Jazz Legends | Performing Arts

Jazz up performing arts collections with a compulsively readable book about the making of Kind of Blue and the illuminating diary of legendary saxophone great Sonny Rollins.

Kaplan, James. 3 Shades of Blue: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and the Lost Empire of Cool. Penguin Pr. Mar. 2024. 496p. ISBN 9780525561002. $32. MUSIC

Kaplan (Irving Berlin: New York Genius) impressively tells the story of how Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans came together for the recording session that produced the 1959 album Kind of Blue. When pianist Evans joined Davis’s band in 1958, he was the only white member in an all-Black group; Davis’s musical ability lifted them above the era’s pervasive racism. Evans’s lyrical improvisation skills and talent on the keys sparked a revolutionary idea in Davis’s mind: there’s no need to play all those chords to play jazz. Evans lasted only a few months in the group: the band’s rigorous schedule, his discomfort as the only white player on stage, and other personal concerns eventually drove him out. But the following year, he came back to collaborate one last time on an album that’s not only jazz’s best seller but a minimalist reworking of the jazz lexicon. The book follows the three musicians from the starts to ends of their careers—a sad story for Evans, a triumphant one for Coltrane, and a complicated but creative one for Davis. VERDICT A compulsively readable book about three jazz legends who came together for one glorious moment to produce one of the best, most influential jazz records ever.—David Keymer

Rollins, Sonny. The Notebooks of Sonny Rollins. New York Review. Mar. 2024. 172p. ed. by Sam V.H. Reese. ISBN 9781681378268. pap. $17.95. MUSIC

Ninety-three-year-old saxophone great Rollins compiles excerpts from his notebooks, split into four chronological sections, which span from 1959 to 2010 and discuss everything from intricate music theories to the broad capabilities of the saxophone and the best posture and embouchure for playing. Edited by Reese (Blue Notes), the book also details Rollins’s strict exercise and dietary routines, his musical influences (including Coleman Hawkins), the pitfalls of the cutthroat music business, his balanced opinion of pop stars like the Crusaders and the Rolling Stones, and his favorite films and books. He warns about the perils of climate change and social injustice, underscores his goal of racial harmony, blasts the toxic U.S. consumer culture, and delineates the multiracial origins of jazz. As a devotee of Eastern religion, he emphasizes how improvisatory music is a reflection of life and a means to connect to a divine cosmic essence. Through his notebooks, Rollins emerges as a driven, humble, thoughtful, dedicated, persistent, and spiritual soul in search of a higher force through music. VERDICT Illuminating diary entries by a jazz legend; highly recommended reading for fans, musicians, and general audiences.—Dr. Dave Szatmary

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