Music of Initiative: Julian Joseph on Jazz
(Omnibus Press. 160 pages. £19.99. Book Review by Simon Purcell)
I really enjoyed reading this book, I really did.
When there are so many jazz “methods” available in book form and online, it was a relief and a pleasure to engage with the reflections of a wise artist who is able to convey many of the core concepts and values of jazz in an inviting, unfussy and affectionate way.
This not a jazz history book, compendium of licks, or analyses of famous jazz solos. Although all these things are mentioned, Julian Joseph invites the reader to be interested in the essence of jazz and enter a relationship with its values of social learning, humanity and expressive potential for individuals and groups alike. More than anything, for me at least, this is a book about art and advice as to how to go about becoming an artist.
Julian stresses that learning is through doing, through listening and in particular through taking initiative. Although much musical wisdom resides within the “jazz canon”, it is personal investigation, curiosity, persistence and the blend of focussed individual practice (including listening) and collective performance that is stressed repeatedly, alongside a collective and inclusive ethic that should always characterise the communal characteristic of this artform. The reader is constantly encouraged to take personal responsibility and to possess an opinion, to consider the work of the great artists but also to take risks.
Julian’s insights, invitations, nudges and provocations provide a philosophical and aesthetic counterpoint/balance to the information-heavy, pedagogical materials that dominate jazz education today and are presented in a natural and readable progression. I also found the experience surprisingly sensual as the text is set within beautiful artwork and design by (variously) Polly Rockberger, Ruth Keating, Raissa Pardini and Parastou Khiaban. I felt in no hurry to absorb information and understand minute detail or historical data as I read. Instead, the feel of the book in my hands and the couching of deep ideas within beautiful looking pages was literally a pleasure.
Some might argue that the subjects covered require more thorough investigation. Sure enough, one can delve further within The Inner Game of Music or Hal Crook’s How to Improvise (both excellent and under-used resources). However, I doubt that is the intention here. Instead this book is an invitation to engage with some core attitudes and intentions (states of mind). Others might take issue with suggestions about matters of jazz style. For me any such concerns are at the level of nuance and would misunderstand the invitational intention of the book.
In the greatest sense the content of this book is not difficult to grasp and Music of Initiative will be immensely useful to interested or curious young musicians and jazz learners of any age. It will also inform parents and teachers in cultivating useful attitudes within their pupils and families. Experienced players and teachers might also enjoy these friendly reminders, I did…
As I said, I really enjoyed reading this book.