Mike Zwerin gave up his status as CEO of a steel company to play jazz trombone, winding up in Europe eventually earning his living as the jazz writer for the International Herald Tribune. His book The Parisian Jazz Chronicles (Yale University Press, 2005) offers unique glimpses into the lives of such luminaries as Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Wayne Shorter and Dexter Gordon. Actually, Zwerin has chosen to write his “improvisational memoir" in a manner which interfuses his own life in Europe (he recounts love affairs, substance episodes, and expatriate alienation) with chapters in the careers of his interviewees. His writing style contains abrupt segues and changes (he describes these as “interludes, modulations, codas...") from planned outlines to improvisatory notes in a sort of journalistic stream-of-consciousness. It represents a writing adventure that many who plod along with their have-to-do-it-to-make-a-living newspaper writing would love to try.
Zwerin began at the “Trib" in 1979 and was able to trace the development of European jazz innovators like Michel Petrucciani and Burhan Ocal. He reviewed them and many others in the context of festivals at Siena, Viennes, Agadir as well larger ones like Nice and Montreux (better known to Americans) and recorded their accomplishments. The sum total of his experiences leads him to recognize that jazz, long ago, evolved into a world music or “musica franca"- a development that has been largely ignored by his colleagues of the press here in the U.S.A.
Jazz has always had an enormous following of knowledgeable fans all over Europe. Actually, the French wish they had invented the music and often claim that they established it, through their critics, as a true art form. There is much truth in this latter statement. As far back as the early 20’s, French writers were hailing the music’s praises and extolling Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins and others with insight that eluded many early American critics. It is in this context that Mike Zwerin’s book is so valuable. He is the best kind of commentator—a successful musician in his own right—and his comments are uttered in an adventurous style which should delight even readers who aren’t jazz aficionados.