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The iTunes Paradox

Christopher Loudon blogs about the information gap at iTunes

Jackie Paris album cover: That "Paris" Mood

Perhaps it’s the August heat, but I’m in the mood for a midsummer rant, and the topic is iTunes. Don’t get me wrong; as many a Visa bill will corroborate, I’m a regular iTunes user. It can serve as a terrific research tool, particularly when I find myself reviewing an album by an unfamiliar jazz singer and want to dig deeper into her or his catalog. And iTunes can be a great source for material that is otherwise out of print or available only via expensive and hard-to-find imports. Case in point: this past May, two releases from a label I’d never previously heard of – Smith & Co. – were added to iTunes’ assemblage of Jackie Paris albums. The first, entitled simply Singles, gathers together several rarities from Paris’ earliest years, including a version of “Skylark” that pre-dates his celebrated 1957 recording and two duets with vocalist Tamara Hayes, recorded for RCA in 1954. Also available are the eight sides he recorded for Coral in ’54, released as That “Paris” Mood.

Yet, though the benefits of iTunes are obvious, I take umbrage at the amount of information iTunes fails to provide. (As noted a couple of times herein, I accept that the blame might not be entirely with iTunes, but also with the record labels. I must also add that, since I live north of the 49th parallel, I can only access iTunes Canada, so am speaking entirely from a Canadian perspective. Some iTunes experiences, and capabilities, may be different for U.S. consumers). In this digital age when even the most obscure facts are a mere click away, why does iTunes not showcase two pieces of information that I, together with the vast majority of diehard music fans, consider essential: the songwriter(s) and the album’s personnel? Take those priceless Paris releases. Nowhere is it noted that Hayes is the singer whom Paris is paired with on those two wonderful tracks. Nor is the listener informed that Hoagy Carmichael composed “Skylark,” with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. And purchasers of That “Paris” Mood would never know that it’s Charlie Shavers’ trumpet they’re hearing behind Paris. (Note: in fairness to iTunes, once a track is downloaded, there is a “composer” listing in the View Options, though it often comes up blank, particularly on vintage material; perhaps it is the obligation of the record label to provide such information, but that doesn’t mitigate the oversight, it just shifts the blame. Nor does iTunes’ include “personnel” among it’s myriad View Options.)

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