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Book Reviews

All-Music Guide to Jazz

By Published: March 4, 2004
Some readers will find fault with final editing. For example, there is some redundancy of information in the reviews of recordings by some musicians. This is noticeable when reviews are read consecutively and some of the same information appears in more than one review. One’s initial reaction is to conclude final editing should have been done to eliminate the duplicate information. However, it is clear to me that this "problem" is related to the source of the reviews not the lack of editing. Remember, all of the biographies and reviews are on the All-Music Guide database. Some people will only access the reviews on-line and may only read a single review. The repetition of some key basic information may, therefore be very necessary.

The lack of definition of some of the symbols used in the Guide suggests that the printer deadline may have precluded some needed final editing. For example, a filled-in circle is one of the symbols used in the review sections. This symbol, however, is not defined in the How to Use this Book section. I e-mailed the folks at AMG to try to find out the meaning of this symbol, but received no response.

More problematic for some readers is the fact that the rating system is not defined!! While a system of 1 to 5 diamonds is used, no information is provided on what each rating means. One would assume that 4 diamonds are "better than" 3 diamonds, but what does 4 diamonds mean? What criteria or standards were used to define this level? Readers looking for ratings will clearly be troubled by the "All-Music Guide to Jazz." No only is the system not defined, but some of the recordings are rated anonymously. Without being able to adjust for the "biases" of individual reviewers, some readers will be concerned with issues of the reliability and creditability of the ratings. I understand this concern, but am of the opinion that the ratings are the least important aspect of this Guide. If the ratings were eliminated in the next edition, very little would be lost. The AMG is not a reference that the casual jazz listener will pickup. Rather it is a book that will guide more serious jazz fans as they discover more and more about jazz’s incredibly rich recorded legacy. The fan who uses the book would be the person who, for example, wants to acquire more of Sonny Rollins’ 1950's recordings. Sonny’s 50s sound is already in the listener’s head, he or she knows what to expect. Distinctions between 3 or 4 diamonds don’t matter!

Final Bar
Let me conclude where I began. In a word, if you collect jazz records, the "All-Music Guide to Jazz" is indispensable. Period!


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