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Blowin’ Hot and Cool

Jazz and Its Critics

In the illustrious and richly documented history of American jazz, no figure has been more controversial than the jazz critic. Jazz critics can be revered or reviled—often both—but they should not be ignored. And while the tradition of jazz has been covered from seemingly every angle, nobody has ever turned the pen back on itself to chronicle the many writers who have helped define how we listen to and how we understand jazz. That is, of course, until now.

In Blowin’ Hot and Cool, John Gennari provides a definitive history of jazz criticism from the 1920s to the present. The music itself is prominent in his account, as are the musicians—from Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Roscoe Mitchell, and beyond. But the work takes its shape from fascinating stories of the tradition’s key critics—Leonard Feather, Martin Williams, Whitney Balliett, Dan Morgenstern, Gary Giddins, and Stanley Crouch, among many others. Gennari is the first to show the many ways these critics have mediated the relationship between the musicians and the audience—not merely as writers, but in many cases as producers, broadcasters, concert organizers, and public intellectuals as well.

For Gennari, the jazz tradition is not so much a collection of recordings and performances as it is a rancorous debate—the dissonant noise clamoring in response to the sounds of jazz. Against the backdrop of racial strife, class and gender issues, war, and protest that has defined the past seventy-five years in America, Blowin’ Hot and Cool brings to the fore jazz’s most vital critics and the role they have played not only in defining the history of jazz but also in shaping jazz’s significance in American culture and life.

Read an excerpt and an outlined soundtrack to the book.

494 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2006

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature

Media Studies

Music: Ethnomusicology, General Music


“This is the secret history of jazz—groundbreaking and essential.”--David Hajdu

David Hajdu

Blowin’ Hot and Cool is an astonishing book: one can see it as a warm, generous critique of jazz, or a trenchant and incisive way of loving it. John Gennari considers all the important people who have shaped jazz criticism over the past seventy-five years, opening up their lives to us and taking their arguments seriously. Somehow, he weaves these insights into an intellectual history of jazz, perhaps its first. I can’t think of a book on jazz that is more ambitious, more beautifully written, or more heartfelt.”--Scott DeVeaux, author of The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History


Scott DeVeaux

“In this exemplary cultural history, John Gennari proves himself to be a talented scholar and a compelling storyteller. Original and well-written, Blowin’ Hot and Cool provides a nuanced analysis of the jazz critic as cultural arbiter, pedagogue, and controversial, but necessary advocate of the music.”--Farah Jasmine Griffin, author of If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday


Farah Jasmine Griffin

“Finally, a book that lays bare the inner workings of jazz criticism! John Gennari’s Blowin’ Hot and Cool probes this fascinating story-behind-the-story, revealing how our appreciation of the music has been irreversibly shaped by a handful of influential writers who never recorded a solo or wrote a chart. This book belongs on the shelf of any serious fan of jazz.”--Ted Gioia, author of The History of Jazz

Ted Gioia

"[Gennari] does perform something magical: he manages to make the role and history of the jazz critic interesting. This finely written, thought-provoking chronicle of the most prominent jazz writers of the past century begins with pioneers John Hammond and Leonard Feather (who helped the likes of Duke Ellington get much needed attention) and ends with modern-day jazz critics like Stanly Crouch and Gary Giddens. Gennari connects the critic to the musicians, showing the roles they played in disseminating information and connecting the acts to the audience. This is an essential purchase for any comprehensive jazz collection. Highly recommended."

Todd Spires | Library Journal

"This is a book about jazz in which the music is in the background, for John Gennari’s main concern is a critique of jazz criticism from the 1930s to the present. Densely researched, broadly unpartisan and compiled with a wry sense of humour, Blowin’ Hot and Cold still manages to reveal much about jazz, and more about the lives of its musicians, than any number of hagiographies."

Financial Times | Mike Hobart

"Gennari's Blowin' Hot and Cool: Jazz and Its Critics is an original and fair-minded account of how American writers have constructed cultural meanings for jazz. Gennari, an English professor who writes vivid prose, shows how canon formation and the proposition of jazz as high art did not start with Jazz at the Lincoln center but is continuation of a project begun by writers in the 1930s. . . . This is a timely and important study."

Paul de Barros | Down Beat

“Admirable in its scholarly apparatus and painstaking research. Its subject--the history of jazz criticism and critics--. . . is a fascinating if rather oblique history of jazz told from the back stairs. . . . Gennari’s book is excellent.”

William Palmer | Literary Review

"One of the last great untold stories in jazz has been addressed."

Jack McCray | Post and Courier

"This is a well-written overview of many different perspectives of a rich and engaging music. . . . This book is not just rich in information and storytelling, but also in the ebb and flow of the passions that underpin jazz. In the process, Gennari finds decades of discourse and disagreement, alliances and arguments. . . . Contrasting and blending together the perspectives of many different critics over three quarters of a century, this book is a truly fresh look at the history of jazz."

Scott Hanley | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“The first sustained scholarly book exclusively about jazz criticism--and, not least, about the passions that have driven and surrounded it--Blowin' Hot and Cool is thorough, absorbing and original, an obsessive study of professional obsessives that will circumvent the need for any other.“

David Yaffe | Nation

"Thoughtfully questioning one’s taste in jazz is like cleansing your palate between the courses of a rich meal. Only the very best writing can provoke such fundamental questioning. Count Gennari among the very best jazz writers. . . . If you’re ready to open your mind, this book is for you."

Norman Weinstein | All About Jazz

"Reading [Blowin’ Hot and Cool] is a liberating experience, one that brings the music closer. . . . This is a rich book, bursting with anecdote and observation."

Stephen Brown | Times Literary Supplement

"This is a valuable book, and a fascinating one, ranging from the important role played by the critic, John Hammond . . . in the 1930s, to the epic battles over the ’Young Lions’ movement in the 1980s."

Sholto Byrnes | The Independent

"The story that Gennari has to tell is compelling, his research is deep, and his argument is sound. My vision of jazz is distinctly richer for having read this book."

John Mason | Ellingtonia

"Gennari’s prose conveys a sense of immediate importance and makes for a surprising rich narrative structure. . . . [The author’s] ability to merge the biographical, historical, intellectual, formal, geographic, and ideological trajectories that informed the combination of music, critical discourse, and audience appreciation makes it clear that the writing about jazz is an essential part of our understanding of the superstructure of American modernity."

Ed Pavlic | American Book Review

"Gennari delivers a book that, in chronicling nearly a century of debates within jazz, links those debates to wider discourses in society. . . . This is a strong opening statement on a subject ripe for fresh analysis, confidently argued, with which anyone interested in jazz, its history, and its fluctuating but significant place in American culture will want to engage."

Benjamin Cawthra | Belles Lettres

Blowin’ Hot and Cool simultaneously functions as a history of jazz, an intellectual  history  of  jazz,  and  a  survey  of  jazz  discourses—no  small  feat—all  as  rendered  through  the figure of  the  jazz  critic.”

American Literature

Table of Contents

Introduction: (Much More than) a Few Words about Jazz
1. "Not Only a New Art Form but a New Reason for Living"
2. "As If It Were Artistic and Not Just a Teenage Enthusiasm"
Hot Collecting across the Color Line
3. Hearing the "Noisy Lostness"
Telling the Story of Jazz
4. Writer’s Writers and Sensitive Cats
Mapping the New Jazz Criticism
5. Swinging in a High-Class Groove
Mainstreaming Jazz in Lenox and Newport
6. The Shock of the New
Black Freedom, the Counterculture, and 1960s Jazz Criticism
7. Race-ing the Bird
Ross Russell’s Obsessive Pursuit of Charlie Parker
8. Tangled Up in Blues
The New Jazz Renaissance and Its Discontents
Conclusion: Change of the Century


Amer Soc Composers/Authors/Publishers: Deems Taylor Award

Popular Culture Assoc./American Culture Assoc.: John G. Cawelti Book Award

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