Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful composes seven portraits of jazz titans into a cross-genre blend of fiction & nonfiction (Dyer rejects the entire notion of ‘genres’, instead thinking of a book as a book, words as words, etc. He elaborates in his interview with The Paris Review).
It reads like the music it pursues, itself becoming the 8th portrait in the composition, Dyer’s own jazz. I began reading it to experience an author who rejects genres, a notion that attracts me, but I finished it because his jazz swept me up – rich, sultry, and disarming. Each portrait a depiction of raw human experience, whether exhaled through a horn or a pen.
“No applause. Every second feels like the moment before the first smack of palm on palm is heard; but instead there is this long note of silence, stretched impossibly like a precipice never quite there. Everyone aware now of the silence in the yard, of the railroad chuff of a piece of machinery in the prison workshop. Aware too that this silence is an appreciation of the music, an act of collective will, that there is always an inescapable dignity about silence; aware of how easily a scream or a shout can destroy it. The silence is a visible thing also, captured in time. No one moves because in order for there to be silence in a place like this, time has to stop.”