Review in The Guardian


The Parisian Jazz Chronicles by Mike Zwerin (Yale, £15.95)

My heart sank when I saw that this was subtitled "An Improvisational Memoir", since in such cases "improvisational" is usually code for tedious stream-of-consciousness reminiscence. But Zwerin, an American trombonist and music critic long resident in Paris, pulls it off superbly, riffing in blue and hot moods, and generally clambering around the staves of his pages like someone for whom the only possible description is a "hep cat". Even his decision to refer to himself in the third person - "Mike" (or sometimes his drug-fuelled alter ego, "Johnny Staccato") - works, probably because he loves also to mock himself.

It also works because Zwerin has such great stories to tell about the giants he met: Dexter Gordon growling at a French policeman who has dared to touch his hat; Bob Dylan in a café confessing to no sense of self; Count Basie deconstructing the inverview scenario, and numerous apparitions by Miles Davis ("everything comes back to Miles"), with whom Zwerin played, and who is the book's guardian angel. There is also a mischievously satirical profile of slush-pop saxist Kenny G, written entirely in the victim's own words. Nice.

by Steven Poole