The Parisian Jazz Chronicles: An Improvisational Memoir
By Mike Zwerin
Yale University Press
The Parisian Jazz Chronicles is an irreverent and highly revealing tour through the Parisian and European jazz scenes of the '80-90s in the company of musician/writer/hipster expatriate Mike Zwerin, who played trombone on Miles Davis' landmark Birth of the Cool sessions as a teenager and later became a respected jazz critic for the International Herald Tribune.
An "improvisational memoir" is an apt description for what's essentially a series of loosely connected riffs, told in the third person, about a wily character named Mike and his encounters, personal and professional, bizarre and mundane, with jazz legends like Dexter Gordon, Chet Baker and Davis (for Zwerin, everything always comes back to Miles), as well as an odd assortment of personalities ranging from Bob Dylan to Timothy Leary to Orson Welles.
More than a jazz or pop culture history, the book is really a meditation on the sacrifices and rewards of the artistic life, told by one who's both enjoyed its highs and suffered its lows. Zwerin usually writes with a confirmed hipste's sense of irony, but he's frank and forthright in spelling out his own struggles with drugs, a failing marriage, fatherhood and his divided professional and national loyalties. "Being a full-time journalist," he writes, "Mike had become a part-time trombonist and the instrument is too difficult to play part-time." On his love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with the U.S., Zwerin reflects, on a return visit to the States, that "America makes his eyes hurt, his teeth ache, his ears whistle. American cities wither his soul."
This unflinching honesty, coupled with Zwerin's wry sense of humor and insider's insights on jazz and jazz musicians, make this unorthodox memoir a memorable one.