The Penguin Jazz Guide: The History of the Music in the 1000 Best Albums Paperback – Dec 28 2010
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About the Author
Brian Morton is a freelance writer and broadcaster who for many years presented Radio 3's jazz magazine Impressions and In Tune. He has also broadcasted extensively on BBC Radio Scotland. Richard Cook (1957 - 2007) was formerly editor of The Wire and edited Jazz Review. He contributed to many other publications, including the New Statesman and his books included Richard Cook's Jazz Encyclopaedia and It's About That Time: Miles Davis on Record.
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Top Customer Reviews
I did find the order by year odd at first, but music evolves with time, so I find the reviews more understandable in context to time than in an artist order. One problem with picking the greatest albums is whether it is truly the greatest album or an example of something new (the state of the art), or is it truly the greatest of the genre - there is a bit of that in here. Recommended for all jazz enthusiasts even the ones who have read it all.
After the Complete jazz on CD, Cook and Morton
created another way of looking in the jazz century.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
Without question any book that says it is representing the "best of" is subjective and Morton would agree to that; a lot of the selections included in this book unquestionably are amongst the "best of what jazz has to offer". However, there are quite a few entries that simply do not add up to that achievement. One example (among several) offered in this book is Courtney Pine's A Journey To Within. It has been featured in several of the Penguin's editions and never once has it been considered a record that would be a contender for one of the best albums for the year in which it was released, much-less-so when compared to the best of all-time. Going by their old scale of rating recordings this release consistently received "**(*)" and according to the authors this more or less equates to "... worthwhile things here, but some significant flaws in either performance or presentation tell against it. Probably for completists of the artist in question only." Never once did this recording, according to Morton and Cook, ever deserve a rating much higher (if ever higher) than that. How did this release catapult itself into being one of the "best" of all-time? What irritates this author about such an inclusion is a record like David Rogers' This World Is Not Your Home, a record that had been sited in their 9th edition as being "... a wonderful, potentially very important record, one of the best of 2007. Ironic that we could have been saying that in any of our five last editions" had been omitted. In this writers opinion Rogers' release is one of the greatest 10 or so jazz recordings in the past 12-15 years. While there's no doubt that Pine's Journey is a good record and shows much promise of what was to follow, there's absolutely no question about the difference in quality when comparing it to Rogers' masterpiece. Yes, Pine is a much greater known artist than Rogers is or may ever be but that doesn't excuse the fact that such an outstanding release, a release that had been fully acknowledged as such by Morton and Cook would be omitted. Morton takes special care to say "... there may be better ones lurking out there, perhaps in plain sight...." OK.
In 2005 Richard Cook released the very useful Jazz Encyclopedia. As the name suggests it was presented in alphabetical order, therefore no serious need for an index. As usual Cook's writing was witty and eloquent. Thankfully it was written with much care; all the material within it was refreshing and new, not a partial collage of what had been previously (repeatedly) issued before, as is the case with History of the Music and other versions of the Guide. The 7th edition of The Penguin Guide To Jazz Recordings was the first time that the Guide had been released without an index. How can a "guide" be called a "guide" without an index? A better question still - how can the same mistake be made twice?! The authors at the time of the release of their 7th edition had received a lot letters from dismayed readers concerning this and subsequently Morton and Cook rectified the problem by including an index in their following issue. The authors even commented in the 8th issue that they unwisely made the decision to release a Guide without one. Yet here in this 10th issue Morton does it again. In addition, as previously mentioned, quite a few entries in this book contains rehashed text from the previous 9 guides. Perhaps Morton needed to fulfill a contract in getting this recent edition out to press and did not have enough time to write a greater amount of new material. As it turns out some of the writing in this issue is over two decades old. Additionally many entries have text which discusses albums that does not correspond with the recording in question. This overlapping isn't always to the reader's benefit since the inclusion of these other recordings often detracts from the initial entry and is not always presented in a logical way. Unfortunately this problem has existed numerous times in past editions. Long-time readers may find this almost humorous considering how often Morton and Cook would criticize recordings that they reviewed as being "padded out" or incoherent, a consequence of poor editing.
Newcomers to the Guide may very well get some enjoyment from this book, there's some useful information presented here; long-time readers on the other hand are probably going to find history repeating itself far too many times. Better luck next time? Probably not. 2 1/2 stars.
On the cover of the book I am reviewing, 'The Penguin Jazz Guide: The History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums', these two endorsements appear:
"The leader in its field... if you own only one book on jazz, it really should be this one." (International Record Review)
"Significant and stimulating... part jazz history, part jazz Karma Sutra, with Cook and Morton as the knowledgeable, urbane, wise and witty guides... This is one of the great books on recorded jazz; other guides don't even come close." (The Irish Times)
These two endorsements also appear on the cover of the book I own, that is the 'Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD'. So it's the same book, right? Wrong.
Look closely at this newer book and you will see the words: "Praise for the Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings." In other words, the praise is not for 'The Penguin Jazz Guide'. Got it?
I felt uncomfortable about the fact that the names of the books were so similar, feeling that this could lead to accusations that Penguin were misleading readers, so I contacted Penguin Books, The International Record Review and The Irish Times.
The International Record Review were most helpful and sent me a copy of the review from which their quote was taken. It might interest potential buyers to know that this review was written in 2000. Some people might consider eleven years to be a long time in publishing. The Editor of IRR told me that she was unaware that Penguin was still using an eleven year old endorsement and that she would be contacting Penguin to ask them to stop doing so.
Penguin Books responded promptly to my requests for information and I was impressed when they volunteered to change the wording of an advertisement for this book on their website. I was less impressed when I saw the grudging changes affected. My image of this iconic company has been tarnished. Dare I say that standards are slipping?
The Irish Times? No idea. They did not respond to several requests for information.
Other reviewers have focused on the way in which 'The Penguin Jazz Guide' is organised. I do not like the limited scope of the book. I feel as if someone is trying to spoon-feed me. Also, I do not like the division into decades. This seems arbitrary.
I got the impression from Penguin Books that there is no great enthusiasm for an updated edition of 'The Penguin Guide to Jazz', which was described to me as 'vast' and 'covering an enormous amount of material'. So, there appears to be a hole in the market. Anyone fancy reviewing 16,000 jazz albums?
I am left with the feeling that Penguin's marketing for this book is cynical and deliberately misleading. Quite apart from this, the book is inadequate for a serious jazz collector. The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD: Seventh Edition (Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings) and The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings: Ninth Edition remain worthwhile investments. Mine is seven years old and still works for me. I supplement my well-thumbed 'Guide to Jazz' with customer reviews on Amazon.com.
Richard Cook died on 25th August 2007.