JJ 10/92: Jazz Changes

Thirty years ago, Steve Voce reckoned Martin Williams' commentaries on jazz - from Earl Hines to Steve Swallow - were probably timeless. First published in Jazz Journal October 1992

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Martin Williams was one of the very best jazz essayists and, over familiar though some of them might be, there is no piece here that is less than stimulating. The author’s alert and enquiring mind makes him ask the musicians the right questions, and his transcription of their answers is clear and most informative.

He sets his cap at a wide range of subjects – from Jelly Roll Morton and Earl Hines to Ornette Coleman and Steve Swallow, and illum­inates some of the more obscure corners of the music with revealing episodes from, for example, Bob Brookmeyer and Jimmy Giuffre.

Williams was an endless recycler of his own work, and one might perhaps feel aggrieved at the inclusion of album liner notes within the pages of such a book. There are many, and indeed some are so brief as to be almost fragments, but they are without exception trenchant.

The author’s insight into the music and his ability to communicate it clearly to the reader make this collection a valuable one, probably timeless, and of equal interest to both musician and layman.

In his later years Williams chose to become an isolated martinet. This book shows that his death earlier this year robbed us of an author to be ranked with Whitney Balliett and Gunther Schuller. There isn’t much higher praise than that.

Jazz Changes by Martin Williams. HB, 317pp Oxford University Press. ISBN 0 19 505847 X