Lee Rice Epstein reviews The Wonder of Jazz on free Jazz Collective


heartily endorse The Wonder of Jazz and Stein’s writing, generally, but, as well, given the same, I think it’s worth talking specifically about why Stein is so good and why this book, now, is quite important to the broader conversation about capital-j Jazz, which free, improvised, and avant-garde music we cover here is strongly associated with.

The overall structure of the book is something of a set-up, knock-down approach, although that oversimplifies that Stein seems to be getting at, which is something like, given all the history behind us, now that we’re here, where are we heading? The “we” royally includes artists both established and up-and-coming, critics, club owners, fans, and casual listeners. While the historical chapters are brisk, they function more like background for the later chapters, which cover a lot of the key topics Stein has been investigating and pursuing for several years now, notably women in jazz, financial sustainability and market influences, and the educator/elder-player relationship, both as mentor and bully.

It’s these topics that separate Stein from other writers on jazz, broadly speaking. She has a way of bridging the past and present that demonstrates how little has changed in some areas. In two brief sections on exploitation, she addresses ways musicians can be exploited by agents and clubs, and how writers can be exploited by publications. As ever, there’s both a look back and questions about how to move forward. What one gets from reading Stein is someone who asks the questions, who doesn’t shy from prompting conversations, but she isn’t insistent on having one final answer. The fluidity of the music seems to inform the multi-perspectival nature of all her writing. The Wonder of Jazz is a book to share with friends, to chat about over drinks, and to revisit, for the sheer enjoyment of Stein’s love for jazz and all its associated sub-genres. For the readers of this blog, there are extensive quotes from Peter Brötzmann and Mats Gustafsson, as well as Stein’s ever-present warmth and genuine curiosity about this music, and yes, wonder.