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Originally published Sunday, December 2, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Gift Books '07

Jazz | From Monterey to Coltrane

Jazz

By Paul de Barros, Seattle Times jazz critic

"Jazz, Giants, and Journeys: The Photography of Herman Leonard," edited by David Houston and Jenny Bagert (Scala, $60). A fan once said to Herman Leonard, "That's a great photograph of Dexter Gordon, but why did you put in all that smoke?" Replied Leonard archly, "The smoke is the photograph." Indeed, Leonard's iconic, moody, high-contrast, black and white images of Gordon, James Moody and Billie Holiday, with their curls of cigarette smoke, have come to represent the atmospheric evanescence of jazz performance itself. This first full treatment of Leonard's career includes mostly jazz work, but also fashion, war and general assignment pieces. It's a gem.

"The Art of Jazz: Monterey Jazz Festival 50 Years," by Keith and Kent Zimmerman (Monterey Jazz Festival, $50). Having already published a well-researched history of the festival 10 years ago, the greatest of all West Coast jazz festivals celebrates its 50th anniversary with a gallery of gorgeous, full-page color reproductions of its poster and program art, with a short essay for each decade. That lone trumpet on the cocktail chair has come a long way, from beatnik existential to post-modern disjunction. Great stuff.

"Coltrane: The Story of a Sound," by Ben Ratliff (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24). Jazz attracts many hagiographers, so it's fitting that a candidate so much in need of demythologizing — the already-sainted (in the popular imagination) John Coltrane — has attracted the trenchant New York Times jazz critic Ben Ratliff. Proposing that Coltrane's music and outlook were products of their time — the searching '60s — and that the spiritual seeker is a long-standing American type, Ratliff suggests Coltrane's "band" — and, subsequently, his sound — really was the whole culture, from Terry Riley's minimalism to the church bombings in Alabama. Though technical in places, Ratliff's cultural reach makes this an approachable and extremely valuable book.

"Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life & Times of Doc Pomus," by Alex Halberstadt (Da Capo, $26). In 1961, 13 songs by the legendary Jerome Felder — known as "Doc Pomus" — made the pop charts, surpassing even Leiber and Stoller. In this sentimental but realistically believable biography, Pomus, who penned Ray Charles' "Lonely Avenue," Elvis' "Surrender," the Drifters' "Save the Last Dance for Me" and Dion's "A Teenager in Love," comes off as a sort of noble hack. Stricken with polio at 7 — and by black music as a teen — the Brooklyn-bred Pomus finds his way on crutches to the Brill Building, supplementing his income with a poker game in his midtown hotel room when times get lean. Cigars, whiskey, women and rhymes — that's enough for at least a song or two.

"Improvising: My Life in Music," by Larry Coryell (Backbeat Books, $24.95). Seattle readers will be disappointed that jazz/rock electric guitar innovator Larry Coryell, raised in Richland and a student at the University of Washington, doesn't spend more time talking about his years in our neighborhood. But even fleeting references to the Dynamics, Charlie Puzo's Penthouse, the House of Entertainment, Chuck Mahaffay and Jerome Gray are fun. Coryell's main focus, however, is personal salvation: the confessional arc of falling into and rising out of substance abuse and the perennial search for the right relationship. Some stories about Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis (Coryell inexplicably turned down an offer to join Miles' band) and others surface along the way.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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