Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington
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A major new biography of Duke Ellington from the acclaimed author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong   Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was the greatest jazz composer of the twentieth century—and an impenetrably enigmatic personality whom no one, not even his closest friends, claimed to understand. The grandson of a slave, he dropped out of high school to become one of the world’s most famous musicians, a showman of incomparable suavity who was as comfortable in Carnegie Hall as in the nightclubs where he honed his style. He wrote some fifteen hundred compositions, many of which, like “Mood Indigo”….

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Fashion and Jazz: Dress, Identity and Subcultural Improvisation (Dress, Body, Culture)
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Born in the late 19th century, jazz gained mainstream popularity during a volatile period of racial segregation and gender inequality. It was in these adverse conditions that jazz performers discovered the power of dress as a visual tool used to defy mainstream societal constructs, shaping a new fashion and style aesthetic. Fashion and Jazz is the first study to identify the behaviours, signs and meanings that defined this newly evolving subcultural style. Drawing on fashion studies and cultural theory, the book provides an in-depth analysis of the social and political entanglements of jazz and dress, with individual chapters exploring key….

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Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man
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Best known for his 1970 polemic “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” Gil Scott-Heron was a musical icon who defied characterization. He tantalized audiences with his charismatic stage presence, and his biting, observant lyrics in such singles as “The Bottle” and “Johannesburg” provide a time capsule for a decade marked by turbulence, uncertainty, and racism. While he was exalted by his devoted fans as the “black Bob Dylan” (a term he hated) and widely sampled by the likes of Kanye West, Prince, Common, and Elvis Costello, he had never really achieved mainstream success. Yet he maintained a cult following throughout….

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Listen to This stands out as the first book exclusively dedicated to Davis’s watershed 1969 album, Bitches Brew. Victor Svorinich traces its incarnations and inspirations for ten-plus years before its release. The album arrived as the jazz scene waned beneath the rise of rock and roll and as Davis (1926-1991) faced large changes in social conditions affecting the African-American consciousness. This new climate served as a catalyst for an experiment that many considered a major departure. Davis’s new music projected rock and roll sensibilities, the experimental essence of 1960s’ counterculture, yet also harsh dissonances of African-American reality. Many listeners embraced….

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The Jazz Chord / Scale Handbook by Gary Keller

The Jazz Chord / Scale Handbook by Gary Keller

The “Jazz Chord / Scale Handbook” is an aptly titled music reference guide, and an actual “hand book” as well, according to it’s size (6 3/4″ x 9 1/2″). It is laid out in a very clear, logical fashion and is a must have chord / scale resource for anyone who is serious about improvising or composing in the Jazz  or Pop idioms.

I’ve owned this book for a few years now, and I’ve gone to it repeatedly for answers to both practical and theoretical questions.

The author, saxophonist / educator, Gary Keller, has organized the book into chapters describing each scale as generating a unique harmonic system. 

The Asymmetric Scale Systems include: Major, Melodic Minor, Harmonic Minor and Harmonic Major. 

The Symmetric Scale Systems presented here are the Whole Tone, Diminished, Augmented, plus several lesser known scales. There are also chapters on the Pentatonic and Blues Scales, as well as a number of Appendixes.

Each asymmetric system is then broken down into a (mostly) two page description of each of it’s modes, including multiple piano voicings for both it’s functional harmonic, as well as it’s modal usages. 

The author also renames the modes of the non-Major asymmetric scale systems, according to their alterations relative to their Major counterpart, eg. Ionian b3 (first mode of Melodic Minor), or Aeolian #7 (first mode of Harmonic Minor). These are unique, as well as accurate descriptions.

What I’ve also found very interesting is the concept of Augmented Scale substitutions for the Melodic Minor modes, which the author shares in the chapter on the Augmented Scale. That’s some pretty hip stuff!

I’d highly recommend “The Jazz Chord / Scale Handbook” to anybody who wants to truly understand,not only how chords and scales relate to each other, but their usage as well.


Bobby Stern
Author of “The Melodic Minor Handbook” & “Slick Licks That Stick”

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“Slick Licks That Stick!” by Bobby Stern (PDF eBooK)

Slick Licks That Stick!

“Slick Licks That Stick!” by Bobby Stern is among the rapidly increasing number of non-paper books, of all subjects, being published and sold in today’s book marketplace. The rapid proliferation of portable reading devices, such as the Kindle, Nook, etc. and their proprietary eBook formats (EPUB, MOBI, and several others), have helped to vault total eBook sales past that of traditional print books. While these digital book formats have worked well for text based books, they have not lent themselves well to publications largely consisting of music notation. However, the common, open standard Acrobat PDF format, in lieu of anything better at this time, is still a very good and viable option for music notation based eBooks.

Before getting to the books content, it should be noted that “Slick Licks That Stick!” is unique in regards to its’ formatting.  With mobile devices such as the iPad in mind, this eBook is laid out in Landscape format so that the complete horizontal line of notation is viewable at normal resolution, thus avoiding the annoying necessity of scrolling from left to right while playing through the exercises. This works on any laptop or desktop computer, as well.

The table of contents, listing ten chapters, is very detailed, with a clickable internal link to the first page of each exercise. The exercises are also fully printable, so that one can freely print out selected pages.

The entire book is thoughtfully laid out and well organized. Each exercise is, thankfully, presented in all12 keys and the notation is clear and easy to read. The subject matter is a potpourri of modern stylistic content, including Pentatonics b3, b6, and b2, Coltrane Changes, Augmented scale exercises, Melodic Minor Bebop scales, polymodal Melodic Minor ii-V patterns, Chromatics, as well as several interesting etudes.

At the beginning of each chapter, there is usually a concise explanation of it’s contents.

I have play tested several of the chapters and find that these are not your typical, everyday plug and play “licks”. Rather, they are exercises which come from a musical place rather than from a purely theoretical one. The fact that they “sound” good can inspire one to practice, as well as to expand vocabulary and fire the imagination. Several of my students who have the book have mentioned this as well.

Another big plus is the price. At $9.99, this much quality material is a true bargain, so get it while it’s hot!

The only thing that’s possibly missing would be some play along tracks, especially for the ii-V exercises. But, with the popularity of self programmable software, such as Band-in-a-Box and iReal b, this is a very minor point indeed, especially considering the aforementioned price.


Prof. Dave King
University of Music and Performing Arts
Mannheim, Germany

98% Funky Stuff: My Life In Music, by Maceo Parker, Chicago Review Press, 2013, pp. 200.

98% Funky Stuff: My Life in Music, released in February 2013, is the autobiography of legendary funk saxophonist Maceo Parker. The writing is straightforward and engaging, often understated, and the two hundred pages go by quickly. Over the course of ten chapters, Parker provides a glimpse of his early life and influences, his experiences performing with artists including James Brown and George Clinton, and his gradual ascent to leading his own band. Parker’s uniquely laidback and sensible personality is present throughout, as is his commitment to his values, family, and music.

Parker covers pretty much everything in a roughly chronological breakdown of his life. His story begins with his childhood and early life in Kinston, North Carolina, growing up in a nurturing environment with supportive parents and siblings. The writing evokes an image of a young boy, drawn to music, first by the singing of his parents’ church choir, then by the sound of the piano, and finally by the allure of the marching band. By his sophomore year in high school, Parker’s band with his siblings and friends, the Mighty Blue Notes, were gigging around town.

After a stint in college, Parker and his brother Melvin pursued a gig touring with James Brown. Several chapters are dedicated to this period playing with Brown, beginning as a novice, a two year interruption serving in the military, and his return as an integral contributor to the band’s live shows and seminal tracks such as “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” In an act of protest, many members of James Brown’s band quit in 1970, forming Maceo and All the King’s Men. However, this was short lived, with Parker eventually returning to James Brown and the First Family of Soul after a brief hiatus in the rubbish-removal business. Further chapters cover his time touring as a member of George Clinton’s band, his work as a session musician and solo performer, and his work as a musical ambassador of funk.

Of course, Parker introduces the readers to the important characters in his life, including his family, teachers, bandmates, friends, and musical influences and acquaintances, including Ray Charles, Prince, Dave Mathews, Ani DiFranco, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest, and many others. The relationships he made and his esteem for those people comprise a significant part of the narrative.

Not merely relating his own story, Parker reflects on the cultural significance of the times, relating experiences of racial tensions, as well as the pride and hope of direct involvement in civil rights activism. His career spanned the segregated South, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, the rise of black pride exemplified at the 1968 Olympics, the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and beyond. Racial and social politics are significant themes throughout the book, as is the power of music in spreading a “message of love.”

In fact, Message of Love may be a more apt title for this book. Prevalent throughout is Parker’s sense of personal responsibility and avoidance of the vices (drugs, alcohol, promiscuity) that typify the story of so many musical icons. Parker’s tone is never judgmental or condescending, he simply relates events as they happened. His stories about performing with some of the biggest names in popular music are casual, often funny, and revealing about the personalities involved. The highlights of 98% Funky Stuff are Parker’s accounts of musical sparring with James Brown and the theatrics of performing with George Clinton.

Parker tells his story as it relates to the people around him and the events of the era. Consistent throughout is his devotion to music and to developing a unique musical identity, his personal values of family and friends, and the ability of music to spread positivity. The only real criticism is that his terse writing style often leaves the reader wanting more. Major events are glossed in a few short sentences, and Parker seems to underestimate the value of his own sentiments on such occurrences. Overall, 98% Funky Stuff is an entertaining and revealing portrait of one of the major, yet largely underappreciated, figures in soul, rhythm and blues, jazz, and funk music. As such, it is a fine introduction to Maceo Parker, a performer deserving of attention.

Reviewed by Mike Oppenheim


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A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians--from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between
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A fascinating celebration of the piano, including tales of its masters from Mozart and Beethoven to Oscar Peterson and Jerry Lee Lewis, told with the expertise of composer and author of Temperament, Stuart Isacoff.  This history takes us back to the piano’s humble genesis as a simple keyboard, and shows how everyone from Ferdinando de’ Medici to Herbie Hancock affected its evolution of sound and influence in popular music. Presenting the instrument that has been at the core of musical development over the centuries in all its beauty and complexity, this explores the piano’s capabilities and the range of emotional….

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Writing Jazz: Race, Nationalism, and Modern Culture in the 1920s (Studies in American Popular History and Culture)
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This study examines how early writers of jazz criticism and literature as well as “jazz” performers and composers associated the music directly with questions about identity and with historical developments like industrialization. Going beyond the study of melody, harmony and rhythm, this book’s interdisciplinary approach takes seriously the cultural beliefs about jazz that inspired interracial contact, moralistic panic, bohemian slumming, visions of American democracy, and much more. Detailed textual analysis of fiction, nonfiction, film and musical performance illustrates the complexity of these cultural beliefs in the 1920s and also shows their survival to the present day.
The Jazz Age: Popular Music in the 1920s
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F. Scott Fitzgerald named it, Louis Armstrong launched it, Paul Whiteman and Fletcher Henderson orchestrated it, and now Arnold Shaw chronicles this fabulous era in his marvelously engrossing book, appropriately called The Jazz Age. Enriching his account with lively anecdotes and inside stories, he describes the astonishing outpouring of significant musical innovations that emerged during the “Roaring Twenties”–including blues, jazz, band music, torch ballads, operettas, and musicals–and sets them against the background of the Prohibition world of the Flapper and the Gangster. The Jazz Age offers an insider’s view into the significant developments and….

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