“No writer has confronted the of-this-moment character of contemporary jazz with the clarity and authority that Nate Chinen has brought to it, first in his journalism and now in a daring and illuminating book, Playing Changes.” — David Hajdu, The Nation

From one of jazz’s leading critics comes an invigorating, richly detailed portrait of the artists and events that have shaped the music of our time. Grounded in authority and brimming with style, here is the first book to take the measure of this exhilarating moment: a compelling argument for the resiliency of the art form and a rejoinder to any claims about its calcification or demise.
“Playing changes,” in jazz parlance, has long referred to an improviser’s resourceful path through a chord progression. Nate Chinen's Playing Changes boldly expands on the idea, highlighting a host of real changes—ideological, technological, theoretical, and practical—that jazz musicians have learned to navigate since the turn of the century. Chinen, who has chronicled this evolution firsthand throughout his journalistic career, vividly sets the backdrop, charting the origins of jazz historicism and the rise of an institutional framework for the music. He traces the influence of commercialized jazz education and reflects on the implications of a globalized jazz ecology. He unpacks the synergies between jazz and postmillennial hip-hop and R&B, illuminating an emergent rhythm signature for the music. And he shows how a new generation of shape-shifting elders, including Wayne Shorter and Henry Threadgill, have moved the aesthetic center of the music.

Woven throughout the book is a vibrant cast of characters—from the saxophonists Steve Coleman and Kamasi Washington to the pianists Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer to the bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding—who have exerted an important influence on the scene. This is an adaptive new music for a complex new reality, and Playing Changes is the definitive guide.


"Nate Chinen has written a terrific book about the shape of contemporary jazz, and right now is a terrific time to read it." — Chris RichardsThe Washington Post

"This is a world that desperately called for chronicling right now, and Playing Changes more than meets the occasion, making it one of the essential music books of the young century, so far." — Carl Wilson, Slate

"Chinen has excellent taste in unruly new sounds and big, bent ears, and you’ll want to make a playlist." — Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"Jazz fans and critics love to quibble. Yet Mr. Chinen’s choices—his narrative subjects and lists of recommended recordings—are hard to question." — Larry Blumenfeld, The Wall Street Journal

"Brilliant and wide-ranging... Chinen’s virtuoso jazz history will drive readers to listen to the music anew, or for the first time." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Advance Praise for Playing Changes

"A strong argument that we’re living through a deceptively rich time for jazz."
Pitchfork (Q&A with Mark Richardson)

"Graceful and comprehensive..."
Rolling Stone (Q&A with Evan Haga)

"Brilliant. Incisive. Jazz lives on and on and on, folks."  
— Sonny Rollins

"Sharp in style and warm in feeling, Nate Chinen's virtuoso survey dispenses with the familiar agendas and polemics that have too often boxed in writing on contemporary jazz. He follows the music where it goes, and exults in its plurality of voices."
— Alex Ross, author of The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

"Chinen’s passion for the art form—a global mode of life-to-life communication without boundaries—and his intimate understanding and knowledge of the music and its history make for a fascinating read, deeply heartfelt and truly uplifting."
— Herbie Hancock

"A rare book—informing, intelligent, generous in its spirit and range, a work of modern scholarship and insight that is also totally entertaining." 
— Alec Wilkinson, author of The Protest Singer and The Ice Balloon

"Nate Chinen’s lucid and lyrical prose matches the music he loves so passionately. Playing Changes is a deeply thoughtful meditation on recent jazz history — soulful, generous and devoid of pretense or self-serving argumentation. I learned an enormous amount and thank him for illuminating so much music I’ve overlooked."
— David Ritz, author of Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin and Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye