The Jazz Singers: The Ultimate Guide

C. Michael Bailey By

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The Jazz Singers: The Ultimate Guide
Scott Yanow
Hardcover; 264 pages
ISBN: 0879308257
Backbeat Books

The most informative parts of Scott Yanow's exhaustive survey of jazz singers are the introductory sections. Here Yanow outlines the who, what, when, where and why of jazz singing. In these introductory pages, Yanow discusses how the book came about, provides a definition and brief history of jazz singing, and addresses the challenges faced by jazz singers in the early 21st century.

Yanow then flexes his considerable opinion on the "Ten Songs That Should Be Avoided" by today's jazz singers, suggests who is and who is not a jazz singer, and explains why. Finally, he gives a list of the 30 most important jazz singers. The remainder of the book is gravy, information accumulated from surveys and Yanow's almost 30 years of music research and writing on over 700 singers, 521 of whom he identifies as (or nearly) jazz singers.

Yanow's true talent—as demonstrated in his previous books, Swing (Miller Freeman, 2000), Bebop (Miller Freeman, 2000), and Classic Jazz (Backbeat Books, 2001)—is his knack for efficient distillation of a large amount of historical information, both written and audio. He exercises this efficiency piquantly in the introductory section entitled, "A Brief History of Jazz Singing." Yanow notes appropriately that a renaissance in the singing of standards began in the mid-1970s with Susannah McCorkle (who Yanow later writes warmly about), and that continues through today's vocalists.

Yanow gives a nod to an important non-jazz singer in the section "Close But Not Quite." The author points out that while not a jazz singer, Linda Ronstadt's three albums of standards with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra in the 1980s introduced an entire "baby boomer" generation to Tin Pan Alley and Broadway.

Yanow's list of the most important jazz singers is the most telling. Not a single name is wasted in this list of the who's who of jazz singing. Their respective entries in the book serve further to expand Yanow's taut analyses of these important musical figures, providing recommendations for those wishing to investigate an artist in greater depth.

Yanow notes the relative absence of male jazz singers in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, balancing the observation with commentary on the exploding number of female vocalists constantly entering the market. So constant is this stream of talent that it threatens this current book with obsolescence...just not yet. For the time being, The Jazz Singers: The Ultimate Guide offers a concise and thorough survey of what jazz vocals have to offer listeners interested in learning beyond listening.

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