The Biographical Encyclopedia Of Jazz
Leonard Feathter & Ira Gitler
Oxford University Press
When I was asked to review Leonard Feather & Ira Gitler's Biographical Encyclopedia Of Jazz, I jumped at the chance. My copy of Feather's original 1984 tome is dog-eared and yellowing, and both it and my hard-bound 1999 edition of Feather & Gitler are well-used, highlighted and underlined; were I to drop either of them, I'd precipitate a snow-storm of the myriad clippings tucked among their pages. These browning bits of newsprint are obituaries of jazz musicians that I've collected assiduously over the years, a sad but necessary final chapter for the superb mini-biographies these volumes contain.
My biggest disappointment when the new paperback edition of Feather & Gitler arrived was finding that it does not represent a new edition; this is the soft-bound brother to the 1999 edition, like a twin with merely a different haircut. So my first piece of advice to you is not to duplicate my mistake.
Other reference resources may be more anecdotal, but this one is crisply factual, with representative film and recording credits, as well. Nonetheless, it does provide insights not seen elsewhere. In the listing on page 226 for vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, for instance, the text says that "her recordings for Decca included hit-making collaborations with the Ink Spots and Louis Jordan, and ranged from inferior pop material to a sublime Gershwin duet album with Ellis Larkins.
On page 537, the notation for conga player Chano Pozo (Luciano Pozo y Gonzales) states that trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie "told Ira Gitler: 'Chano personally was a roughneck.' We know that, after only one year in the United States, Pozo's life indeed came to a violent end when he was shot to death in a bar in Harlem, the Rio Café. In fact, probably the most amazing thing about Pozo is that, in only one year, he was able to make such a lasting impression, and in effect to add a new chapter to jazz history.
Once you have deciphered its rather cryptic system of abbreviations, I think you'll agree that the 3,300 clearly-written biographical summaries in the Biographical Encyclopedia Of Jazz, although concise, are scholarly, authoritative, and comprehensive.