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Which jazz book are you reading right now?

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On 6/12/2024 at 10:36 AM, Big Beat Steve said:

Quite right.
I happen to be a professional translator (with close to 40 years of professional experience "on my back" - mostly in many areas of engineering and economics but also a fair number of non-fiction books), and honestly - regardless of how interesting the subject matter might be to me personally,  I would not have gone out of my way in any attempts to acquire translation assignments for music books (particularly jazz) into German. If it is to be really, really well done, it is a highly demanding and time-consuming task.
Though the translation standards for jazz books have improved through the decades on the German market. Some time ago I chanced upon an original copy of the German translation of Sidney Finkelstein's (at the time) influential "Jazz - A People's Music". The German version clearly was well-intentioned but awkward and corny in more ways than one. Though probably not bad, objectively speaking. I have read a few German translations (by leading publishers) from the same (50s) period of novels by Sinclair Lewis - ouch ....

Talking about books recently discussed here, the German version of "Hear Me Talkin' To Ya" is relatively acceptable, given the times it was published (and the then prevailing standards in the profession). But the colloquial nature of the original texts may have helped here.

I am also one of those who bought Ross Russell's "Bird Lives" back in the 70s, and - fiction or not - it did give me insights, including those parts that "may well have happened that way".  (And without wanting to go into greater detail, reports of other documented backstage  and off-stage incidents somewhat corroborate the likelihood of some of Russell's fictionalizations) One day in the later 80s I received a German copy of this book (first published in German by Hannibal in 1985) by a well-meaning relative. It WAS readable but IIRC I put it away before I got to the end because compared to the orignal it just was uneven. I still have the book in a corner but have not looked at it in decades. I might pick it up one day if I have a LOT of time to do a private critical comparison with the original. (Yes, "professional deformation", I know ... ;))

Speaking of Hannibal publishers (of Vienna), for a time in the 90s a lot of their (translated) musician biographies were commonplace at Zweitausendeins. I picked up several of them (Dexter Gordon, Woody Herman, Kenny Clarke a.o. as well as Sally Placksin's Women in Jazz), but again was underwhelmed. In many places you got a distinct feeling the translator was grappling for words, and in some cases missed a finer point that clearly showed that he or she was not sufficiently familiar with the artists or that style of music. Which did not bode well for any trust by the (knowledgeable) reader in the German text.  By comparison (again IIRC), the Sally Placksin book had the best translation.

Another German one I recently got (my wife was unaware I - of course ;) - already owned the U.S. printing) was the German translation of "Sam Phillips" by Peter Guralnick. This recent publication probably reflects the typical state of the art in the profession and should read well enough to most readers. I am not sure I would have been able to do it vastly better overall (particularly because translators usually have to work against insanely sick publisher's deadlines). Yet the German version has certain quirks that make it sound corny ever so often too, and in some cases there are goofs that - again - make you realize the translator failed to double-check the way he rendered the facts into German (in short, he misunderstood ...). 

So ... overall I still prefer reading any music books in the orignal language. Be it English or French or any other language I at least know sufficiently well to cope with (Spanish, Swedish).

Yet this begs another question: Are English translations always that much better?
One jazz book I have been (re-)reading in recent times was/is "Cubano Be Cubano Bop - One hundred Years of jazz in Cuba" by Leonard Acosta. I had started on it after I had bought it in 2007 but put it away as I found the going a bit rough with all that "name calling". But what bothers me in the first place now is the English translation which - personally speaking - grates me more and more (I am about one third through the book now). It just is so convoluted, awkward, stiff and clumsy. Strictly linguistically, what the translator wrote certainly is correct for the most part. But his wording and style just are so stiff, old-fashioned and stilted. My Spanish is relatively rusted up (but not enough to keep me from picking up Jordi Pujol's "Jazz en Barcelona" from time to time) but the more I continue with the Acosta book the more I feel this translator had fallen into the trap of writing Spanish with English words. Very often you literally sense the wording of the Spanish text through his translation. Which is not the way to tackle such a subject in the first place.  Because both languages in their structure and typical ways of expessing things fluently really work differently. In short, at least in part a disservice to the subject of the book and a missed opportunity ...

Having got all this off my chest ;) , I am now beginning to wonder what those who have read the well-circulated English editions of Joachim E. Berendt's "Jazz Book", for example, have to say about THAT English edition ...

I once ran across an All Music review that I had written which had evidently been translated into Portuguese and then back to English, although the English translation did not resemble  my original contribution. It was funny, in a way.

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Scan2024-06-22-163953.pngA collection of quotations from Monk alphabetically arranged by subject.  It's in both French and English on facing pages. There's an introduction  that I found difficult to understand in either language.

The source of the quotes are cited and the authors admit that some are apocryphal but they're all interesting. 

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