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Sitting Down with Sittin’ In

In hindsight, maybe 2020 was a weird time to be talking about venues. Most musicians and general fans haven’t stepped inside their favorite lounge, bar, or music hall for months, instead settling for fuzzy livestreams on laptop screens. Worse, many venues have announced they will not reopen following the COVID-19 pandemic, due to financial hardships. So to sit at home, curled up with a book about jazz clubs of the 1940s and 1950s could conjure a range of emotions, from bittersweet memories to simple melancholy.

And yet Sittin’ In by Jeff Gold (Harper Design) offers warmth and serves as a living textbook for folks hoping to get glimpses of jazz likely from a time before their own club-hopping days. In this forced pause on “real life” music, perhaps there’s no better time to look back at the establishments that carried jazz during one of the genre’s more pivotal eras.

Sorted by region and city, Sittin’ In explores jazz clubs of years past in vivid color (and lots of black and white snaps), telling each venue’s story with flyers, playbills, and even menus. There’s the obvious “big city” highlights, of course (Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City), but scenes from Cleveland, Kansas City, St. Louis, Boston, and Detroit appear as well, equally earning their respective pages. Interviews with a handful of jazz greats like Sonny Rollins and Quincy Jones add a deeper perspective to enrich the book’s “visual history.” Overall, the book’s informative but easy-to-digest format makes it a joy to both thumb through or sit down and study.

When things – places, music, art pieces – get old enough, it becomes easier to mentally discard them as just that: “too old.” Sittin’ In makes a strong case against that mentality. The included photographs taken by in-house photographers brings life to these long-shuttered clubs; you simply can’t deny the importance of the notes and nightlife captured here, especially when they’re presented this well.

In a fast-paced, streaming-based industry, educators often keep their eyes down, focused on their own students and projects. Educators owe it to themselves – and their pupils – to take a serious look back at the places where jazz bloomed across the country. By sitting down with Sittin’ In, readers are ensuring that these stories are woven into the generation-to-generation tradition of jazz — and not just confined to the pages of glossy coffee table books.

Available for $39.99 at sittinin.com.

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