Jazz: An Introduction to the History and Legends Behind America's Music
Bob Blumenthal Collins
Most jazz fans probably walked by accident into the first disc which got them hooked, then maybe picked up a few more under their own steam, but at some point realised they could use a bit of guidance as to where to find the next classic album. And because other jazzbos aren't that numerous, newbies are usually obliged to turn to books for their researches.
Fortunately, there are many tomes out there that set out the history of the music and identify its classic recordings. Now we can add Jazz: An Introduction to the History and Legends Behind America's Music, by noted jazz writer Bob Blumenthal, to the list. How does this one stack up to what's already out there?
Quite well, actually. Blumenthal's text is breezy while being comprehensive, and thorough without being snobby. It's an attractive book, filled with lots of pictures, and it's a quick read. Some artists obviously get more coverage than otherstrumpeters Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis and saxophonist Charlie Parker, in particular, are well represented, as they should be. Blumenthal also covers those changes in the recording industry that have impacted on jazz over the years, from radio broadcasts to the invention of the CD. This is an area of jazz scholarship that has been under-represented in the past, and it's a welcome addition.
Blumenthal also provides helpful sidebars for the novice. "Essential To Know" covers those aspects of jazz history that are needed for a complete knowledge of the genre, and "Did You Know?" covers those little kernels of knowledge that are jazz trivia, yet helpful in orienting one to the multifaceted music.
Blumenthal is also to be commended for giving ample attention to modern jazz. Many histories lack any information on jazz past the 1960s, yet this book covers all the current pioneers as well as those who didn't quite get their due until well into their recording career (saxophonist Joe Henderson is a perfect example.)
Seasoned jazz fans will find little here that they don't already know. But for the novice, this is an excellent introduction. All the major players and labels are covered, and at the end of each section an album guide tells the reader which discs to pick up. Blumenthal has added a passionate and wonderfully accessible book to the jazz scholarship canon.