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July/August 2000

Charles Alexander, editor
Masters of Jazz Guitar

Subtitled The Story of the Players and Their Music, this oversize coffee-table book tackles the history of jazz guitar by taking the same editorial tack as the Grove dictionaries in that it features articles by several authors, which distributes the editorial responsibility and infuses the project with a diversity of viewpoints. Throughout, many of the standard facets are dutifully touched on and attractively presented (216 photos are included), with chapters covering individual styles such as swing, bop and fusion to influential figures like Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass. However, once you get beneath the book’s glitzy surface, a combination of editorial quirks and fine points that were overlooked are likely to frustrate readers expecting a higher standard.

One unfortunate weakness is that the majority of the book’s authors are from the United Kingdom, which results in an editorial slant that manifests itself in several ways, including the presence of an unnecessary chapter on the British guitar scene and gratuitous editorial interjections. Other questionable aspects include a puzzling chapter on “shredders” that lumps together players as different as Scott Henderson and Yngwie Malmsteen, a certain snideness that in one instance leads performances by George Van Eps and Howard Alden to be labeled “insipid” and a skimpy bibliography that barely hints at the information’s sources. And while the historic photos are beautifully reproduced, the album covers that pepper the pages leave a lot to be desired and in many cases far from represent an artist’s best work. Rather than being historic recordings, they appear to be culled from somebody’s spotty collection that includes lots of reissues.

For the time being, this volume will probably satisfy those who crave information on the frequently neglected field of jazz guitar. The definitive work on the subject, however, has yet to surface.

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