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The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz by Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler

An indispensable research tool for jazz writers, record collectors, musicians and fans, Leonard Feather’s series of biographical dictionaries has served a wide variety of needs for the last 45 years, not the least of which being the role model for several other major works of their kind. From the beginning, Ira Gitler worked as Feather’s primary aide, and by the time of The Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Seventies, he was given equal credit as co-author. In this 1976 work, Feather and Gitler presented biographical essentials, career overviews and updates for 1,400 musicians, including many whose names did not appear in the earlier volumes. However, considerable space was also devoted to photos, essays and reference lists of interest to the jazz scholar. A quarter of a century has passed since then, and the number of musicians now thought important enough for inclusion has grown to 3,300, thus forcing the authors to dispense with such space-consuming niceties as photos and related textual material.

In this present edition, we find thoroughly updated biographical sketches, ranging in length from a few lines for the most obscure figures to three to four columns for the most musically and historically significant artists. All periods and styles of jazz are covered, from early New Orleans jazz to avant garde and free. Unfortunately, bands and individual players of limited or only local renown, such as the territorial groups of the ’20s and ’30s, are largely overlooked, as are also many gifted jazzmen who did not perform as full-time professionals. If these had been included, the total number could have easily exceeded 5,000. Some of the major blues artists are also covered, but only those who worked primarily in association with jazz musicians: yes to Ma Rainey and T-Bone Walker, but no to Blind Lemon Jefferson and Robert Johnson. Fusion players are, for the most part, excluded, except for those whose earlier reputations were made in jazz. Another departure from the previous editions is the inclusion of a number of players who specialize in Latin jazz, a genre barely even acknowledged in the early ’70s.

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