Women in jazz; Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen, by Linda Dahl. New York: Pantheon Books. 372 pp. $19.95.
This vividly detailed history of women in jazz is motivated by the author's questionable pretext that such performers have been slighted in the public image of the art. Ms. Dahl quotes an anonymous jazz pianist: ''Jazz is a male language. It's a matter of speaking that language and women just can't do it.'' Such a ridiculous assertion might well remain anonymous, because it is based in ignorance.
The origins of jazz have a genesis in church vocal music and in Afro-American songs; and since its inception, jazz has had a string of spectacular female vocalists. Their lives have become the stuff of popular legend. Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday have been the subject of dramatizations in film and on the stage. Other vocalists like Pearl Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O'Day, and Sarah Vaughan can still be heard on radio.
If there is any misconception about jazz women, it is that they have contributed only to the vocal expression of jazz. Nonetheless, as ''Stormy Weather'' shows, women have been innovative instrumentalists, bandleaders, arrangers, and composers. This book is a valuable contribution to the history of America's unique contribution to music.