Thursday, November 09, 2006

Book Look: There have been some interesting books to come out recently on the blues and jazz front. A few reference books with an English bent are Richard Cook's Jazz Encyclopedia and The Penguin Guide to the Blues. Cook is one of the editors on the Penguin Guide to Jazz, and this book provides brief biographies of jazz musicians past and present and also recommends one compact disc per entry as a starting point. I think this book may be more helpful to newer jazz fans because it gives one stop shopping for a quick bio on a musician they had heard or read about. More knowledgeable readers might be disappointed by the lack of discographical information or reviews. There is no shortage of reviews on The Penguin Guide to the Blues, however, to the tune of about 1,000 pages worth. Their four stars plus system also makes room for special "crowned" recordings that are of extra merit. You can always quibble with another's ratings and there is plenty of fodder for arguments here (that's part of the fun of flipping through it) but by in large the ratings and reviews are thoughtfully done. Where the book really shines is in helping people separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of the tons of reissues that clog the CD bins now. This guide can help cut through the clutter and help you find what you're looking for whether that is the complete works or a one disc introduction to a particular artist. On the non-reference side, I mentioned Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories by David G. Whiteis before and it is a really well written collection of short pieces on musicians and scenes (the piece on Maxwell Street is particularly poignant.) Finally, Is Jazz Dead?: (Or Has It Moved to a New Address) by Stuart Nicholson is bound to cause considerable discussion as he looks at the recent past and future of jazz, excoriating the conservatives in American jazz and praising the experimenters of the European scene. It's an interesting thesis, but at times he gets a little too dogmatic himself, and at times risks becoming what he dislikes. But it's a worthy read, especially for it's discussion of the growing Scandinavian jazz scene.

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