Sunday, December 09, 2007

Book Learning

About four years ago I started casting about for a university course or program that could fill in the (many) gaps in my knowledge about 20th-century music outside my roots in American blues and jazz. As the lines continue to blur between improvised music and contemporary classical music — especially as it relates to electronic music — I find myself wanting to know more about the evolution of these things outside the well-known "great men."

I never found a course within commuting distance or online, but with Alex Ross' new book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening To The Twentieth Century, I'm feeling that my search may be over. Ross is such an engaging writer, and his research so compelling, that I feel it could provide enough jumping-off points to recordings and other reading that it will keep me busy for years.

Ross' book also provides a great bedside companion to the just-released new book by my colleague and friend Howard Mandel, Miles, Ornette, Cecil: Jazz Beyond Jazz. The connection between those three giants of improvised music and Stravinsky, Debussy, Stockhausen and others is well known, but how did all these composer-performers help shape and reflect what we have come to know as the avant-garde?

Lots of great reading, thinking, and more listening to come.


Anonymous said...


I've been reading The Rest is Noise as well and, like you, find it engaging and stimulating and a terrific guide to pointing me to seminal compositions. I look forward to reading Howard Mandel's book as well. Greg Masters, NYC

daryl said...


You might also want to check out The Ambient Century by Irish writer Mark Pendergrast, a useful exploration of one particular theme in 20th century music that covers a few genres (although his grasp of jazz is cursory at best).