Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Art of the Blues

The Art of the Blues
by Bill Dahl; Art Consultant: Chris James
Chicago; University of Chicago Press
2016: 224 pages (including index)

"The Art of the Blues" is a coffee table sized volume subtitled "A Visual Treasury of Black Music's Golden Age." Released in time for the holidays in 2016, it is visually a marvelous collection of blues (and jazz) ephemera including old song-sheet covers, publicity photos, record company catalogs, 78 and 45 labels, music magazine covers, record album covers and concert photos. Interspersed are brief overviews on a variety of themes relating to the history of blues recordings, specific artists, photographers and record companies and more by long-time blues journalist and scholar Dahl. Dahl also captioned the hundreds of illustrations in this handsomely produced and printed volume. Guitarist Chris James assisted on the selection of the images.

It is not a perfect volume as there are some occasional, minor inaccuracies (unavoidable with the actual range of subjects that Dahl writes about) in the text (Jimmy Rushing was a member of the Blue Devils and recorded with them prior to joining Bennie Moten) and one wishes there was more consistent crediting to photographers or artists of the images included. At the same time, even I, who have been following this music (and reading about it) for decades, learned quite a bit such as about the Hook Brothers photographers (best known for the publicly known Robert Johnson images), along with the companies that made concert and tour posters that are highly prized collectors items today.

Dahl takes us from the days of minstrel shows and cakewalks to great rhythm and blues revues of the 50's and 60's and the three guitar Kings of the Blues. It is quite a wonderful text as well as visual treat. I purchased this and am quite pleased I did. This will be truly a wonderful gift for the blues and jazz lovers on your gift list.

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