Jazz: A multimedia history

by Alan Zisman (c) 1994. First published in Our Computer Player, February 18, 1994

2320 Camino Vida Roble
Carlsbad, CA 92009 USA

(800) 532-3766

It was bound to happen... jazz has been on disk since the 1920s, and
in books since the 1940s. Now it's available on CD-ROM as well.

JAZZ: A MULTIMEDIA HISTORY is a Windows multimedia version of the
1993 book, JAZZ: FROM ITS ORIGINS TO THE PRESENT, by Lewis Porter,
Michael Ullman, with Ed Hazell.

This book is presented whole, giving a history of jazz, along with
examples, written out in musical notation. And if you can deal
with trying to read a semi-scholarly musical book on screen, it
gains in the translation to the new medium.

Where in the original, to make much sense out of the 120 examples
of musical notation, you had to rush to the instrument of your
choice and sight-read, now, a single click plays the music, while
you can listen, or if you read music, follow along.

These examples are stored in MIDI format, which means that you're
hearing a synthesizer, not a sample of the original performance,
but for some instruments, especially piano or jazz guitar, it
works quite well. Wind instruments, especially saxophone, loses
the nuance of the individual performer's tone... two tenor players
with as opposite a feel as Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young both
get the same generic sax patch, but still, it's better than no
sound at all.

Like a printed book, there are also photos. In this case, about
130 black and white photos, which appear on screen as blurry
thumbnails alongside the appropriate spot in the text. Again a
single click, and a good quality (at least if you have 256 or
higher colour video) enlargement appears. Most have a zoom icon to
focus in on a single performer.

Finally, and again unlike a book, there are videos. Only six, but
they take up nearly 100 meg of the disk's space. They're all
classic performances by classic performers, Louis Armstrong, Billy
Holiday, the Duke, the Count, Bird and Diz, and Miles. Each played
quite clearly on my machine, in that tiny size characteristic of
this generation of computer video. The black and white clips were
smooth and easy to watch, and the digital sound was great! In
these cases, we actually get to hear (and see) classic

While I still find it easier to read large quantities of text in
a 'real' book format, the addition of playable music (and the half
dozen videos) is a big plus for any jazz fan or aspiring player. I
wish that I had this one twenty years ago when I was more serious
about playing the music... I might have ended up a better player.

(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1994, as a review. A decade and more later, I've gotten a series of emails from  fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay or at OldSoftware.com.If you check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)


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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan