The creative process incarnate

They're not just for the coffee table anymore.

While there's no shortage of good books on jazz, (including the excellent new Oxford Companion to Jazz), none approaches the beauty or scope of this lavishly illustrated companion to the upcoming l0-part PBS series (See tomorrow's paper for TV review).

Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns (whose previous series featured the Civil War and baseball) have put together an irresistible volume with 500 illustrations, essays, and interviews. It's sure to please anyone who enjoys America's only indigenous art form, which, as the drummer Art Blakey liked to say, "washes away the dust of everyday life."

Among the many luminaries interviewed for this six-year project, the most quoted is the eloquent trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who sees jazz as "freedom of expression with a groove ... an art form that can give us a painless way of understanding ourselves" and connecting "with everything that has happened on earth."

We peer here into the work of legendary jazz geniuses and get to hear them speak about their love of jazz and its meaning in their lives. Never have the inner lives of such a huge variety of musicians and the art behind their music been so sensitively portrayed.

Burns and Ward take the reader on a fascinating journey through jazz's unpredictable history, gracefully portraying it as a reflection of America's social history and race relations.

Fabulous quotes abound on virtually every notable jazz style and player - from the book's biggest hero, Louis Armstrong, to John Coltrane, who "crammed so many notes into a chord he left nothing for his accompanists to play."

Duke Ellington "was a miraculous jigsaw and seldom did anyone pick up more than a few pieces at a time." Swing musicians who worked for Ellington spent so much time on the road that one recalls, "When I left Duke, I slept for almost a whole year."

No jazz afficionado should miss this dazzling celebration of jazz, itself a celebration of life.

Susan Miron is a freelance writer in Newton, Mass.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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