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The Playboy Guide to Jazz

AAJ Staff By

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By Eugene Holley Jr.

The Playboy Guide to Jazz Neil Tesser
Plume, 1998
ISBN 0452276489



Aside from its role in encouraging and chronicling the sexual revolution, Playboy has been in the vanguard of reviewing jazz. This guide, written by the magazine's Chicago-based jazz critic, Neil Tesser, is a complete, compact handbook for the general public that offers a well-written and informative look at the essential recordings of "America's classical music."

Putting a jazz guide together is an intricate balancing act: what—and whom—do you include or leave out? Tesser has done a great job of presenting the jazz canon of yesterday and today, but he also gives us a credible glimpse into what we'll be listening to in the future. Starting from 1917 and working up to the 1990s, Tesser lists some of the best jazz albums, including Duke Ellington's The Blanton-Webster Years, Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, Ornette Coleman's avant-garde stylings on Free Jazz, the fusion of Weather Report's Mysterious Traveller, and Wynton Marsalis's neoclassic J Mood. Although the book could have benefited from illustrations and lacks specific Latin jazz recommendations, Tesser's compilation is in the groove and up-to-date.

Synopsis: The ideal introduction to the history of jazz and its rich and varied heritage, this guide profiles 250 of the best jazz CDs—selected from the thousands available—grouping them into chapters devoted to significant movements and periods of jazz history.

NEIL TESSER on The Playboy Guide to Jazz...

Having spent most of my adult life spinning jazz on the radio, writing reviews, and talking to new (as well as experienced) listeners and readers, I've come to realize how initmidating it is for most people to walk into a CD store or crack open one of those "all-inclusive" jazz guides. That's why I tore out so much hair winnowing the available discs down to an average of 25 first-tier selections per chapter. (And coming up with 50 "essential" starters, as I did at the end of the book — well, don't even ask.) If you've ever wondered something like, "This bebop stuff sounds intriguing; where should I start?" (ch.3) or "Despite all the hype, is Wynton Marsalis really that good?" (ch.8), or "Who's really happening RIGHT NOW?" (ch.9), then I wrote this for you. Making choices like this just about guarantees controversy, and I'm steeled for it: my e-mail address is included, so feel free to ask more or offer your opinions. No reasonable request will go unanswered.


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