Basic Books

How to Listen to Jazz | Ted Gioia


Basic Books

How to Listen to Jazz | Ted Gioia


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Jazz is the great American art form, its very essence is predicated on freedom and creativity. Its sound unequivocally calls forth narratives of past struggles and future dreams. Yet jazz can be as inscrutable as it is mesmerizing, especially to outsiders who don’t know what to make of improvisation or unexpected shifts in melody or tempo. How does a casual listener learn to understand and appreciate the nuances between the unapologetic and innovative sounds of Louis Armstrong, the complexity of Coleman Hawkin’s saxophone, and the exotic and alluring compositions of Duke Ellington? How does Thelonius Monk fit in alongside Benny Goodman and John Coltrane?

In How to Listen to Jazz, award-winning music scholar Ted Gioia presents a lively, accessible introduction to the art of listening to jazz. Covering everything from the music’s structure and history to the basic building blocks of improvisation, Gioia shows exactly what to listen for in a jazz performance. He shares listening strategies that will help readers understand and appreciate jazz for the rest of their lives, and provides a history of the major movements in jazz right up to the present day. He concludes with a guide to 150 elite musicians who are setting the tone for 21st century jazz.

Both an appreciation and an introduction to jazz by a foremost expert, How to Listen to Jazz is a must-read for anyone who’s ever wanted to understand America’s greatest contribution to the world of music.


“As jazz enters its second century, becoming more multi-faceted apace, guidance for the novice—listener or musician—is more useful than ever, and Ted Gioia offers it expertly, in blessedly readable prose.” - Dan Morgenstern, Director emeritus, Institute of Jazz Studies and author of Living with Jazz

“Ted Gioia has done it once again. He has turned his wide-ranging musical knowledge and considerable writing skills to the task of deconstructing the music called jazz for both the novice and experienced listener. That he manages to retain the depth and difficulty of this music while simultaneously expressing the sheer joy to be found in its mysteries is something of a marvel. This book does what so many have tried to and failed: it teaches without preaching and empowers the reader to search for their own understanding and preferences. It’s a welcome and needed addition to everyone’s bookshelf.” – Wayne Winborne, Executive Director, Institute of Jazz Studies

 “In How to Listen to Jazz, the music critic and historian (and pianist) Ted Gioia confesses: ‘I’ve offered both praise and putdowns to make an artist over the years, but I’ve never actually outlined in detail the standards I apply in making these evaluations.’ His new book is an effort to correct that, and to teach casual listeners how ‘careful listening can demystify virtually all of the intricacies and marvels of jazz.’ As part of his instruction, Gioia points readers to certain recordings, including inferior ones. ‘You can perhaps learn more about swing from listening to the bands that fail to achieve it,’ he writes.” - New York Times Book Review

“How to Listen to Jazz fills an important and obvious gap by offering a sensible and jargon-free introduction to what Gioia calls ‘the most joyous sound invented during the entire course of twentieth-century music.’ The book deserves a place alongside such classic works of jazz criticism as Martin Williams’s The Jazz Tradition, Will Friedwald’s Jazz Singing, the books of Gary Giddins and Gioia’s own The History of Jazz. His prose is brisk and well-paced, with many surprising insights along the way.” - Washington Post

“How to Listen to Jazz is a packed and useful introduction to the medium with suggestions and aids for the listener who wants to gain entrance to a rich and complicated body of work. Gioia aspires to ‘bare my own process of listening’ by, among other things, proposing various strategies for making the music more available.... Before getting very far in this little book, you feel you are in good hands.” - Weekly Standard

“[Gioia] walks fans through a crash course in jazz appreciation that’s suitable for newcomers and intermediate listeners alike... His prose is...inviting and often playful... Most valuable is the extensive catalogue of recommendations, not just of the genre’s top performers but of 150 contemporary jazz musicians—a list that new fans can use to kickstart their journey, and experienced ones can reference to keep up with the form’s continuing evolution.” - Publishers Weekly


Product details:

Book title:

How to Listen to Jazz  


Ted Gioia


Basic Books



Number of pages:


Product Dimensions:

5.7 x 1.2 x 8.3 inches

Release Date:





Jazz, Music History

Catalog No:

0465060897 / 978-0465060894