New Book by Scott DeVeaux is All About Jazz

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Jane Ford:

May 3, 2010 — Scott DeVeaux teaches a class on jazz in the University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences to hundreds of students each year. His new book, "Jazz," co-authored with jazz critic and former Village Voice contributor Gary Giddins, grew out of his need for a well-written, up-to-date textbook that told the story of jazz in context.

The book, now available in bookstores for the general public and to students in a soon-to-be-published condensed form, "Jazz: Essential Listening," has an accompanying CD set that brings to life the history and musicology of jazz through detailed listening guides included in each chapter. For the textbook and public version, there are four CDs; for the abridged, two.

"You have to have the music. There's no other way of dealing with jazz," said DeVeaux, an associate professor in the McIntire Department of Music who has taught at U.Va. for 27 years. "It's not just a question of simply finding 'a' recording. You have to have 'the' recording you are talking about – a particular performance."

As improvisation is a key element of jazz, understanding the variations a musician brings to a performance is essential. It's about "trying to get people to listen to what's going on with jazz because it's the kind of music that invites the listener in on the experience," DeVeaux said.

The listening guides are about form and structure – and more.

"The idea of the listening guides was to try to give people a map that would cue them in to things that were happening in the music. Noticing when the drums change. Noticing when a soloist makes a melodic gesture – or even when a musician makes a mistake," DeVeaux said.

The second-by-second analysis of the performance has multiple advantages. "It's a way of giving the instructor a guideline for how to approach a given piece of music," DeVeaux said. "It's adding a level of musical detail that I hope will encourage teachers to make sure that their students are getting a musical education in addition to a more generally cultural interpretation."

For his students, it's a way for them to have concrete examples of musical terms they need to learn as well as a primer for their own comparative analysis writing assignment.

The listening guides are interwoven in the cultural and historical narrative of jazz. Of the 19 chapters, two are introductions to elements and instruments and jazz, form and improvisation. Others explore jazz's history – the performers, innovators and musical influences: New Orleans, New York, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, swing, bebop, cool jazz, the avant-garde and the many cultural influences.

All are woven together by a narrative that looks at the whole history of jazz.

"One of the narratives is the modernist, avant-garde narrative that steers jazz toward becoming a complex, challenging art music," DeVeaux said.

Another narrative is fusion, which sees jazz as yoked to popular culture. "The fusion approach is new and comprehensive. I finally decided that it could be used as a narrative for all of jazz history: that jazz is attached to popular culture and is continually commenting on it," he said.

A third narrative is historicism, in which jazz is influenced by its own history. This approach comments on the acceptance of jazz studies in the academy and the effect of this retrospective view on the creation of new music.

It's not a linear approach. "I don't know of any other textbook that deals with contemporary jazz in three separate narratives," DeVeaux said. "It's normally more of a decade-by-decade approach, which doesn't make any sense to me because there are so many kinds of music in the '70s and '80s, let alone today.  Jazz history doesn't cohere by decade, it coheres instead by ideologies."

Another layer of the story of jazz is the photography. Throughout each edition there are photographs by legendary jazz photographer Herman Leonard and others. "The images they present are as important a part of the music as the sound. It's wonderful to have those photographs because they help create a full sensory image." DeVeaux said.

"You know, it's unusual to say this about a book that started as a textbook: It's really fun to read. It's really entertaining."

—  By Jane Ford