London ; New York : Continuum, 2001.
Investigates material from the string bands and francophone vocal ensembles of the plantations to the sophisticated world of turn-of-the-century African American Theatre.
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Jazz was always a mystery for me, but I made a concerted effort a few years ago to understand it better. I have read a couple of more basic introductions (the NPR Guide, the Complete Idiot's Guide) before this one, and I found Shipton's book to be very well written and researched. It provides a great background, not only on the music, but also on the environment that created jazz. He takes pleasure in debunking some of the myths that have grown up around the music (sometimes too much pleasure), but his arguments are always backed up with research. While giving ample coverage to the giants of jazz, he also introduces the reader to many other figures who have shaped the music. Shipton is opinionated, but it always clear where he is stating an opinion. All in all, I would highly recommend this book for anyone looking to deepen their understanding and curiosity about jazz. The only real shortcoming is that the book only has a small section of photographs. The Ken Burns jazz book lacks the breadth and depth of this one, but you do get to see great pictures of many of the people and places Shipton refers to in this very good book.