Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler Oxford Univ. Press ISBN 0-19-507418-1
The title in combination with the author credits pretty much says it all: This is perhaps the ultimate reference on the musicians who created and continue to create jazz.
Feather, who died before this work was completed, and Gitler are rightly regarded as two of the most important and thoughtful writers on jazz. As the entries show, they didn't take their responsibility lightly when putting this book together.
They endeavored to get every fact correct (Louis Armstrong's mythological birthdate of July 4, 1900, for example, doesn't appear. Instead we get the real one, tracked down by critic Gary Giddins several years back, of Aug. 4, 1901) and to compress every important career development, composition and record date into each artist's entry.
It's not a book you'll skim, such as a record guide. The numerous abbreviations can make for frustrating reading. But, if you want to know something about an artist, chances are excellent you'll find it here.
I love jazz because next to my kids, it's the love of my life.
I was first exposed to jazz by Joe Rico from a tiny station in Niagara Falls in 1954 when I was 13.
The best show I ever attended was Maynard Ferguson who blew the roof off Massey Hall in the late 50s.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to everything you can and then listen again.