All-Music Guide to Jazz
Submitted on behalf of Peter Luce
All-Music Guide to Jazz, 2nd Edition
Edited by Michael Erlewine with Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra, and Scott Yanow
Miller Freeman Books, 1996
No doubt about it, the "All-Music Guide to Jazz" is a reference that all jazz collectors should have. I am going to resist the temptation to say that if you are a jazz record collector that the AMG is the only reference you will ever need. The fact is that any reference has strengths and weaknesses and the collector often finds himself consulting as many references as are available to address a question at hand. So, having said that, I’ll put it this way, if you are a jazz record collector this guide is indispensable!
The book’s approximately 900 pages contain reviews and ratings of over 13,000 recordings and profiles of over 1,400 musicians. All periods and styles of jazz are included. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, the first jazz group ever to record (1917), is here along with current recordings of James Carter and Joshua Redman. Listings are alphabetical by musician. Each listing begins with a brief biography and then covers major recording sessions issued under that musician’s leadership. Both vinyl and CD recordings are included which provides a completeness of recording history that is sometimes lacking in other similar guides. The editors avoid the trap of citing specific LP or CD issue numbers. This approach eliminates quick obsolesce of the information and provides the jazz collector with a very useful reference chronology of a musician’s or group’s major recording sessions. This is a tremendous aid in guiding record purchases. In addition to the listings, AMG contains additional reference material such a Brief History of Jazz and 150 Recommended Jazz Books which will be of interest to both beginners and more experienced fans. But, more about the supplemental reference material later.
Nine times out of ten, when you pick up the All-Music Guide to Jazz, you will be looking for biographical or discographical information. This is the heart and soul of the Guide and what makes it so useful as an everyday reference.
These biographies are brief, but fact-filled overviews of a musician’s life and musical career. Each entry begins with the artist’s date and place of birth and death, instrument(s) played and jazz style. Given their relative brevity, the bios are amazingly comprehensive in summarizing a musician’s place in jazz history, bands played with and recorded with and other musical activity. How often have you come across the name of a musician you had never heard about and asked yourself the question, "Who is so and so?" Richie Kamuca, for example, or Sonny Red? Well, find out in the AMG.
List of Recordings
Following each bio is a listing of the artist’s major recordings. Each recording is rated using a system of 1 to 5 diamonds (see below for more on ratings) and many, but not all of, the listings contain a brief review. Some recordings receive special recognition. Landmark Recordings are those "...singled out as landmark or career turning points for the particular artist. These are classic albums-prime stuff." Essential Collections "...should be part of any good collection of the genre...You can’t go wrong with them." First Purchase albums are "where to begin to find out if you like [a] particular artist." Like the length of the biographies, the number of included recordings is directly related to a musician’s importance in jazz history. Duke Ellington has 182 entries. Miles Davis has 106 and Sonny Rollins has 54. It’s important here to cite the Editors’ criteria in selecting recordings for inclusion. Included are "...CDs or LPs (most of which are still in print or reasonably available) that, taken as a whole, represent each artist’s most significant recordings."At a minimum, each listing contains the recording title, label, recording date, and rating. The reviews, while very brief, are gems in their ability to convey an evaluation of the recording and to place the recording within the historical context of the musician’s career and often, amazingly, within the overall historical context of the jazz tradition.
Other Reference Material
One of the reasons I like the All-Music Guide is that the Editors have gone an additional step and included considerable supplemental reference material which increases the book’s value. This material includes the following sections
Brief and clear definitions of major jazz styles with mention of the style’s major innovators. Know what Cool Jazz is? How about Mainstream or Modern Mainstream?