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All Music Guide to Jazz by Michael Erlewine, Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra & Scott Yanow

The new edition of the All Music Guide to Jazz has nearly five hundred more pages than its 1996 predecessor, and the pages are about a quarter larger. The coverage is very thorough, a tribute to the herculean labors of Scott Yanow, who has here overcome most of the guide’s earlier faults (the rather silly music maps remain). Unlike most contributors to tomes of this kind, Yanow shows a balanced, broadly knowledgeable approach to the subject. For example, he lists and describes LPs that he knows should have been reissued on CD, and is obviously all too aware of the shortcomings in American reissue programs, those of Mosaic and the Fantasy group always excepted. The more appalling gaps are properly filled by European releases. Bill and Chu Berry are duly here, but not the great Emmett of that ilk. Considering the project’s size, typographical errors are remarkably few, so it is disappointing to find the names of both Pannassie and Delaunay misspelled in a section devoted to “Producers and Writers”. And copying Grove, this writer is moved to the U.S.A. in 1937 instead of 1959!

The MusicHound volume is more like a sale catalog for the record industry. Readers are told “what to buy”, “what to buy next” and “what to avoid”. Ciphers and charlatans abound, but many notable musicians are not given consideration. Quarter pages are devoted to what are deemed “monster” solos. Much attention is given “producers”, who are sometimes the people who put together sloppy reissues of work others “produce.” The term “producer,” in any case, is used in respect of those much given to self-promotion, whose function was to supervise record dates at which musicians were the true producers. A listing of “producers” at the back omits Harry Lim, whose Keynote program was an outstanding triumph, and Eli Oberstein who was, I believe, the man in charge when Lionel Hampton made his epic Victor series. In a “Roots Index” to show who influenced whom, Charlie Holmes, Tab Smith and Willie Smith are omitted from the long list of names beneath Johnny Hodges’. Similarly, Harold Ashby is not among twenty listed as influenced by Ben Webster, although he was the latter’s steadfast friend and chief disciple. Ignorance or bias prevails, too, in the space allotted to different individuals. Thus Miles Davis gets eight pages, John Coltrane six and a half, Duke Ellington four, Keith Jarrett three and Louis Armstrong a little over two. The CD sampler is absurdly unrepresentative. In short, the book’s too trendy to be trustworthy.

Originally Published