This is an eighth edition, therefore a book those in the know will purchase reflexively. It’s an encyclopedia considered by Goldmine magazine to be “Indispensable. Other guides pale by comparison.”
So what makes this big book such a big favorite? For one thing, it’s not just a list. It’s a compendium of reviews that go as far as possible into the biographies of the players and the feel of the recordings. Here’s a slice from a listing of lesser-known Bob Mintzer, a tenor sax and bass clarinettist:
“Mintzer is an accomplished soloist and arranger who’s been recording big-band albums for many years now. Earlier albums have been hit and miss affairs, with too much piling on of effects and a certain cuteness standing in for wit and ingenuity.”
The review goes on to detail not just the sound but the sleeve notes of Mintzer’s projects.
Looking at a well-known artist, Artie Shaw, a clarinet virtuoso who disdained the conventional and whose signature piece was Begin the Beguine, we find nearly three pages of compressed type, 22 listings, and this insight:
“Although Begin the Beguine made him a success – Shaw switched the original beguine beat to a modified 4/4 and its lilting pulse was irresistible – the huge hit he scored with it was greeted with loathing when it dawned on him what it meant in terms of fawning fans and general notoriety.”
We also learn that Shaw was “a gifted writer of fiction and was interested in psychoanalysis.” A lot more than you might expect to find out from a “guide to jazz recordings.”
Fanatical record collectors (pardon me, those of you who were born into the CD era, but you must be aware that the greatest jazz was put out on vinyl) will be able to use this guide to catalog and enhance their holdings. Of course the Guide does encroach into the modern age with younger artists who have input totally onto CD – there’s nothing wrong with that. You won’t, according to the editors, find “radio” jazz, “smooth” jazz, or crossover composed music. As you might expect, each recording is rated from “very fine” to “awful,” and there’s got to be some subjectivity at work there, but also the very fine work of people who exhaustively listen to some pretty awful stuff at times.
Occasionally, the reviewers, jazzicologists Richard Cook and Brian Morton, “have chosen to award a special token of merit; in our Guide, it takes the form of a crown” rather than the usual stars. Example: Maiden Voyage, a Blue Note recording headlined by Herbie Hancock. Write that down.