Why did I love this book?
Geoff Dyer is one of the modern masters of post-genre literature. He has written numerous pioneering works of creative non-fiction, four novels, two collections of essays, and a study of English critic and fellow polymath John Berger. But Beautiful is his “book about jazz”, an impressionistic and semi-fictional evocation of the lives and music of seven legendary jazz figures—including Lester Young, Thelonious Monk, Chet Baker, and Bud Powell—interspersed with scenes from life on the road with Duke Ellington, and ending with an essay on jazz’s vital forces of “tradition, influence, and innovation”. A kind of extended improvisation on themes of inspiration, creativity, struggle, and self-destruction, and with many poetic turns of phrase, the book is the literary equivalent of much of the music I most like and admire: rooted in jazz, yet not defined by it. But Beautiful is brilliantly beyond category.