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Publisher's Summary

Jazz is a uniquely American art form, one of America's great contributions to not only musical culture, but world culture, with each generation of musicians applying new levels of creativity that take the music in unexpected directions that defy definition, category, and stagnation.
Now you can learn the basics and history of this intoxicating genre in an eight-lecture series that is as free-flowing and original as the art form itself. You'll follow the evolution of jazz from its beginnings in the music and dancing of the antebellum plantations to its morphing into many shapes as its greatest innovators gave us ragtime, the blues, the swing music of the big band era, boogie-woogie, and big band blues.
You'll follow the rise of modern jazz in all of its many forms, including bebop, cool, modal, free, and fusion jazz. And you'll learn how the course of jazz was changed by key technological innovations, such as the invention of the microphone, which allowed smaller-voiced singers like Bing Crosby or Mel Torme to share a limelight once reserved for the bigger voices of stars like Bessie Smith or Al Jolson.
Beginning the story on those antebellum plantations, Professor Messenger reveals how the "cakewalks" of slave culture gave birth to a dance craze at the end of the 19th century that was ignorant of its own humble roots. And he explores the irony of the minstrel shows, which derived from Southern beliefs of black cultural inferiority yet eventually spawned a musical industry that African-American musicians would dominate for decades to come.
As a bonus, the lectures are also very entertaining, with Professor Messenger frequently turning to his piano to illustrate his musical points, often with the help of guest artists.
©1995 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)1995 The Great Courses
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Customer Reviews

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By augustine on 08-19-13

Like Jazz, this sounds improvised

Professor Messenger is truly a master of jazz. His demonstrations are entertaining and help the listener with jazz and the historical tale that weaves in and out of the demonstrations helps put the various styles into perspective.

Unfortunately, like the jazz that he is demonstrating, the eight lectures sound improvised.For example, the topics that are covered are many and the argument can be made that not enough time has been given to the topics. Professor Messenger does not deal with the time issues well. Thus we get one half a lecture dealing with one blues artist because she is available, while modern jazz, fusion, free jazz and bebop are all crammed into one lecture.

Also, many references are made to recordings that are never played. Often it seems as if these examples have just popped into Professor Messengers head.

In conclusion, a better "road map" is needed, if the time is to be utilized better. OTOH, the historical information is very good.

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10 of 11 people found this review helpful


By Parallax View on 08-18-13

A Disappointingly Distorted, Myopic View Of Jazz

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

An honest presentation of the subject!The lecturer's fast forwarding through the segment on modern jazz, brushing aside or even ignoring such universally recognized Jazz Giants as: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Lambert, Hendridks & Ross, Cannonball lAdderly, Max Roach, Oliver Nelson, J.J. Johnson, Eric Dolphy, and too many more to mention in this small space, and replacing them with time wasting mediocre and mundane musical samples and seeming shameless self promotion is unconscionable , The lecturer mentions Beat author Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind. But he reminds me of another book popular around that time, titled Advertisements for Myself. Had I not been a life long lover of jazz - and especially modern jazz - and gotten my introduction to the subject through the lecturer's course, I would not have touched the music with a ten foot pole.

What do you think your next listen will be?

Not Bill Messenger

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Professor Bill Messenger?

The subject material, not the narrator was the problem.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

Hard to tell. The author so warped the section on modern jazz, that I can not trust any of the rest of the course.

Any additional comments?

Most of the Audible books and The Great Courses material I have purchased have been excellent and well worth the money. I just ordered a DVD: Great Scientific Ideas That Changed the World course about an hour ago.

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18 of 21 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

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By Chris on 07-03-17

A nice introduction but needs more content

This course covers various styles of jazz as it developed from the late 19th century until the mid to late twentieth century.

Starting from ragtime, the professor discusses the development of African music into an American art form in an interesting and clearly well informed manner. I have a couple of issues with the course which is why I've given three stars but it's really more like a 3.5 star course.

Firstly, the level of detail in the theory is very uneven. In some cases we get really detailed descriptions of what to listen for in a certain style of jazz. In others, words like Dorean mode and modulation seem to get thrown in without much preface. I've done a fair amount of musical theory and in the last lecture I pretty much lost track of what was being said.

I will say that the quality definitely decreases as you move forwards. The negatives below really only apply as the course progresses.

Secondly, the professor seems to assume we already know many jazz artists names and songs going into the course. The reason I chose to listen to this course was to learn who I should listen to and what to listen out for. But we don't get much help in that regard (except in the early sessions) - he throws names around and we just have to assume they are relevant to the topic at hand but there is little introduction or narrative about who they are or how they fit in to the topic at hand.

Finally, the final lecture definitely needed to be spread out over several lectures. After covering maybe one style of jazz a lecture, we suddenly have four or five in one go and there's little chance to understand how they all relate to each other.


This course was a let down to me and I hope they do a second edition that does the topic justice. If you are really into the topic this might be worth your while, but I'm going to get a book on the history of jazz and read that instead (along with some records...).

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful


By Fatmusketeer on 12-30-16

Excellent introduction to The history of Jazz

Where does Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I have listened to a lot of Great Courses. This is one of the best. It is very accessible, entertaining and illustrated with examples played by the lecturer who is a fine jazz pianist.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion?

One of Rachmanino's prelaudes was being 'ragged' when the composer (unknown to the pianist) was in the room....but I won't spoil the story.

What about Professor Bill Messenger’s performance did you like?

Bill Messenger is a fine jazz player and loves his subject. This came across very clearly in the course. An inspirational teacher.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Not advisable. I would recommend listening to some of the music talked about after each lecture.

Any additional comments?

The course material is adequate but not as comprehensive as some other courses. And I wish the course was longer!

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

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By Quentin on 07-09-17

amazing

it was mind blowing lectures. Fabulous piano playing to illustrate everything. Really the best thing about jazz I listened on Audible so far

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By Reuben Schwarz on 04-13-17

fantastic brief history of jazz

great basic intro to origins of jazz. mainly focuses on the early years. loved it

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