Book Review: Jazz - New York in the Roaring Twenties



Jazz - New York in the Roaring Twenties by Robert Nippoldt and Hans-Jurgen Schall
(Taschen, Germany, hardcover with CD, 22cm x 35cm, 144pp, £34.99. Book review by Peter Vacher)


Among the most prized of my jazz possessions is photographer William Claxton’s ‘Jazzlife’, a vast flagstone of a book, each image a testament to Claxton’s eagle eye, every page a tribute to the design flair of the bulky tome’s publishers, Taschen of Cologne, Germany. Even the most cursory examination of this and other publications on Taschen’s list will reveal their penchant for high-end art projects, the subjects often quite esoteric, their devotion to print quality and production values of a very high order indeed.

And so to the book in hand, announcing itself with an exciting cover image of a trumpeter printed directly on to its fabric binding, this the precursor to the visual delights that unfold as one opens the book. While it would be inappropriate to describe it as the non-fiction equivalent to one of today’s trendy graphic novels, it is realised throughout as an artistic endeavour, each page containing a drawn portrait of a jazz star or contemporary scene, often based on familiar photographic images. The paper stock is superior, tinted to a pale putty colour, the bold b&w images set against passages of explanatory text, elegantly laid out, the typography suitably distinctive.

Robert Nippoldt is the artist, his certainty of line quite striking, with Hans-Jurgen Schall contributing the words, the whole entity unfolding as a kind of visual and aural guide to the jazz happenings in the New York of the 1920s. To say that this period was crucial in the development of jazz is a given and truthfully, there is little here that is new. Still, Herr Schall’s text ties things in nicely, connecting to the appropriate selection on the 20-track CD that is set within the back cover. He sprinkles anecdotes and reminiscences in to his accounts of the lives and times these vital performers and is good at summoning up the aura of those heady, pre-Depression times.

Musically, the CD is commendably wide-ranging, commencing with Jelly Roll’s ‘Freakish’ and ending with Cab’s 'Minnie The Moocher’, by way of the ODJB, Louis & Bessie, early Duke and Paul Whiteman. Some of the other choices are unusual, rare birds you could say, and that’s all to the good. So, in sum, a creative treat, just right for the jazz tyro with an enquiring mind and a delight in good design. As the book’s own encomium has it, ‘a feast for the ears as well as the eyes!’ Just so.

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