But Beautiful

Like Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, a memoir about falconry and bereavement or William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days a coming of age book about surfing, this book succeeds first and foremost because of the author’s raw writing talent. Diving into a topic with a great writer is a pleasurable experience. Before I read those books, I didn’t think I cared about falconry or surfing. But with this book, I started in a different place - as a long time jazz fan.

But Beautiful is an incredible work of criticism, or creative criticism, or whatever you can call this sort of writing. I would love to read a treatment of other genres of art like this. A compendium of stories about renaissance painters or 90s hip-hop artists or the beat generation, perhaps. It’s a beautiful way to engage with art and artists.

I read this book in a tear. Each vignette and the interwoven Duke Ellington sections are masterfully crafted. I chose to put on music by each of the artists as I was reading their story, which made a fantastic addition to the experience of reading. It reminded me of listening to the accompanying soundtrack to Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music.

Dyer is a beautiful writer. His love of jazz oozes off the page. And as a jazz fan, I had no trouble grabbing on and going on this ride with him. Although the final section is less full of feeling, I enjoyed the intellectual balance it offered after the first three-quarters of the book.