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Experiencing Jazz

A Listener's Companion

Michael Stephans

In Experiencing Jazz: A Listener’s Companion, writer, teacher, and renowned jazz drummer Michael Stephans offers a much-needed survey in the art of listening to and enjoying this dynamic, ever-changing art form. More than mere entertainment, jazz provides a pleasurable and sometimes dizzying listening experience with an extensive range in structure and form, from the syncopated swing of big bands to the musical experimentalism of small combos. As Stephans illustrates, listeners and jazz artists often experience the essence of the music together—an experience unique in the world of music.

Experiencing Jazz demonstrates how the act of listening to jazz takes place on a deeply personal level and takes readers on a whirlwind tour of the genre, instrument by instrument—offering not only brief portraits of key musicians like Joe Lovano and John Scofield, but also their own commentaries on how best to experience the music they create. Throughout, jazz takes center stage as a personal transaction that enriches the lives of both musician and listener. Written for anyone curious about the genre, this book encourages further reading, listening, and viewing, helping potential listeners cultivate an understanding and appreciation of the jazz art and how it can help—in drummer Art Blakey’s words—“wash away the dust of everyday life.”
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 502Size: 6 x 9
978-0-8108-8289-8 • Hardback • October 2013 • $53.00 • (£37.95)
978-1-4422-7952-0 • Paperback • January 2017 • $30.00 • (£19.95)
978-0-8108-8290-4 • eBook • October 2013 • $28.00 • (£18.95)
Michael Stephans teaches writing at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. A writer, jazz journalist, and award-winning poet, he has written liner notes and promotional material for such luminaries as Bennie Maupin, Bob Brookmeyer, and David Liebman. Stephans is also a prominent jazz musician and has performed and recorded with a wide array of jazz artists.
Award-winning writer, teacher, and renowned jazz drummer Michael Stephans invites the reader on a guided tour of the jazz world in this essential survey of the genre’s history. This groundbreaking book reframes the ever-evolving, distinctly human, art of jazz and invites readers to relearn how to listen. Yes, listening, really listening to music is the lost art that Stephans works to preserve. He forgoes chronological order, instead approaching the subject from the standpoint of instruments and musical innovators while offering a comprehensive social, cultural, and musical history of jazz, from its birth to its present day. This survey of jazz is particular among jazz appreciation texts because it is written by a jazz musician who is currently active on the global jazz scene. With a forward by esteemed jazz writer Doug Ramsey, and preface by jazz master Dave Liebman, this text is a culmination of many prominent voices of the jazz world. At the heart of the book, readers are invited onto the bandstand to listen to personal accounts and legendary jazz stories. In an art form that enriches the lives of the listener and the musician, 'the more we listen, the more we hear.'
Publishers Weekly

Stephans, a prominent jazz musician, has written widely on jazz music and has written promotional material for many fine musicians. His style is straightforward and easygoing, and will help long-time listeners of jazz and those new to the genre cultivate an understanding and appreciation of jazz music. He gives readers explanations of both technical and scholarly aspects but also important points of what we should be listening for. He provides a survey in the art of listening to jazz and provides an insider's perspective to its ever-changing culture. Along the way he provides readers chapters with important historical and musical insights into the history and styles of jazz during the 1940s and 1950s, discusses the functions and forms of jazz on and off the bandstand, gives details on small groups and big bands, and discusses the key instrument and their significant roles in music (e.g., trombone, saxophone, piano, clarinet). An index makes it easy to find specific topics, persons, places, or musical pieces. As good as this book is—and it is wonderful—it cannot bear scrutiny as a reference tool. Rather, it is a monograph on the history, styles, and movements of jazz music.
American Reference Books Annual

He provides useful chapter-by-chapter bibliographies and, in lieu of a discography, a guide to websites, an inevitable twenty-first-century departure from the previous norm in books of this kind. Recommended as a supplementary source for jazz collections.

Experiencing Jazz is unlike any other listener's guide. An experienced jazz performer himself, Stephans describes this book as a 'guided tour to the world of jazz.' Rather than offering an alphabetical compendium of artists with brief annotations about his favorite recordings (and to whom one should listen), the author digs deeper to help the reader better understand what to listen for and how to listen. He engages the reader with descriptions of venues, the life of a working musician, record labels, and the business of music. At the heart of the book are some dozen chapters devoted to the principle instruments in jazz, and conversations with a master of that particular instrument. . . .A solid resource for an appreciation class, Experiencing Jazz takes up many substantive topics. This volume will lead to a more meaningful appreciation of jazz and its practitioners. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates; professionals; general readers.

As a very successful attempt to draw interested parties into the world of jazz, Experiencing Jazz is highly recommended.

The book is written so that the student or interested reader can sample chapters of interest and still benefit. Of course, reading all the way through, as I did, allows one to appreciate the subject in its entirety. There is liberal use of photographs, many of which come from William Gottlieb’s collection, now owned by the Library of Congress, and by extension, we the American public. Another interesting aspect of the book, Stephans lists the official websites of the principal performers and suggests collateral reading. As mentioned already, he gives some illustrative jazz anecdotes which personalize for the reader the jazz experience. Mr. Stephans, besides being an active jazz drummer, is a poet, author and professor. At Bloomsburg University, part of the U of PA system, he teaches a writing course for science and technology majors. Who would benefit from this book? Jazz enthusiasts, especially students and those wishing to develop a broader appreciation for the art.
Jazz Society of Pensacola