David Royko Psy.D


Rolling Stone Jazz & Blues Album Guide, for better or worse

May 20, 1999

Just had a chance to look at this (Rolling Stone Jazz & Blues Album Guide, Random House, $25.95). I didn't realize it was out. Did it just hit the stores? (It has a 1999 copyright date.)

What I liked best about the old one (1985) were Bob Blumenthal's many entries, and though he's still listed as one of the contributors, I haven't actually spotted his name yet. My general impression is that much of the criticism is not on the same level as some of the earlier edition's and a little less informed, but still fairly good. Many of the entries are thorough, and I can see this being a valuable alternative to Penguin and the most recent AMG. John Swenson is (again) the editor, and it is a much more extensive book (781 pages) as compared to the thin volume from '85. But it is still very frustrating in several significant ways.

First, the organization. Their decision of listing albums in order of release date (often the reissue date) instead of when an album is recorded, or even alphabetically, means the longer lists are hard to use and pretty arbitrary when it comes to checking for a disc.

Also, they say they don't cover ltd. ed. discs or mail-order sets, but then do include some Mosaic sets and some BN Connoisseurs, but not others. They also claim to cover imports that have US distribution, yet none of Zorn's (DIW) Masada discs get a mention, while News For Lulu (hat Art), long oop and on a label if anything more difficult to find than DIW, is reviewed (and Horace Tapscott's two volumes of the oop Dark Tree, also on Hat, are the sole entries for him, ignoring his domestic, and in-print, Arabesque work). Then there are the goofy entries, like listing Woody Shaw's Iron Men as a Muse issue from 1981. They aren't writing about the LP, since it is oop, but they don't list the 32 jazz reissue, so it makes no sense. It all adds up to give an impression of sloppiness.

Example of major inconsistency: Louis Armstrong's entry has more then eight pages of text discussing 65 albums. The Ellington entry lists 128 albums, but the number of pages of text dedicated to discussing them? Slightly more than ONE & A HALF!

The range on inclusions is impressive, in a way, but includes many "questionables" such as the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Zappa (I like him, but I was surprised to see him listed), Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Chicago, Boney James (!), Kenny G (!!!), Jeff Beck, Derek & The Dominoes.

There are plenty of people I was happy to see listed who I wouldn't assume would be (Fred Ho gets a half dozen discs covered), but here's what really infuriates me--after only a quick perusal, these are a few people who I looked up and found that they have no entries at all, and they all have plenty of recordings in print domestically:
James Moody, Pee Wee Russell, Fathead Newman (even though Hank Crawford and Ray Charles are included), Bud Freeman, Von Freeman, Sonny Criss, Buddy Defranco! To see Carlos Santana given coverage for 30 CDs and none of these guys?

And that's after spending a total of 25 minutes with this book on a subway ride this morning. I can only imagine how many other omissions will piss me off on the way home.

And another inconsistency:

In their Wayne Shorter section (where All Seeing Eye is listed, even though it is not available and was a ltd. ed., and has a reissue date of 1988, which is of course wrong), he and Hancock's "1 + 1" is given 2 1/2 stars. Under the Hancock section, "1 + 1" gets 4 1/2 stars.

You'd think these folks might've learned something from that first edition of the AMG Jazz Guide, still the most ludicrously awful album guide of any genre I have ever seen.

Dave Royko