In wrapping of the year’s best-of-2012 lists, we couldn’t help but single out the University of Chicago Press titles that made the cut as reads worth remembering. With that in mind, here’s a list of our books that earned praise as cream of the crop here and abroad, from scholarly journals, literary blogs, metropolitan newspapers, and the like. If you’re looking, might we (and others) recommend—
A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava
made the Philadelphia City Paper’s Best of the Year list named one of the best books of the year by the Houston Chronicle included in Bookriot’s list of the five most overlooked books of 2012 picked as the book of the year by a bookseller at the Oxford Blackwell’s: “ feel so evangelical about I want to run around screaming ‘YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK OR YOUR LIFE WILL BE INCOMPLETE,’ in Billy Graham style.” named one of the ten best fiction books of 2012 by the Wall Street Journal named by Wall Street Journal fiction editor Sam Sacks as one of his own favorite fiction books of 2012 named by Sasha Frere-Jones of the New Yorker as . . .
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The Telegraph recently ran a review of two new books on two of the greatest names in twentieth century jazz. In his review Ian Thomson sets Harvey G. Cohen’s Duke Ellington’s America alongside a new book on Thelonious Monk, both of which, Thomson argues, eloquently demonstrate how these “two giants of jazz … reinvented black American music.” The review begins:
At a funeral in New Orleans in 1901, Joe “King” Oliver played a blues-drenched dirge on the trumpet. This was the new music they would soon call jazz. A century on, from the hothouse stomps of Duke Ellington to the angular doodlings of Thelonious Monk, jazz survives as an important musical voice of America.
Ellington was the first jazz composer of real distinction. No other bandleader so consistently redefined the sound and scope of jazz. As a classically trained pianist he fused the hot, syncopated sounds of Jazz Age Harlem with an element of dissonance to produce something unique: a dance music of trance-inducing charm, originality and attack.
Continue reading at the telegraph.co.uk and read this excerpt from Cohen’s book.
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Duke Ellington’s influence on the world of music is well documented, but less so his impact on race relations in twentieth century America. In his new biography, Duke Ellington’s America, cultural historian Harvey G. Cohen shows how, as Ellington’s music propelled him to international fame, he was able to harness his unique social status and artistic genius to influence issues of race, equality and religion. A recent article on Ellington in the New Yorker draws on Cohen’s biography to offer a glimpse into Ellington’s life and his strategies for manipulating American cultural attitudes towards race. In the article, Claudia Roth Pierpont paints a picture of Ellington as a man constantly struggling to maintain a broad appeal, (even in the American south where he occasionally played for segregated audiences), while making his music the front on which he waged war against the racism that inevitably shaped his compositions, performances, and his life.
Read it online at the New Yorker website.
Also read an excerpt from the book.
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Duke Ellington towered over the world of popular music for decades, a singular figure of nearly unmatched achievement and influence. From his unforgettable jazz standards like “Mood Indigo” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” to his longer, more orchestral suites that dramatically expanded the boundaries of the form, to his peerless leadership of his big band, Ellington left his mark on every aspect of jazz in its heyday.
With Duke Ellington’s America, Harvey G. Cohen offers music fans a vivid, comprehensive account of Ellington’s life and times, setting the artist and his music fully in the context of twentieth-century American culture and history. Making use of unprecedented access to Ellington”s archives—as well as new interviews with his friends, family, and band members—Cohen illuminates Ellington’s constantly evolving approach to composition, performance, and the music business, while also taking into account his role as a spokesman for civil rights and racial justice. Throughout, Cohen regularly hands the mike to Ellington himself, drawing from countless interviews the bandleader gave over the years to lend Duke Ellington’s America an immediacy and intimacy unmatched by any previous account.
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Jazz.com‘s Ted Panken recently posted an in-depth two-part interview with George E. Lewis, author of A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. In the interview Panken and Lewis engage in a detailed dialogue on the history, theory, as well as practice of one of the most influential jazz collectives of the 20th century—The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.
From Panken’s preface to the interview:
A Power Stronger Than Itself is a landmark work. The bedrock of the text is an exhaustively researched linear narrative history, constructed on over 90 interviews from which Lewis traces keen portraits of numerous members; AACM archival records; encyclopedic citations from contemporaneous literature, both from American and European sources; and vividly recounted personal experience.
Furthermore, Lewis contextualizes the musical production of AACM members—a short list of “first-wavers” includes such late 20th-century innovators as Muhal Richard Abrams, who stamped his character on the principles by which the AACM would operate; the founding members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors, and Don Moye); Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, Leroy Jenkins, Henry Threadgil, Amina Claudine Myers, and John Stubblefield—within both the broader spectrum of experimental . . .
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The New York Times City Room blog ran an article yesterday on a 19th century pastime that began as a morally transgressive practice of the urban upper class, but also played an important role in dramatically recasting the racial and sexual landscape of cities like New York and Chicago. “Slumming”, as the practice was popularly known, invited “well-off white urban to explore black, Chinese, gay, or poor working-class communities” in search of a good time, and the unmatchable thrill of doing something disreputable. In the late 1800′s upper class whites, sometimes accompanied by a local guide, would push their way into the living spaces residents in impoverished neighborhoods in a voyeuristic attempt to “see how the other half lived,” reveling in the excitement of police raids, opium dens, and “gawking at prostitutes, gays, lesbians and cross-dressers.” The City Room posting cites Chad Heap, author of Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940 as he explains how, in the course of the following decades, the practice of slumming evolved into a vital avenue for communication and appreciation across social, economic and cultural barriers that typified Jazz-Age America. From the City Room blog:
“In the late 19th century, . . .
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