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Book Review: Traditional New Orleans Jazz: Conversations With the Men Who Make the Music by Thomas W. Jacobson

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Despite growing up in Louisiana I must confess that while I have a love of jazz music in general I am not all that familiar with many of the actual jazz musicians themselves. Sure, I know the general history of jazz through my love of players such as Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, etc., but when it comes to truly knowing not only the history of authentic New Orleans jazz but the modern day players and preservers of the music I am generally ignorant.

This is why when the opportunity came about to review Traditional New Orleans Jazz: Conversations With the Men Who Make the Music by Thomas W. Jacobson, I gratefully accepted and began reading.

After retiring from a career spent in higher education, including 26 years on the faculty of Indiana University (Bloomington), Jacobson moved to New Orleans where he has lived for over 20 years during which time he has become deeply interested and involved in the local music scene. Traditional New Orleans Jazz is a book that came about due to conversations and interviews he was able to have with local jazz musicians while he served as a columnist and corespondent for publications such as The Mississippi Rag, The Clarinet and a variety of other jazz periodicals.

Traditional New Orleans Jazz at first seemed like an oddity to me. Usually the books I read on the subject of jazz tend to be histories on the subject that present it as something that had once had its heyday, passed on, and now is a subject of memory more so than an art form that not only remains in play but remains viable and important.

Within the pages of this book Jacobsen elicits honest, witty and often comedic discussions with players such as Irvin Mayfield, Evan Christopher, Tim Laughlin, Trevor Richards, Clive Wilson, Brian Ogilvie, Lionel Ferbos, Eddie Bayard and Jack Maheu as they talk about their lives in New Orleans music. These are not some dusty pages of history — though there is a great deal history reveals and retells. Instead, these are stories that feel almost as if they are being shared directly with you as the musician sits across a table at a bar and simply talks.

It’s a wonderful book to just sit back and luxuriate in reading, especially if you are a fan of jazz or just music in general.

Traditional New Orleans Jazz, in its own way, becomes part of the incredible legacy of teaching and innovation that ties the music to the men who make it. It’s an important stewardship of the knowledge that has helped jazz become an international language that shows, perhaps, the very best of our own selves and culture.

Or, if you take away the giddy feeling this book left me upon completion, Traditional New Orleans Jazz is just one hell of a good read and is a lovely way to pass some of these sweltering summer days.

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