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SoundStage! Update

Books on Music

December 8, 2006

For jazz buffs, the line between reading and listening has just become a bit more blurry. Ashley Kahn has written three books that give an in-depth look into some jazz masterpieces and their place in history: Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece [Da Capo], A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album [Viking Adult] and, most recently, The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records [W.W. Norton]. What made Kahn's first two books unique was their insight into the historical importance of the landmark recordings they covered. But it’s the Impulse Record story that will have the broadest appeal, because Kahn discusses not just a single album but an entire label. As a companion, Universal, which owns the Impulse catalog, has compiled a four-CD set, The House That Trane Built [Impulse 80006680-02], which helps give a clearer, deeper understanding of the unique place Impulse Records had in both musical and cultural history.

I own all three books as well as all of the associated music. Kind of Blue and A Love Supreme need no explanation as to their places in jazz history, but the boxed set is different. The 38 tracks contained on The House That Trane Built were culled in a manner conducive to understanding what Impulse was for the brief 15-year stretch from its beginnings in 1961 to when it was swallowed up by the corporate music biz in 1976. Packaged more or less historically, this set tracks Impulse’s rise to the preeminent spot among progressive-jazz labels. With the aid of Kahn’s book, you can really dig in and get as much information as you wish about both the label and the music that made it what it was, especially John Coltrane’s unique place in Impulse’s rise to fame as well as why it continued to be a force after Coltrane’s passing in 1967.

All of these books (and CDs) are highly recommended for jazz buffs or those who simply want to learn more about some of the most important music ever recorded....John Crossett, johnc@soundstage.com

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