JJ 07/93: The Jazz Book

Thirty years ago Mark Gilbert welcomed an update of Berendt's forensic 1953 original and the continued emphasis on description over opinion. First published in Jazz Journal July 1993


This 1991 update of Berendt’s venerable jazz survey (first published 1953) is the first that the author has delegated to other hands, namely those of his protégé Gunther Huesmann (b. 1957). The unfail­ingly selfless and fair-minded Berendt was guided in this by the principle that you can’t write what you haven’t lived: he hadn’t lived the jazz of the eighties, so the job passed to one better equipped.

The format remains the same, with jazz apologetically divided into styles, musicians, elements, instruments and so on, but additions have been made in vari­ous departments to reflect the events of the last decade or so. For example. The Styles Of Jazz chapter now includes useful defi­nitions and discussions of such much-ban­died terms as postmodernism, classicism, neoclassicism, neobop, free funk, world music and no wave. Careful excision of material now considered inessential has yielded some space, but most of it seems to have come in new pages. This US edition also has an American discography by Kevin Whitehead, though there is no indication whether special provision has been made for any British issue.

In earlier editions of this book, and in the preface to this one, Berendt laid mes­sianic emphasis on the critic’s duty to be descriptive rather than partisan, and Hues­mann, following in this particular jazz tra­dition, is similarly even-handed and considered. On occasions the writing or translation in the new sections is a little untidy, but it’s rarely less lucid than the founder’s own work.

The Jazz Book, by Joachim E. Berendt. Sixth edition, revised by Gunther Huesmann. Lawrence Hill Books, New York, pb, 541pp, $16.95. ISBN 1 55652 098 0