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 the Best Books of the Year: NPR, GQ, Billboard, JazzTimes
In jazz parlance, “playing changes” refers to an improviser’s resourceful path through a chord progression. In this definitive guide to the jazz of our time, leading critic Nate Chinen boldly expands on that idea, taking us through the key changes, concepts, events, and people that have shaped jazz since the turn of the century—from Wayne Shorter and Henry Threadgill to Kamasi Washington and Esperanza Spalding; from the phrase “America’s classical music” to an explosion of new ideas and approaches; from claims of jazz’s demise to the living, breathing scene that exerts influence on mass culture, hip-hop, and R&B. Grounded in authority and brimming with style, packed with essential album lists and listening recommendations, Playing Changes takes the measure of this exhilarating moment—and the shimmering possibilities to come.
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 JazzTimes. 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. A twelve-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.
“Nate Chinen has written a terrific book about the shape of contemporary jazz, and right now is a terrific time to read it.” —The Washington Post
“Essential. . . . Fascinating and vital. . . . A perfectly timed, well-tuned chronicle of the past, present, and future of jazz.” —Slate
“Chinen has excellent taste in unruly new sounds and big, bent ears.” —The New York Times
“Brilliant. Incisive. Jazz lives on and on and on, folks.” —Sonny Rollins
“Daring and illuminating. . . . No writer has confronted the of-this-moment character of contemporary jazz with the clarity and authority that Nate Chinen has brought to it. . . . He is a listener of true brilliance.” —David Hajdu, The Nation
“Graceful and comprehensive.” —Rolling Stone
“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
“A sturdy, finely crafted and open-ended framework for consideration of where jazz is headed, and why.” —The Wall Street Journal
“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
“A thorough and thoughtful examination. . . . [Chinen] looks at the work of a generation of artists that includes Kamasi Washington, Cécile McLorin Salvant and Jason Moran and finds a level of imagination and expression that has stretched the genre beyond the ‘jazz wars’ of years ago into an ever-expanding sound of endless possibility.” —Los Angeles Times
“Exciting reading. . . . The book builds impressively. . . . Should delight musicians and readers of all kinds.” —DownBeat
“Dazzling. . . . A stunning and wondrous journey. . . . Chinen improvises brilliantly across the progressions of jazz so that every page of his book brims with insight.” —No Depression
"Elegant, evocative writing. . . . Mesmerizing. . . . Essential. . . . 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 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)
“Chinen is setting a new standard. . . . [Playing Changes] brings jazz criticism not only to a new period of history but also to a fascinating era of musical exploration and discovery.” —Booklist