What it is: Blues People by Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones) details the history of blues, jazz, and other African-derived musical genres. He describes how culture and music affect each other, and the history of race relations in the United States via the interaction between African-influenced and European-influenced music.
What I liked about it: Baraka does an excellent job of explaining why certain musical elements and shifts in genre are important in the context of black cultural history. I’ve never been a huge fan of either blues or jazz–most of the songs I’ve heard from those large genres seemed too raucous and repetitive–but Baraka arms the reader with knowledge to better comprehend, and thus enjoy, these styles. I learned a lot about how to analyze my own preferences, and I finished the book with a greater appreciation of both blues and jazz.
What I didn’t like about it: Baraka is a good writer, and often his word choice is precise and spot-on. Towards the end, however, he shifts from writing more universally understood explanations of genre to specific technicalities. I’m not a musician, I don’t understand his big fancy music words or his references to artists I’ve never heard of, and I was LOST. And that’s saying something considering I read this book as part of a class curriculum, so I had supplementary lectures and videos to help me understand.
Memorable quote: “A freed Negro, and there were quite a few of them even before the so-called Emancipation, would always remain an ex-slave. Otherwise, what was he doing in this country?”
Overall rating: 3.5/5 stars.
Challenge satisfied: #6, read a book written by a person whose gender is different from your own.
Additional notes: I never would’ve picked this book on my own, and reading it for a class is very different from reading it for fun (notes are involved, plus I knew I’d be tested on it). I really enjoyed the first half of the book surrounding blues, but once in the highly specific jazz portions I was so frustrated that I would’ve put it down and not returned, but I didn’t exactly have that choice because college.
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