Giving Jazz Its Due

REVIEW by Willard Manus

Two important jazz books have been sitting on my shelf for some months now. It's time to give them their due:

ALL MUSIC GUIDE TO JAZZ (4th EDITION). Edited by Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra and Stephen Thomas Erlewine for Backbeat Books/All Media Guide, the single-volume tome is just about the finest jazz reference book on the market. Its 1472 pages deal with every kind of jazz ever known--ragtime, New Orleans, swing, bebop, fusion, etc. You name it, the ALL MUSIC GUIDE has covered it--and not just the American varieties either. Europe is well represented too, even Turkey.

Here, for example, is what contributor Francesco Martinelli has to say about Jazz, Turkish style: "The music of Turkey has so impressed visiting jazzmen that many wrote music incorporating the local rhythms and colors. A few examples are Dave Brubeck's Blue Rondo a La Turk, Turkish Bath by Don Ellis, and Don Surman's Galata Bridge....Turkish jazz musicians can be divided today into those more interested in developing a 'proper' jazz idiom, and those more oriented toward experiments that fuse jazz with different strains of Turkish music."

This encyclopedia is amazingly complete. In addition to reviewing the albums released by jazz's major artists, ALL MUSIC GUIDE also offers new and expanded biographies of these players, placing them within their proper historical context and charting the progression of their careers.

Interested in a musical map of the significant fusion players? You'll find it on page 1414, which lists the players by instrument. Even the violinists are identified, not to speak of such composers as Chick Corea and Herhie Hancock.

You don't have to be a scholar or a devotee to enjoy this book, just someone who loves jazz.

TEDDY WILSON TALKS JAZZ, Teddy Wilson with Arie Ligthart and Humphrey Van Loo (Continuum). This book had a difficult birth. It was originally written back in 1976, but the publisher reneged on the contract. It wasn't until after Wilson's death in 1986 that Ligthart, a leading Dutch jazz musician and writer, teamed up with pianist Martin Litton (and others, especially from the BBC) to not only update the book but get it published.

Wilson looks back briefly on his life (he was born in Austin, Texas to schoolteacher parents), talks about the influence on him of pianists Art Tatum, Earl Hines and Fats Waller. Louis Armstrong comes in for praise too: "Working with Armstrong and hearing him take a popular song and bring it to life and make a masterpiece out of it, night after night without fail, was one of the most marvelous things I've ever heard...His improvisational ideas were just so beautiful that every note he created was a melodic note--Armstrong never once wasted one...His tone was like pure gold."

Wilson came to fame playing in small groups headed by Benny Goddman and by backing such singers as Billie Holiday and Mildred Bailey. Goodman, who asked Wilson to join his first-ever inter-racial group, says this about him: "I have gone on record as saying that my pleasure in playing with Teddy Wilson equalled the pleasure I got out of playing Mozart, and that's saying something."

Among Wilson's reminiscences are verbal portraits of Lester Young, Holiday, Goodman, producer John Hammond--and gangster Al Capone, who hired him to play at his private club and tipped him twenty bucks each time he played a set. What an entertaining and enjoyable little book this is.