Trade size soft cover, with a five page Introduction by Morton, with a page listing abbreviations for various musical instruments. This book hovers somewhere between 2-2 1/2 stars. Jazz lovers will be familiar with Brian Morton through his work with (the late) Richard Cook and the many editions of The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings. As such Morton is in a good position to sit down and collect, in one book, the 1001 best jazz albums as he hears it, and relate the music to a particular era or eras. Morton has conveniently listed the 1001 best albums chronologically (not alphabetically as in past editions) in the twenty-one Contents pages-"Beginnings", "20's", "30's", "40's", and so on, up through what he titles "The Recent Scene" (2001-2010), which helps lay a good foundation for quick reference and ease of reading in this 10th edition. The contents are slightly weighted toward the 50's/60's/70's as expected, but with wide coverage of the other decades as well. At the start of each decade there's a short (1-2 pages) synopsis of jazz that preceded it and how the music changed during specific eras.
Jazz listeners used to picking up "the Penguin" to learn about particular albums/musicians will be slightly surprised at this book. It's not an in depth, fairly inclusive critique as such. Rather it's an overview of one man's (plus Richard Cook's previous writing) pick of the best jazz from the Twentieth Century. With his deep knowledge of jazz in all it's forms, Morton has selected what he feels represents jazz, from specific artists, over many years. Using rewritten essays by both Richard Cook and his own critiques, mostly from past "Penguin" editions, he then relates the music to specific eras from the past, and shows how the jazz phenomenon has morphed through time. Throughout the book there are examples of albums that, previously, weren't rated all that highly. But for whatever reason, they are now accorded a higher status in this edition.
While this was done sparingly in past editions, this edition lists a number of albums that have never been rated as music worthy of five, or even four stars. This could be viewed as both good and bad, especially for someone new to jazz. Everyone's tastes change over time, and Morton has shown that he has reevaluated certain albums, and now hears them as being fine examples of good jazz, worthy of inclusion in this overview. This could be, at times, confusing to most anyone who has used past editions, and found the ratings, by and large, unchanged-something to think about. However, his talent for straightforward writing lays a good foundation for his subjects in a few paragraphs. Also included for each entry is a quote from another artist about that particular musician or album, or a quote from the musician himself. This feature adds both interest and knowledge to the overall book. In the Introduction Morton concedes that there are so many jazz releases that to try and review them all (or most of them), would be to difficult a task. Hence his very selective approach to what he (and Cook) believe are the best jazz releases (or are at least representative of an artist's best work) during a specific time period.
Many (most) of the works listed will be well known, with some, perhaps, new to jazz lovers, which helps deepen the books worth. Artists well known are (Jelly Roll Morton, "King" Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, Cab Calloway, Django Reinhardt, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Claude Thornhill, Billy Eckstine, Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Ben Webster, Art Blakey, Errol Garner, Mel Torme, Chet Baker, Quincy Jones, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp, Horace Silver, Chick Corea, John McClaughlin, Sonny Stitt, McCoy Tyner, Anthony Braxton, Pat Metheny, Sarah Vaughn, Wynton Marsalis, Henry Threadgill, Oscar Peterson, Shrley Horn, Jim Hall, and on and on. Lesser (arguably) known musicians are also given space where warranted (Freddie Keppard, Jimmy Blythe, Lovie Austin, Jabbo Smith, Wingy Manone, Savoy Sultans, Hot Lips Page, Tiny Grimes, Boyd Raeburn, John Hardee, Joe Bushkin, George Wallington, George Lewis, Lennie Niehaus, Frank Morgan, Curtis Counce, J.R. Monterose, Joe Albany, Joe McPhee, and many more. This is where jazz listeners will find interesting reading-who doesn't like discovering some good new jazz? There are a number of artists who appear several times throughout the books time line, denoted by the use of the "&" symbol next to the artists name, if Morton feels their music warranted inclusion.
As in all books of this kind, long time jazz listeners will have their own opinions as to what constitutes good jazz. Everyone (including me) will have certain artists/albums they feel should be included, and in the book, will find works they feel don't rate inclusion. But the (possibly) unknown artists listed, is where this book begins to take a deeper hold on jazz lovers-introducing works that you may have overlooked, or didn't know about at all. The book makes for interesting, informative, and sometimes slightly infuriating reading-but that's one of the strengths of this book. If everyone were in agreement with what constitutes great jazz-how boring life would be. This book will, at times, make you pause momentarily (or perhaps longer) to possibly reevaluate (or completely disagree with) a particular musician's work. But by and large Morton does a good job in placing the music in it's era, which is important in understanding the deeper meanings of jazz and history.
Ultimately, that's the best reason for perusing (or reading straight through) this book. It's useful, informative, interesting, and (sometimes) enlightening. Morton's writing style is straightforward and informative, without the sometimes slightly pithy comments he and Cook used to describe a particular album. No matter if you're a long time jazz lover or are fairly new to jazz, this book is a worthwhile addition to your library, because of the different slant the book takes, not because it's a great guide to the music. Will it replace "the Penguin" we've all come to use when wanting more information on a particular album/artist? No. Ultimately, the previous editions are the place to look for in-depth information.
Personally I'm looking forward to the next edition of what many consider the bible of jazz music-hopefully in the in-depth alphabetical form used previously, maybe expanded to two volumes. But I fear that undertaking such a task would be to difficult. But as an addition, as an overview of history and jazz, along with previous editions of "the Penguin" (many people-like me-use older editions to find albums deleted from newer editions), this would be a good addition to many (especially newer converts) jazz listeners library. But, ultimately, I miss "the Penguin" from the past.