, £20), which this year includes a select handful of DVDs. No longer the only guide, it remains the best, the biggest and the most comprehensive, evaluating recordings of work by everyone from Abel to Zwilich in terms of artistic and technical merit and value.

Should anyone send you a Book Token, save it for January and the publication of Michael Kennedy's centenary tribute to the late Sir William Walton, composer of Façade and Belshazzar's Feast, due from OUP. And if you have a couple of grand to spend and a very special friend, there's always The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians (Macmillan). You'll need lots of wrapping-paper – there are 29 volumes. It costs a mere £2,950.

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