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Reed All About It

Book Review by Laura Dreyer

Bob Bernotas's new book "Reed All About It", a remarkable collection of his interviews and master classes withnotable saxophonists, is an amazing journey into the inner lives of the musicians that create the music we love. Bernotas, who hasspent many years writing for many top Jazz publications among other things, has compiled a vast body of work that spans thehistory of jazz in the 20th century as told from the perspective of the many saxophonists and woodwind players that hehas interviewed over the of the years.

As a professional musician myself, I have read many biographies of famous saxophonists as well as articles thatappear in Jazz publications. This type of information tends to be colored by the perspective of the writer and often doesn'treflect the true experience of the musician being profiled. This collection of interviews is un-tampered with and the informationcomes straight from the source: the musicians themselves. This is what makes "Reed All About It" unique. Bernotas, who isalso a musician, has an incredible knack as an interviewer of being able to converse with musicians on their level. As you readthe book, you feel as though you too are in a room with Bob, Benny Golson, Bobby Watson, or whomever, just having a good hangafter a gig. Bob knows the right questions to ask, knows how to stay out of the way of the interviewee, and does not have anyhidden agendas.

I particularly enjoyed the interviews with the older saxophonists. It was fascinating to hear Frank Foster recount hisearly years in the army when he visited San Francisco (my home town) and frequented the many jam sessions where he had theopportunity to hear and play with a young Dexter Gordon. Later, as he candidly reveals his musical triumphs and insecuritieswhile in the Count Basie band, I couldn't help but empathize with him. It made me see Frank Foster as a real person,and not some mythological jazz legend. Benny Golson, who is a particularly good storyteller, describes in his interview the dayhe met John Coltrane as a teenager in Philadelphia. Golson humorously recounts the day that he and Coltrane went to hearCharlie Parker for the first time and were so floored by hisperformance that they waited to meet him after the gig. They then proceeded to follow him down the street asking to carry his hornwhile asking him a barrage of questions. It is anecdotes like these that I found most charming and inspiring.

While reading this book, I also learned about the many ups anddowns in the lives of these incredible musicians. Saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera describes the pain of defecting from Cubaand having to leave his five year old son behind. Pharoah Saunders shockingly recounts his early years in New York Citywhere he had to sleep in doorways and took a job washing dishes in a jazz club so that he could sleep on the floor. Thesacrifices that these musicians made for the sake of their art are awe-inspiring. These interviews made me see the courage ofthe human spirit to endure and persevere in the face of conflict, and in turn gave me renewed hope that jazz will survive andcontinue to flourish despite the economy, the fledgling record industry, and the vacuousness of the American media.

Bob's interviewees seem to span a broad variety of age, stylistic preference, race and gender, which I found refreshing.Besides the elder statesmen like George Coleman and David "Fathead" Newman, you will find avant-garde saxophonists J.D.Parran and Douglas Ewart profiled, along with female saxophonists Sue Terry, Lily White, Virginia Mayhew and Jane Bunett. Youngerstraight-ahead saxophonists Bobby Watson and Don Braden round out the spectrum along with flautist Jamie Baum, and if thatisn't enough, there is a selection of artist master classes at the end of the book that are geared more toward the readerswho are serious saxophonists and woodwind players.

"Reed All About It" is engaging both on the historical and musical levels, as well as being highly entertaining reading.I highly recommend this book to all saxophonists, music students, jazz lovers, and music educators as well. Bob Bernotas has made avaluable contribution to the preservation and documentation of jazz history that comes straight from the source!
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