Who doesn't enjoy twilight excursions to jazz clubs? First, there’s the soft lighting. Mellow strains of the saxophone, cut with the energy of trumpets. Impromptu scatting as the band feeds off each others’ energy. And unless you’re a modern-day Hemingway, an ever-flowing arrangement of cocktails sans the discord of drunken brawls. Despite the many positives, I do find myself missing a piece of the puzzle with every visit. But after leafing through the hundred odd pages of The Jazz Bug, I’ve figured out what it is—context.
Jazz emerged as a musical revolution that allowed the African-American community to have a popular voice amid oppression. Dissociating from this long and turbulent history can make for tepid listening, and Mookerjee’s book has helped underline the social and politicial shades that vastly improve the jazz experience.
The Jazz Bug is split into chronological sections about the genre’s evolution, structural elements, as well as brief notes on sub-genres like bebop and bossa nova. Though I can’t speak for all the factual information within, it holds promise as a teaching aid for introductory music courses.There’s also a ‘suggested listening’ section that you could plug into for a lyrical revision. What I enjoyed most, though, was that the author avoided elitist jargon. Instead, there’s insightful quotes by greats like Eddie Condon and Duke Ellington, historical anecdotes about patronage by mafiosos like Al Capone, and lesser-known explanations on the drastic circumstances that musicians would have to battle for survival. Case in point? Billie Holiday’s struggle against racist peers, or Louis Armstrong’s journey to Los Angeles during The Great Depression.
While the book is an informational bounty, it’s always lovely to see youthful enthusiasm scattered through erudite prose. Mookerjee is self-taught about the nuances of Jazz, the genre persistently enamouring him decades after his first listen at 16. The Jazz Bug, thus, is a concise attempt to pass on the excitement, and acquaint millennials today with the jazz cats of yore.