Ask any number of self-proclaimed “jazz heads” what the first jazz record is, whether those solos are really improvised or why Louis Armstrong is so important, and you’ll get a cacophony of disparate answers – maybe even start some fistfights. NPR Jazz Critic Kevin Whitehead asks and answers these and many other questions in his new book. Even listeners who love the sound of be-bop, avant-garde or West Coast cool may admit to finding jazz bewildering – even daunting. Whitehead unravels the mystery of this arguably most American of musical movements, taking us back to its beginnings and illuminating the contributions of its most influential artists as well as those of lesser-known, but equally vital, performers and innovators.
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