More than two decades after The Music, the last major collection of Amiri Baraka's writings on jazz, comes Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music, from the University of California Press. Taking its place on the shelf alongside Blues People and Black Music, this volume brings us Baraka's reflections, reviews and concert experiences from the late eighties to the late now. In any such collection there is bound to be some repetition, and that is true here, but the book will introduce you to musicians you probably haven't heard before (I had somehow missed Rodney Kendrick till reading of him in these pages), give you a new perspective on artists who have come to prominence more recently (Vijay Iyer) and offer surprising takes on music you thought you knew (check out Baraka's musings on the late music of Miles Davis). And it is always rewarding to witness the evolution of Baraka's thoughts on these subjects.
The book also features a treasury of photographs, such as this cover illustration that shows Baraka at the front steps of the Black Arts Repertory Theater School in 1965. If you look closely, you'll see that the fellow at the top of the stairs wearing a white cap is Sun Ra.
For all you bibliographers, here's an interesting twist. Unlike so many of his books from the late 60s to just a few years ago, neither the cover nor the copyright page of this book makes any reference to Baraka's earlier name. Where The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka splits his life around that act of renaming, this book is simply presented to us as written by Amiri Baraka. (Though I note that he remains "Imamu" in the LOC catalogue data on the copyright page.)
Order the book here or pick up a copy at your local independent book store. I got mine at Bridge Street Books in D.C. --