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Richard Cook's Jazz Encyclopedia
Penguin Books. 2005. ISBN 0-141-00646-3. £30.00
We all have our ways of testing reference books. Maybe one looks up one's friends, one's heroes, or musicians encountered in club or classroom, or those that one believes to be neglected or over-rated. And, just as here I feel that Graham Collier's entry is a tad too long, or I wish that, say, the unmentioned Chuck Israels had received some of the generous space allotted to the unreadable George Russell, you too will itch to re-shape the contents.
However, there is really little here to complain about, much to praise. A common reaction is to want more - impossible, of course, in a book that already approaches 700 pages. After checking that friends such as Dick Hawdon, Dan Morgenstern, Scott Robinson and Loren Schoenberg ('too young to go steady with modern jazz' - Loren will relish that!) had been given their due, I began by regretting, for instance, that David Newton's note is relatively short, and that Joseph Schillinger, Nikki Iles and Daryl Sherman are omitted completely.
But these were petty and debatable criticisms that faded as I was swayed by Cook's wisdom, kindness and consistency of voice, and his ear for the memorable or intriguing fact or phrase. Cook provides a generous flavour of the characters who constitute the jazz world, writing affectionately of Tony Coe's 'mildewed romanticism,' of cool musicians 'gloving the emotions,' of Martin Speake's 'cool, almost mentholated style', of Jane Ira Bloom's electronics 'hanging over her music like a glittering night sky,' and of Chick Corea having a 'pixilated' quality in his playing.
The index entries for Art Pepper's biography are said to read 'like a book about crime, not music'. Saxophonist Hans Koller is revealed to have been an abstract painter, as was Pee Wee Russell. Tony Scott is quoted as advising Eddie Daniels 'Stick to the tenor, son', and Don Lusher's modesty shines when he says: 'I'm a musical shop assistant, really, with being in sessions so much, and it doesn't hurt me to do that because I'm not a tremendous jazzer.' We are reminded of the late Eddie Thompson's wit, announcing: 'This one's called When Your Liver Has Gone,' and Tommy Dorsey's complaint that 'there are three evil people in the world - Adolf Hitler, Buddy Rich and Alvin Stoller - and I've had two of them in my band!' And Dave Cliff's remark that 'if you're just playing standards, you end up playing pizza joints for fifty quid', is spot on, a wise warning to give to young musicians.
Cook is commendably even-handed towards those figures who generally receive a critical mauling, such as Benny Goodman, Paul Whiteman, Acker Bilk, and even Kenny G. Indeed, saxophonist Gorelick receives as intelligent an assessment here as you'll see anywhere, and of Kenny Ball, Cook observes that the trumpeter, 'Has had a hard and unfair time of it with critics.'
Sixteen pages of black and white photographs range from 1890 to 2003, the two earliest ones, of Buddy Bolden's band and King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, both showing string basses, food for thought for those folk who still believe that wind basses are emblematic of early jazz. Plainly, they're not. Here, the only time when roof preading came to mind, the John Coltrane photo shows both a left-handed saxophone and a jacket with buttons on the wrong side! Don't always believe your eyes.
If it's time you updated your collection of jazz reference books, this is high on the list of those to be considered.
John Robert Brown
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