By Nate Chinen
One of jazz’s leading critics gives us an invigorating, richly detailed portrait of the artists and events that have shaped the music of our time. Grounded in authority and brimming with style, Playing Changes is the first book to take the measure of this exhilarating moment: it is a compelling argument for the resiliency of the art form and a rejoinder to any claims about its calcification or demise.
“Playing changes,” in jazz parlance, has long referred to an improviser’s resourceful path through a chord progression. Playing Changes boldly expands on the idea, highlighting a host of significant changes—ideological, technological, theoretical, and practical—that jazz musicians have learned to navigate since the turn of the century. Nate Chinen, who has chronicled this evolution firsthand throughout his journalistic career, vividly sets the backdrop, charting the origins of jazz historicism and the rise of an institutional framework for the music. He traces the influence of commercialized jazz education and reflects on the implications of a globalized jazz ecology. He unpacks the synergies between jazz and postmillennial hip-hop and R&B, illuminating an emergent rhythm signature for the music. And he shows how a new generation of shape-shifting elders, including Wayne Shorter and Henry Threadgill, have moved the aesthetic center of the music.
Woven throughout the book is a vibrant cast of characters—from the saxophonists Steve Coleman and Kamasi Washington to the pianists Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer to the bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding—who have exerted an important influence on the scene. This is an adaptive new music for a complex new reality, and Playing Changes is the definitive guide.