Why such an odd question in the first place?

In December 2016, Neil Shapiro approached me at a holiday party with a question:

Did I know of any jazz musicians whose surnames began with “X?”

After determining that Neil spelled his own first name correctly, I happily shared the name that immediately came to mind—Ed Xiques. Obviously. Xiques is a journeyman saxophonist who graced the sensational Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra in the 1970s, and who has gone on to related careers as a composer and educator. (And the answer really was more obvious than you might think, since Xiques is the only musician that any jazz aficcionado can identify who would fit Neil’s qualification.)

But now, I needed to find out: Why such an odd question in the first place?

Neil explained to me his plans for the book in your hand—a “Jazz Alphabet” populated by his portraits and brief personalized descriptions of the musicians pictured. I liked the idea quite a bit, and was happy to have provided one small if somewhat valuable piece of information.

I’m even happier now that the book has arrived.

Like jazz itself, Neil’s work takes liberties in the service of greater expressivity. These are not “perfect” likenesses, tracing the exact line of Miles Davis’s furrowed brow, or Red Norvo’s trim goatee, or Charlie Parker’s plump fingers; we have photography for that. These are something better. They fall between portraiture and caricature, occupying a middle ground that allows Neil to capture essences—the creativity, personality, and even the soul of his subjects. In illustrating the uniquness of his subjects, they exhibit his own individuality in equal measure.

Look closely enough and you can hear the music.

NEIL TESSER, Grammy-winning author, critic, and broadcaster