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But Beautiful [Paperback]

Geoff Dyer
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 7 2003 Book about Jazz
In a series of fictional portraits, Geoff Dyer captures the beating heart of jazz, its pathos and lyricism, urgency and self-destruction: Charlie Mingus in New York; Art Pepper in prison; Lester Young in the Alvin; Bud Powell in Paris.

'Drawing on how he hears the music of people like Mingus, Monk, bud Powell, Art Pepper and Lester Young, Dyer has constructed eight variations like highly concentrated novels, 80 per cent proof swigs of fiction. The result, I think, is brilliant...His attempts to recreate the drug-fogged, music-drenched, reality-melting, racism-crazed insides of the minds of people like Powell, Mingus, Webster and Chet Baker are unnervingly effective. So too, are his pen-portraits of their music ...his long postscript on jazz today shows that he can operate as a lucid and catholic jazz critic as well' Miles Kington, INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY


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Besides colorful and expressive music, jazz greats such as Lester Young, Thelonius Monk and Duke Ellington led equally colorful, albeit self-destructive, lives. Through this collection of essays, Geoff Dyer recounts some of the more vivid episodes and events these personalities engaged in and illuminates unique aspects of their character that contributed to their music. He also sheds light on the oppression of working within an atmosphere of race-alienation, a hardship that led many to abuse alcohol and drugs, and find solace only in their incredible music. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Dyer (Ways of Telling) here weaves impressionistic fantasies around the lives of eight jazz legends. Though he calls this "imaginative criticism," the vignettes, inspired by photos and writings about the artists, have little to do with music. Rather, he muses about the musicians' personalities and certain episodes in their lives?Lester Young's disastrous stint in the army, Thelonious Monk's inability to communicate with anyone but his wife, Bud Powell's mental breakdown, Chet Baker's drug-induced deterioration, Duke Ellington's endless travels. The colorful essays are sometimes excessively fanciful, and they capture the atmosphere of alienation that surrounded these men who, often wasted by drug and alcohol abuse and worn out from days and nights on the road, seemed to function only when making music. The pretentious "afterword" is irrelevant. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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It was the quiet time of the evening, between the day people heading home from work and the night people arriving at Birdland. Read the first page
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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Hardcover
Picture this: "Onstage at Birdland, eyes shut, one arm hanging at his side....trumpet raised to his lips like a brandy bottle--not playing the horn but swigging from it, sipping it."
Geoff Dyer's employs his exquisite imagery as a starting point for his "imaginative criticism" of the celebrated and tragic lives of several iconic jazz musicians (including figures such as Chet Baker, Lester Young, Thelonious Monk, Ben Webster, Charles Mingus, and Bud Powell). While photographs are the inspiration, Dyer's writing is so precise and sensual that he need only describe the photographs (the book has only one small photo). And this is just right for a book about music, his writing is so lyrical that we almost hear the sounds while reading. (In fact. the least effective aspect of the book is the Duke Ellington "road trip" that introduces each chapter, perhaps because the narrative is not connected to any particular Ellington sound.)
Many of the scenes and dialogue (especially the inner dialogue) are necessarily fictions, "assume that what's here has been invented or altered rather than quoted." But Dyer's explains that while his version may veer from the truth, "it keeps faith with the improvisational prerogatives of the form." He mixes truth and fiction into portraits that illuminate what strictly factual history cannot always convey. (Think of Robert Graves' in his WWI memoir/fiction "Goodbye to All That."). Dyer explains that while a photo depicts only a "split second," its "felt duration" may include the unseen moments before and after that split second.
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4.0 out of 5 stars More than Beautiful: Literary Bebop May 3 2000
Format:Paperback
Geoff Dyer's But Beautiful: A Book about Jazz is much more than an extended critical essay on a still-evolving, vital musical genre and a great deal more than fictional portrayals of Jazz legends. Here, Dyer focuses his considerable talents on creating a kind of Jazz-in-print, seeking to emulate the frenzied riffing, explosive spontaneity and creative interplay, which has given Jazz music so much more vitality than many other genres' created in the 20th century. Without question, one would have to agree that he has succeeded, totally to the readers' enrichment.
But Beautiful hits the reader on several levels; we are taken on a series of journeys into the lives, thoughts, conversations and seminal events of eight Jazz musicians. Between each chapter is inserted a fictional, road-tripping almost ghostly presence of Duke Ellington, a father figure of modern Jazz who may well have known, recorded and very likely influenced all eight men whom Dyer chose to write/riff about. What's real about the eight musicians are the bare-bones facts known to many Jazz fans; Lester Young court-martialed by the Army because of an inability to cope with a racist Drill Sergeant, Chet Baker's teeth knocked out by an angry drug dealer in a seedy, San Francisco diner, Art Pepper sentenced to five years in prison on a Heroin possession conviction and so on. What's possible, and perhaps no less real to the reader are the details of their lives, their anguish and the self-destructive passions which attend the day to day living of so many creative people. Dyer draws these details in part through listening to the music and inspiration gained by looking at photographs of some of the musicians. 'Not as they were but as they appear to me....
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5.0 out of 5 stars A great book even if you don't love jazz Nov. 26 1999
Format:Paperback
I read But Beautiful the day that I bought it. I loved it so much that I recommended it to a friend of mine who's a jazz critic and flautist. The next time I met him I asked him what he thought, and he told me that he didn't like it - that it was, quote, patronising. I have no idea what he meant by this. The only musician in the book whose work I knew at all is Bud Powell, and the book is worth reading for that section alone; Dyer's insights on what it's like to listen to the music are almost more remarkable than his reconstructions of the musicians' lives. The section on Art Pepper has a grisly intensity, as Dyer wonders how such a small and severely damaged personality could make such great music. It could almost turn a loud-guitars man like me into a jazz fan.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Truly beautiful April 8 1998
Format:Paperback
I'm a writer. Go ahead, search Amazon, you'll find me. So to the extent that I've got a novel published, I'm a writer. I also happen to be a jazz fan. I've got autographs from Dexter Gordon and McCoy Tyner and others framed and on my wall to prove it. All that having been said, I wish I had written But Beautiful. However, I'm not that good a writer. If you know jazz, you'll love this book. If you don't know jazz, it's a great way to get to know it. Go out and get, say, Clifford Brown and Max Roach or John Coltrand and Johnny Hartman or Gerry Mulligan meets Ben Webster and listen to them and read this terrific book. Geoff Dyer knows how to use words to convey meaning, emotion, and sound. This is a beautiful little book. I hope he writes another.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Just sheer jazz feedback to keep the fire going
If you ever loved a jazz tune, you will love these pages. Not for anything else but for beauty in the art itself. Sobering, BUT BEAUTIFUL.
Published on Feb. 18 2000
5.0 out of 5 stars A Window to the soul of Jazz
This book captures the essence of jazz. Every nuance from languid to livid, sad to sublime is etched out by Dyer's poetic and harmonious flow of prose. Read more
Published on Jan. 18 2000 by David M. Motzenbecker
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect--and not just for jazz fans
Dyer's book is the best writing on musicians I've encountered, ranking alongside Greil Marcus's MYSTERY TRAIN and Nick Kent's THE DARK STUFF. Read more
Published on Sept. 3 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Writing that takes your breath away.
But Beautiful is brilliant. If you're a jazz fan, you must read this book. If you're not a jazz fan, you must also read this book. Read more
Published on Aug. 7 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars it made a jazz lover out of me
It succeeds as a literary piece regardless of your feeling about jazz as a musical form. The book stands out in my mind as a total sensory experience; I still carry images evoked... Read more
Published on Dec 31 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars Feel the rhythm
It let your imagine and create the music and the scenes in your mind. You can feel the rhythm when you read. Just vivid and beautiful. A must read for jazz lovers.
Published on May 3 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars Dyer sets an enormous challenge and exceeds expectations.
Dyer has the rare ability to make the reader feel like he is participating in these lives while simulataneously observing them. Read more
Published on April 1 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars a book for anyone who loves jazz.
THIS BOOK IS A MUST READ FOR ANYONE WHO LOVES JAZZ. THE ARTHOR PUTS YOU INTO THE LIVING EXISTENCE OF THE MUSICIANS LIVES AS NO OTHER BOOK HAS. Read more
Published on Nov. 15 1997 by mrruby@worldnet.att.net
5.0 out of 5 stars Just Beautiful
In But Beautiful the reader is exposed to the greats of jazz through several well written vignetts. The writing just beautiful. Read more
Published on March 21 1997
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