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Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  323 ratings  ·  49 reviews
One of jazz's leading critics gives us an invigorating, richly detailed portrait of the artists and events that have shaped the music of our time. Grounded in authority and brimming with style, Playing Changes is the first book to take the measure of this exhilarating moment: it is a compelling argument for the resiliency of the art form and a rejoinder to any claims about ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published August 14th 2018 by Pantheon Books
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Average rating 4.09  · 
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Tim Niland
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nate Chinen is one of the most well known jazz jazz critics of the modern era, writing for the New York Times, NPR and more. In this book, he examines the jazz scene in the post millennium time period, focusing on the young musicians and issues that are notable in today's music. It's a breathless rush through some of the major themes that have become prevalent as of late, such as the neo-conservatism presented by Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra vs. the DIY aesthetic of John ...more
Nov 02, 2018 rated it liked it
There's two schools of thought about jazz post-1975: that it died and that it's as alive as ever. (I chose 1975, because that's when Miles Davis went on hiatus, but the truth is you could take any year in the early 1970s and make a good case for it since that's when fusion went big and sucked every artist into its black hole.) Both statements are hyperbolic (fucking obviously), and are emblematic of what's wrong with a lot of writing about modern jazz: every review of every album by every artist ...more
Oct 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, 2010-s, music
Learn what’s new in jazz and why it’s worthy. People love to say ‘Rock is dead, Jazz is dead’. Chinen disagrees and makes a case for the vitality and excitement of the current jazz scene (written in 2018). He has a great ear, his opinions are formed from extensive listening to recordings and, crucially, being at countless live gigs. As a NY Times reporter he also gets interviews with all the primary players. His affection for the music is evident in every chapter and it’s contagious.
This was
Nov 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music, favorites
One of the byproducts of great long-form music criticism is that you walk away from it with a list of records to explore (or revisit). Chinen brings up tantalizing titles throughout the book, and concludes with an invaluable list of 129 essential albums— enough to keep ravenous listeners busy for weeks. The book itself is wonderfully broad-minded, showing real knowledge and affection for jazz history without ever being stodgy or nostalgic. Likewise, his jazz excavations uphold broader aesthetic ...more
Alex Abboud
Oct 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is perfect for people like myself who are fans of jazz, but not so dedicated they’re on top of new trends and artists. I had heard of some, like Kamasi Washington, Joshua Redman, the Bad Plus etc, but discovered and learned about many more through this book. Chinen, a notable jazz writer and critic, traces the evolution of the genre through the late 20th century and the 21st century to date. His book shows that the genre remains dynamic, contrary to popular opinion. Particularly ...more
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
A rangy, meticulously researched, well-organized book—more of a look into the people who are variously playing, resuscitating, preserving, and evolving jazz into the 21st century than an analysis of the music itself. The bio sketch format is neither linear nor chronological as one might expect, but works well; later chapters focusing on Jason Moran, the Soulquarians, Esperanza Spalding, and the guitarist Mary Halvorson—whose music I intensely dislike, not that it matters—are standouts.

Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
This book does for contemporary jazz what David Azerrad's This Band Could Be Your Life did for the alternative 80s underground. In prose that is brisk, lucid, and contagious in its enthusiasm, Chinen walks the reader through the various nooks & crannies of the current jazz scene (visiting stages both big and small) and makes a compelling case for the genre's continued vitality. If you're a music fan curious about the state of jazz today, I can think of no better place to start your journey. ...more
Jan 01, 2019 rated it liked it
I love books about jazz: biographies, auto-bios, memoirs, essays, general non-fiction and even jazz-themed fiction. Nate Chinen in Playing Changes clearly loves jazz, too. It more than seeps through from these pages. Nate here makes a case for the “new” jazz that incorporates other musical styles. Other styles would include, hip-hop, r&b, electronic dance, ethno-jazz, electro swing etc. He peppers these chapters with an array of jazz artists both familiar and many (or most) not so familiar.

Jan 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is for jazz lovers and aficionados or students who want to learn what's going on today in jazz, always placed in an historical perspective. It was heartening to read what's happening on an international level too which he dedicates a chapter on towards the end. Chinen even lists a suggested library that he calls the 129 Essential Albums of the 21st Century, so far!

It's clear he has immersed his life in jazz - I needed my laptop next to me to decipher some of his musical descriptions plus
Jeffrey Anthony
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read roughly 40 books a year, I have a degree in jazz from University of Miami, I make my living as a professional session and touring musician, this is one of the best books I have read in the last 3 years. Not even close, I loved this book!

I can't tell you how many times I smiled while reading this book. I was nodding my head like 'yeah man, so great to see someone vocalize these truths in such an elegant and straight forward way.’

This book is about as inside baseball as you can get with
Nov 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music, non-fiction
While at times the writing can be obtuse (Chinen compares the playing of a jazz guitarist to a sea urchin), this book reignited my love for jazz. Chinen's writing for majority of the book is brimming with the same amount of vivacity and intricacy of the music that he describes. Each chapter provides multiple albums of reference, summarized into a list of five at the end of each chapter. Chinen also provides an appendix of his favorite jazz albums released in or after the year 2000.
As a jazz
Will McGee
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, jazz
I got this book as a secret Santa gift last year - it's been a few months at least since I read anything about jazz, but this book is absolutely fantastic if you have any interest in modern jazz. If you're not up on modern conversations about jazz music, you might find this book a bit hard to follow, and if you don't have any familiarity or interest in jazz period, this book will certainly not change your mind, but I don't think it's written with audiences like that in mind. For people ...more
Aug 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As jazz is no longer much of a part, if any, of the most easily distributed record labels, has very little space on radio, and is generally restricted to a small but devoted audience, it's become increasingly difficult to keep up with all the developments within the music. Whenever I have found a new artist or important work by an older player, I've been delighted, and it's been obvious to me that things are happening I've barely been able to discern. Chinen's book helps me focus my attentions ...more
Oct 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a great look at recent jazz from a really terrific writer and thinker. I was only familiar with a handful of musicians Chinen discussed, but I walked away with a whole new list of folks to check out. I do really like how he treated the whole Marsalis issue - not disregarding him nor praising him, but rather accepting his role, for better or worse, in how modern jazz has been shaped.
Dave Allen
Apr 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Authoritative, far-seeing, and fun, even on a sentence-by-sentence basis. So many colorful, resonant descriptions without being overly florid or showy. Really well grounded in history and style. Supremely informative, especially for readers with an interest in new/experimental music but who aren't avid followers of the scene.
Sep 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Chinen Clearly knows jazz as a very historical, diverse, and growing art form. It is also clear that he is a remarkable musical critic. This is an enjoyable book and did turn me on to some new artists who I feel carry the torch further in the jazz genre. I do feel like there are moments where he is loose as to what he regards as jazz, but a very enjoyable text nonetheless.
Lev Rothenberg
Jul 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“A well-meaning interviewer once asked Thelonious Monk where he thought jazz was going and the pianist replied: ‘I can’t know where it’s going. Maybe to hell. You can’t make anything go anywhere. It just happens.’”

This book does not try to tell us where jazz is going, but it does an outstanding job of documenting where it has been in the last 25 years.

For anyone who enjoys jazz but believes it has gone nowhere since maybe Coltrane or Miles and Weather Report – this book provides a true
Ted Burke
Aug 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
A book I'm currently reading, "Playing Changes" by Nate Chinen, is a fascinating argument that we are currently in an age of amazing new jazz artists and an equal amount of amazing innovation and new ways for jazz composers and soloists to further this resilient art of musical improvisation. The premise is not one I'd bicker with--ours is a time when the "jazz is dead" club needs to just be silent for a very long time and listen to the creativity that abounds. But, as the review points out, ...more
Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
The first half of this book is incredibly strong with tons of observations that cut through the fray. I found the chapter on jazz education to be puzzling and didn't really get as clear a sense of the point as, say, the chapters on jazz heroism and the uptown/downtown divide. The second half of the book is less clearly conceived as the first half. The features on Jason Moran and Esperanza Spaulding were welcome, but I was pretty irritated that Chinen didn't wade into the massive debates that ...more
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
As a rather casual jazz fan, I was feeling as if I'd been missing out on more recent jazz and went looking for recommendations. As part of that search, someone recommended this book. I was pleased to discover that I was familiar with many of the artists discussed in this book. It reminded me of Alex Ross's excellent "The Rest is Noise" - only for jazz instead of classical music and covering a much shorter time frame.

Along the way, Chinen discusses Kamasi Washington, Brad Mehldau, John Zorn,
Gabriel Chabran
Sep 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Anyone who has ever wanted to get into jazz but didn't know the right entry point this book would be a great book for you. This book does an excellent job at making connections between the world of jazz that you've always heard about in the classical sense and digs deep to make the right connections today's current trends in music, highlighting the relationships of contemporary music.

For me, I've always thought jazz is kinda like learning about wine, there's so much to learn and discover that
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
What a wonderful way to rekindle your interest in jazz (or music in general). Chinen knows his jazz history, and fairly surveys all the twists and turns of the "new century". There are wonderful "lists" of key album/artists at the end of each chapter, and a "129 Essential Albums of the Twenty-first Century (so far)" list at the end of the book: perfect for compiling Spotify/Pandora playlists/stations and beginning your "wish lists" for future acquisitions. And a great quote from Esperanza ...more
Fraser Kinnear
Apr 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: art
Really fantastic - I've filled my spotify playlist with probably three dozen albums to listen to.

Beyond the recommendations, there's some fun music criticism. I really enjoyed the Gen X philosophy comparison between Brad Mehldau and David Foster Wallace, the Electric Lady creation myth of behind D'Angelo and the Neo Soul movement, the ascension of the Wynton Marsalis cultural juggernaut and fringe jazz's rebellion, the sniping criticisms of Miles Davis's proteges's (e.g., Hancock) lapse into
Joseph Segovia
Dec 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I had recently read another book looking into several different musical scenes. This book does a better job of going into detail about several individual artists and groups and providing details pulled from album notes, interviews and concerts.

There are a few sections that aren’t quiet as detailed, whether due to less information available, the scope of the focus, or not being as personally invested, I have no clue. Most of his ideas I agree with, and some challenged my idea of the language.

Dec 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
A terrific set of jazz essays that bring us up to date on the developments in jazz that are keeping it alive and vibrant. Not to mention that it reminds those who might not be paying attention or don't care (but should if they are fans of contemporary music!) of how surprising and vibrant the sound continues to be. And it introduces me to some music and musicians that have not been given enough coverage. Gotta put Chinen onto some on-line aggregator, he's a fine guide. And a most entertaining ...more
Eric Smooth
Aug 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting look at the current state of a presumed dead art form. The most lasting effect of this book for me will be the albums it either turned me onto or reminded me of which I'll list here for personal reference and anyone else who's interested:

Black Radio - Robert Glasper Experiment
TEN - Jason Moran
Historicity - Vijay Iyer
Radio Music Society - Esperanza Spalding
Hard Groove - RH Factor
The Shining - J Dilla
Alone Together - Karriem Riggins
Largo - Brad Mehldau
Away With You - Mary Halvorson
Oct 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
For someone like me who mostly laps up jazz that is already canonical, Chinen’s pieces are a way in to music that I find alienating. I don’t know that I will find any new favourite artists this way, but at least I’m adding a more nuanced description to my assumptions about acclaimed artists like Mary Halvorson or Vijay Iyer. Reading this also lights a fire for myself in my own music making, conservative though it may be.
Scott Schneider
Aug 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Amazing review of the past 30 years of jazz. Many of the rising stars he cites I am familiar with but there were many I haven't heard of. I wish the book had been accompanied with a CD of music to listen to while reading the book. Chinen shows that jazz is alive and well with dozens of new talents taking jazz in many new directions.
Aug 09, 2019 added it
Shelves: non-fiction
Not going to give this a rating because I DNF.

Mildly interesting but I saw no reason for the book - he jumps around and tells us about one jazz musician after another with no real point other than contemporary jazz is good.

It wasn't a bad book just one that I saw no reason to spend my time finishing.
Sam Sibley
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Nate's point is that jazz now has the most entry points for different listeners and stitched together a narrative that makes me see jazz in a whole other light. The recommended albums per year is awesome.
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“Whatever you choose to call the music, “jazz” is as volatile and generative now as at any time since its beginnings. Instead of stark binaries and opposing factions, we face a blur of contingent alignments. Instead of a push for definition and one prevailing style, we have boundless permutations without fixed parameters. That multiplicity lies precisely at the heart of the new aesthetic—and is the engine of its greatest promise.” 0 likes
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