Chinen’s book is so very welcome as books about contemporary jazz are few and far between, but also because it’s terrific. Chinen puts into context each of the various directions players are taking improvisational music today with a studied thoughtfulness based upon careful listening and deep historical knowledge. The discographies bookmarking each chapter as well as his list of essential 21st century albums are good guideposts for anyone’s future listening.
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.
About the Author
NATE CHINEN has been writing about jazz for more than twenty years. He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times and helmed a long-running column for Jazz Times. As the director of editorial content at WBGO, he works with the multiplatform program Jazz Night in America and contributes a range of coverage to NPR Music. An eleven-time winner of the Helen Dance—Robert Palmer Award for Excellence in writing presented by the Jazz Journalists Association, Chinen is also coauthor of Myself Among Others: A Life in Music, the autobiography of impresario George Wein. He lives in Beacon, New York, with his wife and two daughters.
"Brilliant. Incisive. Jazz lives on and on and on, folks.”—Sonny Rollins
“Sharp in style and warm in feeling, Nate Chinen’s virtuoso survey dispenses with the familiar agendas and polemics that have too often boxed in writing on contemporary jazz. He follows the music where it goes and exults in its plurality of voices.”—Alex Ross, author of The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century
“Chinen’s passion for the art form and deep understanding and knowledge of jazz make for a fascinating read. His firm support of the music and belief that the changes taking place within it will continue to serve it well—solidifying jazz as a global mode of communication without bounds—are truly uplifting.”—Herbie Hancock
"Chinen has excellent taste in unruly new sounds and big, bent ears, and you’ll want to make a playlist."—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
"A terrific book about the shape of contemporary jazz, and right now is a terrific time to read it” —The Washington Post
"A perfectly timed, well-tuned chronicle of the past, present, and future of jazz...One of the essential music books of the young century, so far”—Slate
"Chinen's elegant, evocative writing is a mesmerizing staple of this essential book... Like the best nonfiction, Playing Changes will motivate jazz diehards and neophytes alike to discover what's out there and what's on the horizon."—PopMatters
"A really first-rate jazz critic has been necessary to lay out how vital it remains beneath all the encrusted misperceptions... It's always wonderful to read the results when artists and writers need each other."—Buffalo News
"A brilliant and wide-ranging new history of jazz... Chinen’s virtuoso jazz history will drive readers to listen to the music anew, or for the first time."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)