Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century

Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century

One of jazz's leading critics gives us an invigorating, richly detailed portrait of the artists and events that have shaped the music of our time. Grounded in authority and brimming with style, Playing Changes is the first book to take the measure of this exhilarating moment: it is a compelling argument for the resiliency of the art form and a rejoinder to any claims about...

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Title:Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century
Author:Nate Chinen
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century Reviews

  • Jeffrey Anthony

    I read roughly 40 books a year, I have a degree in jazz from University of Miami, I make my living as a professional session and touring musician, this is one of the best books I have read in the last 3 years. Not even close, I loved this book!

    I can't tell you how many times I smiled while reading this book. I was nodding my head like 'yeah man, so great to see someone vocalize these truths in such an elegant and straight forward way.’

    This book is about as inside baseball as you can get with mod

    I read roughly 40 books a year, I have a degree in jazz from University of Miami, I make my living as a professional session and touring musician, this is one of the best books I have read in the last 3 years. Not even close, I loved this book!

    I can't tell you how many times I smiled while reading this book. I was nodding my head like 'yeah man, so great to see someone vocalize these truths in such an elegant and straight forward way.’

    This book is about as inside baseball as you can get with modern jazz. If you don’t have a solid foundational understanding of jazz, I am not talking about what hip re-harm you can do on a ii-V-I, I am talking about knowing all the players, and what they do, and how they do, and how certain hangs are in the jazz world, if you don’t have at least a modicum of insight into how all of that stuff goes down, you will not like this book.

    If you are of the school of mind that bop is where it is at, and anything else is nonsense, you will HATE this book. And that's fine, there are plenty of books out there for you.

    if you are just a casual listener of jazz, and like jazz, and think, ohh this will be a nice book to read, you will probably not get this book. No offensive, I was thinking about an analogy and I remember after the 2008 financial crisis I wanted to learn more about global finance, and so I read a bunch of books recommend by these economic professors, and while I was reading them about 80% of it went over my head because I did not have the requisite foundational knowledge to understand the theories, and processes being explained.

    And that is fine, I never attempted to get a PHD in economics, and if you are a casual listener to jazz, you are not gonna get most of this book, and again, there are mountains of books out there for you.

    This book should be a must read for any serious jazz musician out there though. This book is worth the time (and money).

  • Tim Niland

    Nate Chinen is one of the most well known jazz jazz critics of the modern era, writing for the New York Times, NPR and more. In this book, he examines the jazz scene in the post millennium time period, focusing on the young musicians and issues that are notable in today's music. It's a breathless rush through some of the major themes that have become prevalent as of late, such as the neo-conservatism presented by Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra vs. the DIY aesthetic of John

    Nate Chinen is one of the most well known jazz jazz critics of the modern era, writing for the New York Times, NPR and more. In this book, he examines the jazz scene in the post millennium time period, focusing on the young musicians and issues that are notable in today's music. It's a breathless rush through some of the major themes that have become prevalent as of late, such as the neo-conservatism presented by Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra vs. the DIY aesthetic of John Zorn's performance space The Stone and the Vision Festival of Patricia Nicholson and William Parker. This is demonstrated by analyzing the conflicting desire to hold on to traditional swing and blues against the increasing influence of hip-hop and complex new musical forms represented by Kamasi Washington and Mary Halvorson respectively. To Chinen's credit, he doesn't see these approaches as completely contradictory, beveling that there is significant overlap that hedges against any reductive conclusion. The book draws both from the voluminous writing he has done in the past along with new ideas, and he presents himself as a master of the biographical sketch, juggling character sketches, musical analysis and interviews with colleagues to present a well rounded look into individual musicians. His examination of the position of women in jazz is particularly illuminating, beginning with Cecile McLorin Salvant's subtle tweaking of the role of the modern jazz vocalist and approach to standards and repertoire and Esperanza Spalding's journey to from a prodigy through to massive success and awards and the drive to stay at the public eye either through webcasts or playing against type in her own bands or with others, from post bop with Joe Lovano through to her own unclassifiable Emily D + Evolution project. The profile of Mary Halvorson is particularly illuminating, as she speaks candidly about being being a woman in predominantly male led groups, and her triumph has an original and an iconoclast is very interesting. Other profiles of note include a lengthy look at the music of Jason Moran and his voyage from Houston to becoming a modern mainstream phenom in the first decade of the millennium to someone who became interested in larger scale thematic and multimedia presentations, breaking away from Blue Note Records to self-releaese music on his own terms. One of the missed opportunities in this book was a potential discussion of music distribution in the modern era, particularly the Bandcamp vs. Spotify approaches, though the issue has been discussed at length elsewhere. Whether examining the overarching themes that confront the music in the modern age, or getting down to the granular level by interviewing musicians and examining their output, Chinen is engaging and thought-provoking throughout, giving the reader the tools and the encouragement to check out the music for themselves, balancing boosterism with criticism in a fine and thoughtful manner.

  • Alex Abboud

    This book is perfect for people like myself who are fans of jazz, but not so dedicated they’re on top of new trends and artists. I had heard of some, like Kamasi Washington, Joshua Redman, the Bad Plus etc, but discovered and learned about many more through this book. Chinen, a notable jazz writer and critic, traces the evolution of the genre through the late 20th century and the 21st century to date. His book shows that the genre remains dynamic, contrary to popular opinion. Particularly valuab

    This book is perfect for people like myself who are fans of jazz, but not so dedicated they’re on top of new trends and artists. I had heard of some, like Kamasi Washington, Joshua Redman, the Bad Plus etc, but discovered and learned about many more through this book. Chinen, a notable jazz writer and critic, traces the evolution of the genre through the late 20th century and the 21st century to date. His book shows that the genre remains dynamic, contrary to popular opinion. Particularly valuable are his album recommendations at the end of each chapter, and his list of essential albums of the 21st century so far.

  • Josh

    One of the byproducts of great long-form music criticism is that you walk away from it with a list of records to explore (or revisit). Chinen brings up tantalizing titles throughout the book, and concludes with an invaluable list of 129 essential albums— enough to keep ravenous listeners busy for weeks. The book itself is wonderfully broad-minded, showing real knowledge and affection for jazz history without ever being stodgy or nostalgic. Likewise, his jazz excavations uphold broader aesthetic

    One of the byproducts of great long-form music criticism is that you walk away from it with a list of records to explore (or revisit). Chinen brings up tantalizing titles throughout the book, and concludes with an invaluable list of 129 essential albums— enough to keep ravenous listeners busy for weeks. The book itself is wonderfully broad-minded, showing real knowledge and affection for jazz history without ever being stodgy or nostalgic. Likewise, his jazz excavations uphold broader aesthetic arguments, ultimately about being rooted in a lineage but not being beholden to it. Chinen’s prose is always admirably clear, precise, and readable. An excellent jazz book, and immediately a landmark.

  • K

    The first half of this book is incredibly strong with tons of observations that cut through the fray. I found the chapter on jazz education to be puzzling and didn't really get as clear a sense of the point as, say, the chapters on jazz heroism and the uptown/downtown divide. The second half of the book is less clearly conceived as the first half. The features on Jason Moran and Esperanza Spaulding were welcome, but I was pretty irritated that Chinen didn't wade into the massive debates that hav

    The first half of this book is incredibly strong with tons of observations that cut through the fray. I found the chapter on jazz education to be puzzling and didn't really get as clear a sense of the point as, say, the chapters on jazz heroism and the uptown/downtown divide. The second half of the book is less clearly conceived as the first half. The features on Jason Moran and Esperanza Spaulding were welcome, but I was pretty irritated that Chinen didn't wade into the massive debates that have bubbled to the surface in the wake of Robert Glasper's comments about women in jazz. Additionally, the last chapter on global fusions was fascinating, but it also felt unfinished in comparison to the rigor of the rest of the book. Chinen tries to engage with some recent jazz scholarship here, especially Stuart Nicholson and some of the recent books on the Routledge Transatlantic Jazz series, but I mostly mourned the absence of scholarly and critical voices from Latin America. In contrast to the earlier chapters in this book, the second half of the book seems to be written exclusively for jazz insiders. That's a shame. I am a huge fan, and I tired of the constant naming of musicians and the assumption that the reader would be fluent in jazz history. It's a shame because I think the overall argument of the book is very strong.

    As an aside, some of the other reviews on this website complain about Chinen's critical tone. I really like it and see it as more celebratory. It's a deep dive into sonorous description rather than merely celebratory.

  • Ted Burke

    A book I'm currently reading, "Playing Changes" by Nate Chinen, is a fascinating argument that we are currently in an age of amazing new jazz artists and an equal amount of amazing innovation and new ways for jazz composers and soloists to further this resilient art of musical improvisation. The premise is not one I'd bicker with--ours is a time when the "jazz is dead" club needs to just be silent for a very long time and listen to the creativity that abounds. But, as the review points out, auth

    A book I'm currently reading, "Playing Changes" by Nate Chinen, is a fascinating argument that we are currently in an age of amazing new jazz artists and an equal amount of amazing innovation and new ways for jazz composers and soloists to further this resilient art of musical improvisation. The premise is not one I'd bicker with--ours is a time when the "jazz is dead" club needs to just be silent for a very long time and listen to the creativity that abounds. But, as the review points out, author Chinen, a critic with a forward-thinking preference for new and temperamentally sounds, writes in a such a way that he makes you think of the guy who must have been the least interesting student in a seminar on post-modernism. He does not, as the reviewer suggests, at times sound like Derrida; rather, he seems more like a person who thinks he sounds like Derrida. Which is a shame, because although Chinen writes about important artists and at times makes crucial distinctions in what is happening in the ever-evolving jazz timeline, it seems that the premise of the book is that the music exists only to be co-opted and made to dance between inscrutable phrases and descriptions that don't really intrigue a reader to actually go out and purchase some of this fine new music. Tellingly, Nate Chinen chides the older critical establishment, those who would have jazz become a formalized canon, set in place, with boundaries and inflexible boundaries, yet he seems to be working to construct his own fiefdom of critical imperative. Meet the new boss... In any case, all this begs the question to be asked, which is why can't there be a working idea of jazz that doesn't require anyone going to war against other schools of thoughts on the music, or specific ways of playing. A jazz fan can enjoy both and not be betraying whatever "true spirit" of jazz the critical camps think. Seriously, one occasionally feels that some critics, whether Leonard Feather , Amiri Baraka or Nate Chinen, despite his protest to the contrary, wish they could be in the studio, instructing the musicians in what their note selections and points of creating tension and release should be.

  • Scott Schneider

    Amazing review of the past 30 years of jazz. Many of the rising stars he cites I am familiar with but there were many I haven't heard of. I wish the book had been accompanied with a CD of music to listen to while reading the book. Chinen shows that jazz is alive and well with dozens of new talents taking jazz in many new directions.

  • Jon

    This is a great look at recent jazz from a really terrific writer and thinker. I was only familiar with a handful of musicians Chinen discussed, but I walked away with a whole new list of folks to check out. I do really like how he treated the whole Marsalis issue - not disregarding him nor praising him, but rather accepting his role, for better or worse, in how modern jazz has been shaped.

  • marsbars

    There's two schools of thought about jazz post-1975: that it died and that it's as alive as ever. (I chose 1975, because that's when Miles Davis went on hiatus, but the truth is you could take any year in the early 1970s and make a good case for it since that's when fusion went big and sucked every artist into its black hole.) Both statements are hyperbolic (fucking obviously), and are emblematic of what's wrong with a lot of writing about modern jazz: every review of every album by every artist

    There's two schools of thought about jazz post-1975: that it died and that it's as alive as ever. (I chose 1975, because that's when Miles Davis went on hiatus, but the truth is you could take any year in the early 1970s and make a good case for it since that's when fusion went big and sucked every artist into its black hole.) Both statements are hyperbolic (fucking obviously), and are emblematic of what's wrong with a lot of writing about modern jazz: every review of every album by every artist is written as if it was the second coming of

    . People who think

    's reviews of indie or Fantano's takes on hip-hop are bad should really delve deep into jazz reviews, which are the real nadir.

    Anyway, in case you haven't been following, here's Alex Ross, classical music writer and essayist for the

    and really just one of the best writers about music period:

    "The story of jazz, for example, seems to recapitulate classical history at high speed. First, the youth-rebellion period: Satchmo and the Duke and Bix and Jelly Roll teach a generation to lose itself in the music. Second, the era of bourgeois grandeur: the high-class swing band parallels the Romantic orchestra. Stage 3: artists rebel against the bourgeois image, echoing the classical modernist revolution, sometimes by direct citation (Charlie Parker works the opening notes of “The Rite of Spring” into “Salt Peanuts”). Stage 4: free jazz marks the point at which the vanguard loses touch with the mass and becomes a self-contained avant-garde. Stage 5: a period of retrenchment. Wynton Marsalis’s attempt to launch a traditionalist jazz revival parallels the neo-Romantic music of many late-twentieth-century composers. But this effort comes too late to restore the art to the popular mainstream. Jazz recordings sell about the same as classical recordings, three per cent of the market."

    (It should be pointed out that the same trajectory can be mapped out for rock and hip-hop.)

    I've had my pulse on jazz in the new decade and haven't found much to love; Nate Chinen's book covers several 'famous' jazz musicians (oxymoronic nowadays), with chapters almost solely devoted to an individual musician: Kamasi Washington, Esperanza Spalding, Robert Glasper, Brad Mehldau, John Zorn, Vijay Iyer, etc. I say "almost solely," because Nate tends to write each chapter in the exact same formulaic manner: introduction about the artist that the chapter is about, detour about another artist that's vaguely similar, tie it back together. The formula got really tiring more than halfway through, and you'd think it'd be hard to write boringly about the iconoclastic John Zorn, whose

    (1990) took my virginity, but there you go.

    That being said, it's nice to see a nuanced take for once on Kamasi Washington, whose success as a jazz musician was only possible because of his success as not a jazz musician. (The praise about

    , unanimously decided to be the best jazz album of the decade because it's the only one people have heard, was only made possible because of his work on Kendrick Lamar's

    .) (The same goes for Robert Glasper.) And Nate's write-up about Brad Mehldau made me actually want to listen to Brad Mehldau, which I don't do regularly because the diffusion of any soul or wit seemed to be getting thinner with every new Mehldau album, which also seemed to be getting longer. He hasn't had a single novel idea since covering Radiohead, which he did fairly early in his career.

    Lot of feelings about modern jazz, in case you haven't noticed. But I'm not rating this 3 stars because the subject matter is tricky, but because Chinen's approach to it; when Chinen isn't trying to force a broader narrative, his writing is fine, and reminiscent of the great Gary Giddins (whom he invokes early on).

    The book also ends with a list of 128 "essential" modern jazz albums, arranged chronologically. The list also contains Flying Lotus'

    which barely qualifies as a jazz album. (Sure, it contains Herbie Hancock, but

    , which also fucked me wide-eyed in 2010, contained Ravi Coltrane, so...) Some of the picks he lists are stuff that I'd recommend, though I'd hardly call most of them "essential."

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