Will Friedwald has, over the past two decades, emerged as the single most recognized authority on jazz singers. His liner notes have enhanced hundreds of vocal reissues, and his books and newspaper columns are equally perceptive. He’s outspoken, opinionated and often immutable. His Jazz Singing has, since its publication in 1990, served as a bible of sorts; a rambling and sometimes frustrating but endlessly colorful treatise on just about every vocalist from Bessie Smith to Bobby McFerrin. Friedwald’s latest, a hefty tome weighing in at 832 pages, is less an update of Jazz Singing than a more compartmentalized rethink and expansion.
As the title promises, Friedwald has broadened his scope to now include pop singers, allowing for the inclusion of such major figures as Elvis Presley, Johnny Mathis and Patti Page. In total, 210 singers are provided biographic and critical sketches. For serious jazz vocal fans, entries on such seminal performers as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong and Sinatra will provide little new information, though Friedwald’s analysis of specific albums is consistently enlightening. Far more intriguing are his essays on lesser lights-Jackie Paris, David Allyn, Edythe Wright, Irene Reid and several dozen others-and his fresh perspective on such previously underappreciated figures as Doris Day, Jack Jones, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé. Also, since Friedwald focuses almost exclusively on each artist’s music career, performers like Judy Garland and Martha Raye are freshly illuminated.
A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers isn’t the sort of book you read cover to cover. Instead, you dive in for one entry, start routing around, and don’t surface for a couple of hours, inevitably uncovering precious nuggets of information and insight.