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Salem Washington: Reviews

Clawing at the Limits of Cool

Clawing at the Limits of Cool

Editor's Pick for June 10, 2008

By Mark Woodhouse, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY -- Library Journal

Griffin, Farah Jasmine & Salim Washington. Clawing at the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin's. Aug. 2008. c.288p. photogs. discog. bibliog. index. ISBN 978-0-312-32785-9. $24.95. MUSIC

Griffin (English, Columbia Univ.; If You Can't Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday) and saxophonist and jazz educator Washington examine two giants of modern jazz, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, both from a musical and a historical/social perspective. The authors' division of labor sometimes causes a slight disruption of the chronology so that time periods and recordings that are addressed in terms of African American social history reappear in discussions of the complicated development of their musical relationship. Biographical detail in the early chapters will be familiar to many, but following the two lives as they run parallel, converge, and diverge amid the turbulent background of the 1950s and 1960s offers a fresh focus. The authors rely on interviews with those who knew both men, particularly Davis's protégé Wallace Roney, who offers insightful personal and musical observations. The discography is valuable, and readers will want to seek out recordings after encountering the perceptive analyses in the text. This is a readable and important addition to the growing body of literature on these key figures. Necessary for all music collections; a good choice for both academic and public libraries.

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