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Jazz Memories: Music of the Jazz Masters by Ross Firestone

Described as a labor of love for music industry vets Alan Douglas and Steven Saporta, this product falls well short of the standards set by both box sets and photography books. Neither fish nor fowl, it contains two sampler CDs with historic cuts, plus a 72-page book of Herman Leonard’s photos and Ross Firestone’s essays corresponding to the legendary artists featured on the CDs.

Unfortunately, a savvy jazz fan is likely to already have cuts like Billie Holiday singing “My Man” or Sonny Rollins playing “St. Thomas.” The same goes for the stunning Leonard photos, most of which have been ubiquitous in various box sets, anthologies and publications. Even Firestone’s prose, relying on secondary sources, seems recycled. The design and typography is no-frills and mediocre. The layouts are primitive. At least the music is great, with cuts from the jazz pantheon, including Tatum, Monk, Ellington, Adderley, Webster, Gillespie, Vaughan, Fitzgerald and a few dozen other heavies.

Widely considered the most important jazz photographer, Leonard’s remarkable photos certainly enliven the package but it’s not enough. As a longtime fan of Leonard’s work, I found it disheartening that the first book of his photos available in the U.S. in many years is given such a low-budget treatment. His exquisite jazz photography books, one also named Jazz Memories, and The Eye of Jazz, are not in print in the U.S and well should be.

I would recommend this package to novices as an introduction to classic jazz, but the $48 price tag seems a tad exorbitant for a primer. If you’re as frugal as me, you’ll probably want to root for it to be remaindered.

Originally Published