But Beautiful A Book About Jazz

Geoff Dyer




Trade Paperback

240 Pages


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In eight poetically charged vignettes, Geoff Dyer skillfully evokes the music and the men who shaped modern jazz. Drawing on photos, anecdotes, and, most important, the way he hears the music, Dyer imaginatively reconstructs scenes from the embattled lives of some of the greats: Lester Young fading away in a hotel room; Charles Mingus storming down the streets of New York on a too-small bicycle; Thelonious Monk creating his own private language on the piano. Ben Webster, Chet Baker, Bud Powell, and Art Pepper are also here, and throughout the book we accompany Duke Ellington—who toured with his band practically non-stop for over 50 years—as he crosses the country with Harry Carney.

Jazz music is the driving force of But Beautiful, and Dyer brings it to life in luminescent and wildly metaphoric prose that mirrors the quirks, eccentricity, and brilliance of each musician's style. "You don't have to be a jazz buff to savor this book," as Ralph Blumenthal wrote in The New York Times Book Review, "but you may be one when you're done."


Praise for But Beautiful

"A masterful effort, which comes as close to the music's essence as prose can go."—Ted Gioia, San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle

"A gorgeous and lyrical collection of nocturnal jazz reveries, in which Dyer uses history, photographs, and recordings the way his famous subjects use musical themes--as a starting point for creative embellishment and improvisation."—The New Yorker

"But Beautiful is the only book about jazz that I have recommended to my friends. It is a gem, with the distinction of being 'about' jazz rather than 'on' jazz. If closeness to the material determines a great solo, Mr. Dyer's book is one."—Keith Jarrett

"Dyer turns jazz into poetry and his subjects into a beautiful sad music . . . Few will be unmoved by his passion and eloquence."—Tom Graves, The Washington Post Book World

"[Dyer's] writing is evocative, eloquent and, well, beautiful. What's more, his poetic language is always deployed in the service of accuracy. Anybody who has ever listened closely to Monk's music, for example, will recognize Dyer's account of his idiosyncratic style: 'He played each note as though astonished by the previous one, as though every touch of his fingers on the keyboard was correcting an error and this touch in turn became an error to be corrected and so the tune never quite ended up the way it was meant to.' In the end, But Beautiful is a splendid meditation on jazz and the personalities that created it, couched in a prose as lyrical—and as rigorous—as the music it describes."—James Marcus, Salon

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Geoff Dyer is the author of Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence, and Ways of Telling, a critical study of John Berger; The Missing of the Somme, about World War I; and the novels Paris Trance, The Color of Memory, and The Search.
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  • Geoff Dyer on But Beautiful, Out of Sheer Rage, and Paris Trance

    Geoff Dyer discusses But Beautiful, Out of Sheer Rage, and Paris Trance.



  • Geoff Dyer

  • Geoff Dyer is the author of the novel Paris Trance: A Romance and Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence, which was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. He lives in England.
  • Geoff Dyer Copyright Valeria Guglielmi