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The Jazz Singers: The Ultimate Guide

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The Jazz Singers: The Ultimate Guide
Scott Yanow
Softcover; 280 pages
ISBN: 978-087930-825-4
Backbeat Books
2008



Anyone ever asked you to list your favorite CDs for a desert island stayover? What would Tom Hanks and Wilson listen to if they had had the foresight to be prepared for their long vacation? The trouble with these desert island picks is that they can become out-of-date before they're even published. And that's the problem with Scott Yanow's book, which provides brief profiles of 521 great jazz singers.

Yanow started out with the idea that he'd tell the stories of 500 jazz singers. It's hard to do because, first, there are more than that and, second, who's to say which ones are really great? Go ahead. Try to draw the line. So, in separate chapters, the author provides another 198 jazz singers with mini-profiles, together with 55 noted musicians who sang in addition to playing an instrument, 30 jazz vocal groups, and the best of jazz singers on film.

In a smart move, Yanow defines three criteria for making the cut. A great jazz singer must have an interesting voice, a career that is significant to the jazz world, and the potential to be influential. He used his own CD reviews and in-person listening for a major part of the evaluations, did plenty of research, and received responses to his e-mail questionnaires from 300 of the 360 living singers written about.

There are problems with the book. The tiny print, the lack of an index and the subjective nature of Yanow's selection all deserve minor carps. On the plus side, the reference information provided for all the singers is of value. Black & white album cover photos also help the book considerably, and the author includes web site information as well as plenty of facts.

Many listeners would likely agree with Yanow's comment that Anita O'Day

Anita O'Day
Anita O'Day
1919 - 2006
vocalist
's Indestructible (Kayo Stereophonic, 2006) was not a good listen, and others that Rachelle Farrell goes over the top way too much. Foreign jazz singers from The Netherlands, Canada, Brazil, Austria and Scotland give the book a broad scope.

Yanow lists 30 of the greatest jazz singers in his introduction, along with the mention of Roberta Gambarini

as the "best bet to enter the top 30 in the future."

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald
1917 - 1996
vocalist
, Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
1901 - 1971
trumpet
, Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
1915 - 1959
vocalist
, Dinah Washington
Dinah Washington
Dinah Washington
1924 - 1963
vocalist
, Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan
1924 - 1990
vocalist
, Mel Torme
Mel Torme
Mel Torme
b.1925
vocalist
, Kurt Elling
Kurt Elling
Kurt Elling
b.1967
vocalist
, Jon Hendricks
Jon Hendricks
Jon Hendricks
b.1921
vocalist
and Carmen McRae
Carmen McRae
Carmen McRae
1920 - 1994
vocalist
make wise choices, although even here there is more than one opinion in the room. 521 is a large number, and many of those listed will be unknown to some readers.

There are some surprising omissions: Melba Joyce, Cris Barber

Cris Barber

vocalist
, Sandra Booker
Sandra Booker
Sandra Booker

vocalist
, Jessica Molaskey, Frankie Laine and Aniya
Aniya

vocalist
, to name a few. And there are quite a few profiles of singers who should probably never have been included. However, that's what makes Yanow's book interesting: there's controversy, there's reference material, and there is opinion.

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