This volume of jazz portraits is shaped by two beliefs: that the only useful purpose of jazz writing is to be of service to the music and its players; and also that the men who make music are important and interesting human beings. These writings are intended to publicize, promote, and encourage listeners at all levels of sophistication to hear jazz anew.
Profiles in Jazz is a personal view. While many major figures from Sidney Bechet and Art Tatum to Omette Coleman and John Coltrane are covered, Horricks devotes a number of pieces to performers he considers to have been unjustly neglected. His look at the elusive reputation of Mel Powell traces classical and jazz sources of his extraordinary versatility as a pianist, arranger, and composer. Noting Art Hodes's "lifetime obsession" with the blues, Horricks discerns how the blues "in feeling, in essence, in a beautiful simplicity" weave themselves through Hodes's enormous knowledge of popular songs. He writes of how Phil Woods emerged from under the spell of Charlie Parker to become, in the 1980s, the best alto-saxophone soloist in contemporary jazz and praises Roy Haynes as the most "articulate" of drummers, the equal of such modern jazz greats as Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, and Art Blakey.
At the heart of the book is a lengthy appreciation of the many-sided genius of Duke Ellington. For Horricks, Ellington is not only the single greatest figure in jazz composition, having written more jazz themes of lasting value than anyone else, but one of the greatest American composers in general. Ellington's importance is, in Horricks view, fully compatible with the notion of jazz as an art of improvisation. He points out that some of the finest solos on record have been created by members of his band, but he has imposed form on the duration of these solos and texture on the music surrounding them, making improvisation appear a logical extension of the main composition.
While acknowledging that American musicians naturally predominate here, Horricks point out that the inclusion of the Frenchman Claude Boiling, the Englishman Gordon Beck, and the Australian Ray Swinfield purely on their merit is a sure sign that the music that originally grew out of Congo Square in New Orleans has now become a truly international musical language.