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Hardbopjazz

I need a good jazz book to read.

107 posts in this topic

I suppose it's possible to read "some" as "nearly all."

--eric

Yes, if you want to include volumes of useless books. How can use as a reference a book of unreliable information? Many publishers probably do use students for the preliminary work, but unless that work is thoroughly checked and corrected, the result is worthless. I assume that you think nearly all reference books are worthless.

Well, there are lots of pretty useless reference books out there, yes. Some of them scandalously so.

The Grove is a long way from that, though.

It's useful and interesting, as I can say about the Feather/Gitler, but they're uselful in different ways, both have their plusses and minuses.

You'd really have to show me what's wrong with the book. Joe Maini did die in a game of Russian Roulette, didn't he? A comparison btw. Astrud Gilberto and Count Basie might seem loopy, but I take it just that way: as a loopy idiosyncracy.

The standard by which to judge a book like this is usefulness. Do its ideosyncracies seriously hamper it's usefulness (and the pure fun of reading it)?

I don't think so.

It's sort of like early dictionary projects--were there things wrong with the Johnson and the early Oxfords? Yes. Did they deserve scorn for them? No. They were both less than perfect and in their separate ways enormously useful.

--eric

Edited by WNMC

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WNMC: What makes "He died after losing a game of Russian roulette" so ridiculous (at least to me) is the phrase "after losing a game of" -- as though Russian roulette were a contest of skill rather than the twirling of the barrel of a revolver loaded with one shell, pointing the gun at one's head etc., and that after losing at this game one might then become, I don't know, angry or depressed and decide to put a bullet through one's head. No, not everyone who "loses" at Russian roulette necessarily dies, but what the writer probably should have said about Joe Maini was simply: "He died playing Russian roulette."

As for the rest of your pluses and minuses dance, let's say your the editor of Jazz Grove and you see that Astrud Gilberto entry. Do you -- again, you're the editor of this would-be REFERENCE book, not an eventual reader who is, as you seem to be, looking for entertainment -- think of that entry as just a "loopy idiosyncracy"? And if so, do you let it pass? Or do you suspect, as I think you should, that the author of that entry was just bullshitting his or her way along and take steps to correct it?

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The article on harmony in the earlier editions of the Grove attributed 'Nefertiti' to Miles Davis. Has that error been corrected?

Bertrand.

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WNMC -- You wear me out with your "that's how reference books get written" stuff. You work at an NPR station, right? If some NPR programs aren't very good and/or are run by people who don't really know what they're doing (which I'm sure is the case, given what we hear), would you then say "That's public radio reality -- deal with it"? Further,  if I've characterized that reality at all correctly, should that alter the degree of care and diligence with which you try to do YOUR job? (Seems to me like you're saying something like that when it comes to the editors and publishers of reference works.)

Also your "A LOT of this sort of work gets done by grad students etc." skates over a crucial disntinction or two. Some grad students are quite capable of doing such work very well; others are not. It's the job of the editors of the reference work to chose only people who are capable and then oversee their work with a reasonable amount of care. The editors of Grove Jazz apparently did neither of these things, though this presupposes the editors were capable of telling good from bad. In the case of Grove Jazz, that seems not to have been the case. The Dorham entry, for instance, was written by the overall editor of Grove Jazz, Barry Kernfeld.

As for your "Maybe you don't like James Lincoln Collier. Other people do. That's how it is" -- if you read Collier's entry on Jazz in Jazz Grove and Max Harrison's on Jazz from regular Grove and conclude that the differences between them are just a matter of taste, there's little hope for you.

Well, there's a point where criticism of a work becomes pedantry. I don't say that to be insulting, but to say that one has to ask serious questions about what standard is being applied and whether that standard is appropriate to the use the thing gets put to.

I'm not associated with NPR, but I would defend their programming generally speaking. I think they hold up a fairly high standard of news radio and announcing. And they're my competition. I have complaints, but there you go.

I've often had occasion to observe the way in which "standards" in different fields have a tendency to become self-referential. When I worked in journalism for instance, the standards that most journalists were concerned about didn't matter to most readers at all.

So if there were a problem with a radio program, I'd have to know what the problem is. Some imperfections, yes, you live with. Others, no, you cannot. It depends.

On the Gilberto thing: I doubt anyone is going to take this entry as God's holy writ, anyhow. And is it bullshit? I don't know.

The losing a game of Russian Roulette thing is actually a fairly common usage. You can google it and see if you like.

On Kenny Dorham: I'm no judge of the technicalia of the trumpet. I can't say whether Kernfield ought to be laughed at or not for writing what he wrote.

On Collier: it's a long entry: it'd probably be easier for you to tell me what you feel is wrong with it.

On the grad student thing: you had mentioned it as if, in itself having students do this sort of work was grounds to condemn the work. In a 1300+ page book the question isn't whether there are mistakes, it's how much they matter in the context of use.

I read it the book for fun, yes. I also read it for research for on-air stuff. I find it useful for both these purposes. If it turns out that it is so riddled with errors that I oughtn't use it for the latter purpose, I'd be very put out, but I haven't seen anything to indicate that level of problems.

---eric

Edited by WNMC

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The article on harmony in the earlier editions of the Grove attributed 'Nefertiti' to Miles Davis. Has that error been corrected?

Bertrand.

Extended tonality in Miles Davis's Nefertiti on the album of the same name (1967, Col. CS9594)

The practice in the article is to note the leader/soloist: "John Coltane's But not for Me . . ."

and then to parenthetically note the composer.

Shorter's name is still omitted in my edition, but the Davis attribution is to Davis as performer, not as composer.

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Tom,

One of the best and most moving books I've read is Francis Paudras' portrayal of Bud Powell, Dance of the Infidels. IMHO, it's must read.

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WNMC -- You wrote:

"The standard by which to judge a book like this is usefulness. Do its ideosyncracies seriously hamper it's usefulness (and the pure fun of reading it)?

"I don't think so.

"It's sort of like early dictionary projects--were there things wrong with the Johnson and the early Oxfords? Yes. Did they deserve scorn for them? No. They were both less than perfect and in their separate ways enormously useful."

The idiosyncrasies of Johnson's dictionary and the OED, such as they are, were not the result of their compilers--and in the case of OED, their armies of assistants--adopting a half-assed attitude toward these projects. Rather, an attempt was being made by them to do the best job possible, in light of their human limitations, of the body of knowledge available to them at the time, etc. Jazz Grove, on the other hand, is a work that shows every sign of having been executed in a half-assed manner in the here and now of its compilation -- that is, it contains statements that any editor of such a work ought to know are dubious or worse.

For instance, the entry where Kenny Dorham is said to have "rivaled his greatest contemporaries in technical command." You say you're "no judge of the technicalia of the trumpet." Well, have you listened to Dorham and his contemporaries at all? If you have, you'd know that this marvelous, highly individual player was by no means a notable technician by comparison with such contemporary trumpeters as Fats Navarro, Dizzy Gillespie, or Howard McGhee.

This is pedantry? No, it's the sort of stuff that everyone who cares about the music manages to find out sooner or later, and in one way or another, before they themselves start to pontificate, which is something that you seem inclined to do when it suits you -- witness, on that thread about Robert Johnson and the blues, the seemingly authoritative tone of your "The generation of social critics and musical historians who built the Johnson myth had agendas ... that are pretty obvious to me in retrospect," which after much fumphing about led to this discreet withdrawal ("You obviously are more deeply read than I in this field, so I'll defer to your judgement on these issues") when JohnL weighed in with some genuinely authoritative course correction.

No, I'm not going to point in detail why Collier's entry on jazz is such a turgid piece of dreck, if only because lack of curiosity and/or unwillingness to do some homework seems to be part of your problem. I advise you again, though, to track down Max Harrison's brilliant entry on jazz in regular Grove (it's also available in a book, "The New Grove Gospel, Blues, and Jazz"). You're sure to learn a good deal from it, and it seems like you have a good deal to learn.

You say of Jazz Grove: "I read it for fun, yes. I also read it for research for on-air stuff. I find it useful for both these purposes. If it turns out that it is so riddled with errors that I oughtn't use it for the latter purpose, I'd be very put out, but I haven't seen anything to indicate that level of problems." Based on some of things you've said here, if it were riddled with errors, how would you know?

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Disagree about Grove Jazz. I wrote a long article about its many errors of fact and emphasis when it came out, and as far as I can tell, every one of those goofs is retained in the revised edition. The main problem with Grove Jazz is that to economize they hired a bunch of college students at dirt-cheap rates to write many of their entries, and many of these students then descended  on places like the Institute for Jazz Studies at Rutgers, asking questions that made it clear that they barely knew who the person they were writing about actually was. There's some fine stuff in Grove Jazz--e.g. Felicity Howlett's Tatum entry--but the main entry on Jazz is written by James Lincoln Collier (!!) when the regular Grove Dictionary of Music has a superb entry on Jazz by Max Harrison, and any biographical entry you turn to is likely to be a disaster. Again, I don't have my old article at hand, but off the top of my head I recall the end of the Joe Maini entry ("He died after losing a game of Russian roulette"), the Astrud Gilberto entry ("Her work often has an economy of melodic line and a steady momentum akin to that of Basie..."), Al Cohn ("...he played in an uncomplicated style, employing regular phrase lengths and idiomatic bop figures"), Kenny Dorham ("...Dorham rivaled his greatest contemporaries in technical command...") etc. And then there's the omission of Peggy Lee. You're better off with the less ambitious Feather-Gitler Biographical Encyclodpedia of Jazz. I'm sure that on that project  much of the scutwork was farmed out too, but at least the surviving co-author was someone in a position to know right from wrong as he looked over the entries that he didn't do himself.

I am grateful to Larry for posting this. While I always wondered about Collier as the writer as the main entry (he has a dreadful reputation), it hadn't really clicked with me that there might be something wrong with the Grove as a whole. This is the problem for someone like me, who simply doesn't have the in depth knowledge across a wide range of Jazz subjects. What it does do is help me make sense out of the fact that Kernfeld's "What to Listen for in Jazz" has proved such a useless book to me.

Max Harrison is a great writer - It's a kind of a joke to have a real critic like him replaced by churner out of stuff like Collier.

But I guess that's the point.

Simon Weil

Edited by Simon Weil

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The idiosyncrasies of Johnson's dictionary and the OED, such as they are, were not the result of their compilers--and in the case of OED, their armies of assistants--adopting a half-assed attitude toward these projects. Rather, an attempt was being made by them to do the best job possible, in light of their human limitations, of the body of knowledge available to them at the time, etc.

Well, you and I may say that the idiosyncrasies of these dictionaries were not the fault of their compilers, but there were contemporaries who found fault with these works and scorned the people who produced them. Today we figure these people were pedants or were motivated by pettiness and jealousy.

If the Grove is half-assed, how would I know? Well, perhaps if someone actually made a case for this point of view systematically, in print, in a place where it would be exposed to folks who could effectively respond to, attack or defend this point of view, maybe then I could make a judgement about the merits of your complaints about the Grove.

I know of no such systematic demonstration.

You are criticicizing a work that is generally considered a solid reference work. I am saying "show me." You demur.

I am perfectly well aware that some people dislike James Lincoln Collier. I am sure Kernfield knew it, too. But I've also seen him complimented and referred to by other respected critics. Perhaps these people are all morons, but you'd have to show me this is so.

Otherwise I am going to have to work on the assumption that there is room for disagreement.

While we're on the subject

Who is it that refuses to do homework here?

Yes Kenny Dorham doesn't sound like a fabulous technician. Does that mean he didn't have the technical capacity? And even if he didn't you've got precisely one example of an error in evaluation. Johnson got the definition of "pastern" wrong, too. So what? It's a 1300-page book and so far we've found a nit.

I'm not saying your opinion of the book is necessarily wrong, just that you've done precious little to support it.

You are the one railing against received opinion here, not me.

And since we've opened the subject of "problems":

"The generation of social critics and musical historians who built the Johnson myth had agendas ... that are pretty obvious to me in retrospect," which after much fumphing about led to this discreet withdrawal ("You obviously are more deeply read than I in this field, so I'll defer to your judgement on these issues") when JohnL weighed in with some genuinely authoritative course correction.

An attentive reader might have noticed that the deferrence was in regard to JohnL's rundown of the book, which didn't directly engage anything I had said. My deferrence was to his superior knowledge of blues scholarship and specifically regarded the question of whom Elijah Wald might have seen as being behind his strawmen. That's it. This had nothing whatsoever to do with the other quotation you exerpted, at least that I could tell.

As far as the political and social agendas of the generation of critics who build the Johnson legend--people like John Hammond--if you care to argue that Hammond hadn't any, I invite you to do so. Otherwise it seems to me to be a pretty straightforward sentence--you'll have to instruct me in how to write sentences that don't strike you as "pontificating." Perhaps I should throw in a few more typos and grammatical errors? I've plenty already, I think.

The most basic "homework" we have to do is to actually read what we're responding to and complaining about. I have no objection to complaints, but, as here, when they are transparently just vehicles for personal insult, I think you've done less than you ought to.

But, anyhow, I don't think we need rancor in this discussion. We disagree, but I (along with others who may disagree with you, perhaps) am open to persuasion in the form of evidence and reasoned argument.

--eric

Edited by WNMC

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If the Grove is half-assed, how would I know? Well, perhaps if someone actually made a case for this point of view systematically, in print, in a place where it would be exposed to folks who could effectively respond to, attack or defend this point of view, maybe then I could make a judgement about the merits of your complaints about the Grove.

I know of no such systematic demonstration.

You are criticicizing a work that is generally considered a solid reference work. I am saying "show me." You demur.

I am perfectly well aware that some people dislike James Lincoln Collier. I am sure Kernfield knew it, too. But I've also seen him complimented and referred to by other respected critics. Perhaps these people are all morons, but you'd have to show me this is so.

"...certain principles run through much of free jazz...[one] is the avoidance of order; if the music seems to be falling into a pattern, some means is usually found to break it."

"The music of [the] second generation [of free jazz players][He is talking to a large extent about AACM musicians]...Much of it used principles derived from John Cage and other composers...randomness was deliberately sought."

Entry For "Jazz" in 2nd Edition of the New Grove by James Lincoln Collier

If you were a music student and pulled out the reference book of record for Jazz, the New Grove, you would find that Free Jazz is deliberately chaotic or random.

Collier hates free Jazz and should never have been employed.

Simon Weil

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Mr. Collier is a writer who had outlived his usefulness the second he began to write.

Just my opinion.

He is also a truly dangerous writer, but only if anybody believes the bullshit he spews. Life being what it is, somebody probably does, but I can't prove that.

Also just my opinion.

Edited by JSngry

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If the Grove is half-assed, how would I know? Well, perhaps if someone actually made a case for this point of view systematically, in print, in a place where it would be exposed to folks who could effectively respond to, attack or defend this point of view, maybe then I could make a judgement about the merits of your complaints about the Grove.

I know of no such systematic demonstration.

You are criticicizing a work that is generally considered a solid reference work. I am saying "show me." You demur.

I am perfectly well aware that some people dislike James Lincoln Collier. I am sure Kernfield knew it, too. But I've also seen him complimented and referred to by other respected critics. Perhaps these people are all morons, but you'd have to show me this is so.

"...certain principles run through much of free jazz...[one] is the avoidance of order; if the music seems to be falling into a pattern, some means is usually found to break it."

"The music of [the] second generation [of free jazz players][He is talking to a large extent about AACM musicians]...Much of it used principles derived from John Cage and other composers...randomness was deliberately sought."

Entry For "Jazz" in 2nd Edition of the New Grove by James Lincoln Collier

If you were a music student and pulled out the reference book of record for Jazz, the New Grove, you would find that Free Jazz is deliberately chaotic or random.

Collier hates free Jazz and should never have been employed.

Simon Weil

Like I say, I understand that some people dislike & disagree with Collier.

I can see your point about his not being neutral on many topics 1960+, but when we come to controversial points (and free jazz does constitute one) in a reference book, what is the best way to procede?

And if these are the worst things he has to say about free jazz in spite fo the fact that he hates it, I admire his restraint.

Let's rephrase the question here a bit. Rather than "Free Jazz is deliberately chaotic or random." being the issue, let's ask "Is free jazz relatively chaotic or random?" Relative to the music its practitioners thought it was "free" in comparison to.

If it's there, was this relative chaos or randomness taken up deliberately?

And if there is a deliberately undertaken relative freedom from organizing principles, the only thing we can really accuse Collier of in these passages is a certain sloppiness with terms like "chaos," by which, I would guess, he does not mean dis, but the sort of "chaos" we speak of when stuck in downtown traffic, which, when looked at closely, actually ends up being fairly well ordered.

We imagine some person picking up the dictionary and walking away forever enslaved to the notion that free jazz is utterly ruleless and chaotic. I doubt that happens very often. If ever.

--eric

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c'mon Tex, stop being coy. Collier is a scumbag; it's frightening that "the making of jazz" (sic) was-- still is?-- considered a "standard" work on the subject. i most remember wanting to tear that fucker apart when i saw what he wrote about 'Trane and Sun Ra. i think i've repressed the rest of these bad bad memories.

anyone who hires Collier is a simp & a stooge: he's the kind of stink that don't come out-- doesn't make me wanna pick up grove jazz tho' if someone has a cheap used copy of the other grove...

clem

Ah, a true beleiver as John McDonough would have them!

Too bad Salman Rushdie slipped through your clutches!

--eric

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c'mon Tex, stop being coy. Collier is a scumbag; it's frightening that "the making of jazz" (sic) was-- still is?-- considered a "standard" work on the subject. i most remember wanting to tear that fucker apart when i saw what he wrote about 'Trane and Sun Ra. i think i've repressed the rest of these bad bad memories.

anyone who hires Collier is a simp & a stooge: he's the kind of stink that don't come out-- doesn't make me wanna pick up grove jazz tho' if someone has a cheap used copy of the other grove...

clem

If you knew my TRUE feelings (and it sounds like you do...), you'll understand what I mean when I tell YOU to stop being coy about Collier. :g:g:g

The man's maniacal obsession with pointing out character flaws and getting obsessive in the extreme about them (Trane's obviously real oral fixation somehow becomes grounds for questioning the musical merit of virtually all of his work :blink::rolleyes: , and the labelling of Bird as a "sociopath" is grounds for justifiable homicide in the parallel universe I'd like to inhabit for a quick minute, which I guess makes ME a sociopath too :g ) is the type of sensationalism that serves no purpose in serious criticism other than to foul the already less than pristine waters past the point of unpotability.

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c'mon Tex, stop being coy. Collier is a scumbag; it's frightening that "the making of jazz" (sic) was-- still is?-- considered a "standard" work on the subject. i most remember wanting to tear that fucker apart when i saw what he wrote about 'Trane and Sun Ra. i think i've repressed the rest of these bad bad memories.

anyone who hires Collier is a simp & a stooge: he's the kind of stink that don't come out-- doesn't make me wanna pick up grove jazz tho' if someone has a cheap used copy of the other grove...

clem

If you knew my TRUE feelings (and it sounds like you do...), you'll understand what I mean when I tell YOU to stop being coy about Collier. :g:g:g

The man's maniacal obsession with pointing out character flaws and getting obsessive in the extreme about them (Trane's obviously real oral fixation somehow becomes grounds for questioning the musical merit of virtually all of his work :blink::rolleyes: , and the labelling of Bird as a "sociopath" is grounds for justifiable homicide in the parallel universe I'd like to inhabit for a quick minute, which I guess makes ME a sociopath too :g ) is the type of sensationalism that serves no purpose in serious criticism other than to foul the already less than pristine waters past the point of unpotability.

And yes, I get pissed off about how he writes about (and reduces) Armstrong & Ellington, and, yes, it seems to me that he sullies everything he touches.

Part of me, though, says that's because there's something to what he's saying.

Otherwise I just wouldn't give a shit.

At the end of the day I think, though often wrong, he's a good antidote to hero worship toward which jazz writing seems to tend so strongly.

Just my opinion of course, I didn't consult Mohammed or anybody of similar authority before writing.

--eric

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Damn, the list keeps growing. I be flying for 3 hours. I'll just read all these posts and see which suggestion appears the most. Some of these books I've read already.

Thanks,

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Damn, the list keeps growing. I be flying for 3 hours. I'll just read all these posts and see which suggestion appears the most. Some of these books I've read already.

Thanks,

I hope you're not taking the OED!

--eric

Edited by WNMC

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On pg. 2 of this thread there were references made to 2 books Ben Sidran had written, none of which I have read.

I did, last year, buy Sidran's latest book entitled, "A Life In The Music" which I found to be an entertaining book as well as enlightening and insightful. I think it is a good read even though it comes with a Cd of some tracks he has done in the past, and though there are a couple of nice tunes, some of the tracks are pretty mediocre and at times corny.. :blink:

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And yes, I get pissed off about how he writes about (and reduces) Armstrong & Ellington, and, yes, it seems to me that he sullies everything he touches.

Part of me, though, says that's because there's something to what he's saying.

Otherwise I just wouldn't give a shit.

At the end of the day I think, though often wrong, he's a good antidote to hero worship toward which jazz writing seems to tend so strongly.

Sure, there's "something to it", but nothing even remotely worthy of the emphasis that Collier gives it. He's a descendant of the whole "jazz=sex-crimes" & "Reefer Madness" era. Fuck him, and good riddance when he dies, at least as far as the world of jazz goes.

I'm as weary of the whole "hero worship" school of criticism as you are (although I freely admit to enjoying it when it's presented as nothing but, and especially when the object of the worship is somebody that I, too, admire), but I'll be damned if I'll give respect to any and all drivel that any idiot spews out just because it's attacking a sacred cow. That's nothing more than hero worship in reverse, and it's just as full of shit as serious criticism as what it purports to be running counter to.

I'll not enjoy eating shit just because I don't like liver.

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And yes, I get pissed off about how he writes about (and reduces) Armstrong & Ellington, and, yes, it seems to me that he sullies everything he touches.

Part of me, though, says that's because there's something to what he's saying.

Otherwise I just wouldn't give a shit.

At the end of the day I think, though often wrong, he's a good antidote to hero worship toward which jazz writing seems to tend so strongly.

Sure, there's "something to it", but nothing even remotely worthy of the emphasis that Collier gives it. He's a descendant of the whole "jazz=sex-crimes" & "Reefer Madness" era. Fuck him, and good riddance when he dies, at least as far as the world of jazz goes.

I'm as weary of the whole "hero worship" school of criticism as you are (although I freely admit to enjoying it when it's presented as nothing but, and especially when the object of the worship is somebody that I, too, admire), but I'll be damned if I'll give respect to any and all drivel that any idiot spews out just because it's attacking a sacred cow. That's nothing more than hero worship in reverse, and it's just as full of shit as serious criticism as what it purports to be running counter to.

I'll not enjoy eating shit just because I don't like liver.

I take away a bit more from him than the mere negative, sacred-cow-slaying stuff. And, agreed that sort of thing can be just slipping in anti-hero-worship by the back door.

But I think it is important that parker was a sociopath, though not as important as Collier seems to think. But I don't recall anyone really making a point of this (aside from his peers, which I ran into later) before I read Collier.

And I do think it's important that Armstrong may have had issues with male authority figures, etc., etc. These are things I wouldn't have run into if he hadn't written about them (except maybe here, I don't know). I don't think anyone was anxious to go in these directions before him.

So much the worse for me that I think about these things now, maybe you'll say. But I feel a wee bit the richer for it,

--eric

Edited by WNMC

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Fair enough, I suppose. I've been known to wash off a few turds to get to an occasional nugget myself, so I guess I'm in no position to argue further!

All I can say, though, is that for me, Collier's shit is SO stinky, SO foul, and SO off-putting in its very nature that I feel as if what ever pieces of worth are buried therein are best looked for elsewhere, or else not important enough in the long haul/big picture to subject myself to the personal befoulment of wading through the effluvient sludge looking for them. But that's just me. ;)

Edited by JSngry

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WNMC -- Here is the piece I wrote about Jazz Grove; it appeared in the Chicago Tribune on 12/11/88. Trust me (though I don't suppose you will) -- I could have cited many times the number of goofs I did. I was, however, constrained by space limitations and also because, writing for a general audience, I felt I had to limit myself to pointing out errors whose erroneousness would be more or less self-evident to that audience. I passed on some of the other stuff to Gene Lees, at his request, and he then included it in his negative critique of Jazz Grove, which appeared in his magazine Jazzletter and was later included in one of his books.

I should add that when I wrote the part at the end about the authors of most of the entries being jazz academics, I didn't yet know that many of them were actually first- or -second-year students in jazz studies programs, who were (as I said before on this thread) often thrown into the fray without having much if any prior knowledge of the musicians they were writing about (this information by way of people at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers, at whose door these students came knocking in droves).

Also, FWIW, I've tacked on my review of Max Harrison's contribution to "The New Grove Gospel, Blues and Jazz."

JAZZ GROVE

All we ask of a reference work is that everything be included that should be there and that none of that everything be wrong.

Of course, measured against that simple standard, all reference works must fail--not only because one person’s "everything" is another’s mass of useless detail, but also because one expert’s fact or shrewd conjecture is another’s dubious assertion or outright lie.

Yet if no reference work can be perfect, we do expect relative virtue--especially when, as is the case with the just published, two-volume, 1,360-page "The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz" (Macmillan, $295), we are assured of the work’s "consistency and accu-racy" and told that it is the one authoritative reference source ... you’ve been waiting for."

All right, let’s not mince words. "Jazz Grove" (as it will be referred to here) is a near-total disaster, a job so horribly botched that one winces at the thought that it might be taken as "authoritative."

But that is the gist of the problem. However bad it is, "Jazz Grove" is almost certain to be purchased by many public, high school and college libraries--given the longstanding need for a reference work that does what "Jazz Grove" purports to do and the praise that has been accorded its predecessors: the sixth edition of "The New Grove Dictiona-ry of Music and Musicians" (published in 1980 in 20 volumes) and "The New Grove Dictionary of American Music" (which emerged in four volumes in 1986).

Edited by a young musicologist named Barry Kemfeld--who is based at the State College of Pennsylvania and who himself contributed 179 of its more than 4,500 entries-- "Jazz Grove" is such a mess that one hardly knows where to begin. But let’s start with the some 3,000 biographical entries that are (or ought to be) the heart of the work.

In the realm of exclusions and inclusions, what is one to make of a dictionary of jazz that has no entry for Peggy Lee but finds room for Tom Waits and Maria Muldaur? Or one that does not include pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali, baritone saxophonist-composer Gil Melle , bassist Ray Drummond, cornetist Don Joseph and soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom but does make us aware of Estonian guitarist Tiit Paulus--whose "compositions include ‘Simmanilugu’ (Tune from a village party) and the well-known ‘Bluus kahele’ (Blues for two), which he has recorded in a duo with the tenor saxophonist Arvo Pilliroog"?

But leaving aside such oddities of choice, by far the most disturbing aspect of "Jazz Grove" is what is and isn’t said about the figures who are included.

The format for a useful biographical entry in "Jazz Grove,’ or any music dictionary-encylopedia, would seem to be simple enough: a chronological account of notable events in the artist’s career, followed by an accurate de-scription of his or her music and a sound critical estimate of its historical significance and esthetic worth--the latter two factors determining the entry’s length. And that is the format followed in "Jazz Grove" by such knowledgeble writers as Max Harrison, Michael James, Dan Morgenstern, and Martin Williams.

Here, for example, is the conclusion of one of Harrison's entries: "[serge] Chaloff was an important figure of the bop movement and one of the most significant improvisers on the baritone saxophone. Early performances such as ‘The Most’ (1949) show him to have been a virtuoso, while others, for example ‘Gabardine and Serge’ (1947), demonstrate the logic of his improvising and its often somber emotional content. Despite illness he continued to advance during the 1950s, adding to his style an integral use of dynamic and tonal shading and carefully varied degrees of intensity."

But because writers of Harrison’s sort appear all too seldom in "Jazz Grove," decent biograpical entries are few and far between. More common are those that (a) make no at-tempt to assess a musician’s historical and esthetic importance or (B) do it so ineptly that one wonders if the writer even knows the music of the person being written about.

Useless and frustrating though they are, entries of the first sort (the ones on soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray and trombonist-composer Grachan Moncur III are typical) don’t lend themselves to detailed condemnation. One merely notes the absence of what ought to be there and moves on.

But breathtakingly wrongheaded entries of the second sort abound in these "authoritative" tomes. And, again, one winces at the thought of how much misinformation "Jazz Grove" may spread.

For instance, editor Kemfeld contributes the following to his entry on tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips: "... on tours with Jazz at the Philharmonic (1946-57), he acquired a reputation for his energetic improvisations (notably on ‘Perdido’); despite his rather tasteless, honking tone, these performances were popular with audiences..."

But Phillips’ performances were popular because of, not despite, what Kemfeld refers to as "his rather tasteless, honking tone." And by no means is that an obscure fact; it is the first thing anyone writing about Flip Phillips ought to know.

An isolated instance, perhaps; a case of a writer momentarily overstepping the bounds of his expertise?

Well, one could go on for pages listing Kemfeld’s sins of omission and commission-- the entry on alto saxophonist Art Pepper that says nothing about his autobiography "Straight Life" but does tell us that he was the subject of a documentary film; the entry that claims trumpeter Kenny Dorham "rivaled his greatest contemporaries in technical command" (a gifted melodist, Dorham never was a notable technician); the delirious entry on bassist Ron Carter ("his playing in rhythm sections represents the zenith of improvisation in the bop and modal-jazz styles"); and the egregious armchair psychoanalysis of the entry that says pianist Bobby Timmons’ career "declined rapidly because of alcoholism, possibly brought on by artistic frustration."

When it comes to retailing the inane, the inadequate and the just-plain bizarre, Kemfeld--author of the Ph.D dissertation "Adderley, Coltrane and Davis at the Twilight of Bebop: The Search for Melodic Coherence (1958-59)"--has many cohorts, most of whom, apparently, are fellow academics.

There is Steven Strunk on composer-arranger Manny Albam ("his compositions appeal to a broad public"), Andrew Waggoner on trombonist Curtis Fuller ("his rhapsodic sense of rhythm is inspired by the pulses of language"), Leroy Ostransky on tenor saxophonist Al Cohn ("he played in an uncomplicated style, employing regular phrase lengths and idiomatic bop figures") and trumpeter Joe Newman ("the energy and quiet strength of his playing have been praised by critics and musicians alike"), Lawrence Koch on bassist Wendell Marshall ("notable for the ingenious use he made of rising and falling lines"), James Lincoln Collier on Louis Armstrong ("scarred with a deep-seated, lifelong sense of insecurity") and Scott Yanow on alto saxophonist Joe Maini ("He died after losing a game of Russian roulette").

But a special spot must be reserved for Marty Hatch, who informs us that the work of bossa nova singer Astrud Gilberto "often has an economy of melodic line and a steady momentum akin to that of Basie." Right—and did you know that both Pee Wee Herman and Sir Laurence Olivier use the English language?

On the plus side are the occasional entries by Harrison, James, Williams et al., most of which were picked up from the two previous "Grove" dictionaries, strong new entries on Charlie Parker (by James Patrick) and Art Tatum (by Felicity Howlett) and an ambitious, worldwide list of "Nightclubs and other venues."

But why is there no entry for "Jazz publications," surely an important topic? And why was Collier’s stolid account of the history of jazz picked up from "The New Grove Dictionary of American Music," when "The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians" contains Harrison’s brilliant survey of the same ground?

The answer to those questions, and to almost everything else that’s wrong with "Jazz Grove," would seem to be that incompetent people were asked to do an admittedly difficult job—presumably by people who themselves were not competent to detect the difference between actual and would-be jazz expertise.

It’s understandable that the series editor of the "Grove" music dictionaries, Stanley Sadie, and the consultant and managing editors for "Jazz Grove," Alyn Shipton and Rosemary Roberts, would think that the academic world was the place to look for the experts that "Jazz Grove" required. After all, that is where "Grove" had sought and found most of the contributors who had made its previous publications successful.

But if Kemfeld and Co. are the norm, academic jazz scholarship in the United States must be in ghastly shape; the two hefty volumes that make up "Jazz Grove" being littered with errors so gross they should be obvious to most jazz fans of any breadth of experience --although one fears for those who will consult "Jazz Grove" under the assumption that whatever it says must be fact. So "let the buyer beware"hardly seems an adequate response to the advent of "Jazz Grove." "Let there be no buyers" is more like it.

THE NEW GROVE GOSPEL, BLUES, AND JAZZ

"I know it when I hear it" may well be the only honest answer to the question, "What is jazz?" So it is tribute to the honesty of British jazz critic Max Harrison that he begins his survey of the field in "The New Grove Gospel, Blues and Jazz" (Norton) with the statement: "Attempts at a definition of jazz have always failed, and this reveals something about its mixed origins and later stylistic diversity." "Reveals almost everything" one wants to say, after Harrison has concluded his brief (120 pages) but brilliant critical history of jazz --written for "The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians" and now published in revised form with Paul Oliver's solid studies of the blues, gospel and spirituals and William Bolcolm`s of ragtime.

Before touching on some of the points Harrison makes, a word about one of his key predecessors, French critic Andre Hodeir--whose otherwise valuable book "Jazz: Its Evolution and Essence" came to grief when its author tried to nail down what is, and is not, essential to the music. Deciding that a trait could be essential only if it were both "constant and specific" -- that is, present in all jazz but not in any other form ofmusic -- Hodeir was forced to eliminate almost everything normally associated with jazz (improvisation, blues feeling, vocalized instrumental timbres and so forth). As for what was left after all that pruning, Hodeir said: "By our definition, jazz essentially consists of an inseparable but extremely variable mixture of relaxation and tension (that is, of swing and the hot manner of playing)." Fleshed out a bit, that is a good description of one of the ways a lot of jazz works. But it can't be, as Hodeir claims, what "jazz essentially consists of" -- if only because, as the more knowledgeable, less stylistically prejudiced Harrison points out, "the type of rhythmic momentum known as swing is absent from some authentic jazz, early and late."

Writing in the 1980s, Harrison has an advantage over Hodeir, who cannot be blamed for failing to take account of future developments that only a seer could have predicted. But if Harrison's hindsight is 20-20, he also sees the picture whole -- using the jazz present to explain the jazz past, and vice versa. Harrison's key point is that the coming together in America of so many varied, evolving and intensely interactive cultural strains (African, European, then Afro-American, Euro-American and so forth) led to the formation of a "matrix" -- a kind of musical compost heap so "broad and composite" that it was "different from the single folk traditions from which other forms of art music have arisen." And because that matrix was rooted in such "a wide range of folk and popular styles, it has allowed jazz to retain --indeed, to expand -- its central identity through all later acquisitions and refinements in a way that has been impossible for other types of music, such as flamenco, which have kept their links with popular sources but have not developed." All that seems like common sense, both from an artistic and a historical point of view. And if the phrase "central identity" suggests that Harrison is about to do what he has said cannot be done and attempt to define jazz, that moment never comes.

A critic of markedly independent bent whose judgments always are stimulating and almost always acute, Harrison has a tendency to play the role of iconoclast for more than it's worth. But the necessarily encyclopedic tone of "The New Grove" planes down his excesses, while the verve with which he sums up the work of such masters as Armstrong, Parker and Ellington and reassesses such underestimated figures as Eddie Sauter and Bob Graettinger still shines through. As Harrison approaches the present -- the danger point for any writer of a critical history his analytic powers do not decrease. Having passed through an era when Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler "seemed to promise a new beginning for jazz as an independent music purged of its European borrowings," jazz drew back from that daunting prospect to find that it no longer had a common language -- that it had entered a "post-modernist phase" in which "all styles are, it seems, valid."

For "valid" this writer would substitute "potentially useful" or something even more qualified. And one wonders whether the nostalgic or conservative strains that run through most of today's seemingly diverse styles might amount to a kind of mass yearning for the common jazz language that no longer exists. After all, one of Harrison's key points is that as jazz became a "vehicle of more individual attitudes," after having begun by using "familiar material to express common sentiments uniting performer and audience," this new role as "a discipline of self-discovery" inevitably transformed jazz into a "minority art." How strange, then, that jazz should turn its back on "self-discovery"and all that it entails and instead attempt to return to the now illusory coziness of "common sentiments." But perhaps one need not fear such developments, because, as Harrison says, "jazz can neither repeat its past nor escape it."

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Very interesting. Thanks for posting these.

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I was in the middle of preparing an extensive comment on the subject when Larry posted his well-thought-out review. So I'll present a compact list of more basic errors.

The New Grove (I'm speaking of the 1-volume ed. - I have only worked briefly with the new 3-volume one so I can't really say) is part of my library. I don't feel that I wasted the $35 I spent on it. However, there are plenty of mistakes and even more statements that show a lack of comprehensive study of the subject.

Onaje Allan Gumbs's middle name is consistently misspelled as "Allen" in his entry. As they say, "Write what you want but at least spell my name correctly!"

Once again (started with Feather), Perry Robinson's birthdate is wrong - September, not August.

I have problems with the description of Abbey Lincoln's recent work (p. 710): She continues to perform and tour in the mid-1980s and, and has returned to the warm, gentle style that characterized her early work." I hear huge differences between her 1950s work and the recordings made after her return in the 1980s. I hope the new edition addressed this.

Just about everything in the Gigi Gryce entry is wrong: birthdate and deathdate, and where he grew up, and about his musical studies, and about when he worked with certain people. So much misinformation here - someone should write a book to correct it. Or at least a webpage:

http://www.jazzdiscography.com/Artists/Gryce/ggbio.htm

Throughout the book the photo IDs are particularly bad - p.156 "Clifford Brown, early 1950s" - well, yes, but this is a photo of Brown with Gigi Gryce, from the European tour of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra in the fall of 1953.

May 15, 1953 is a date that has long been etched into my memory - why couldn't it have been used for the caption of Max Roach at Massey Hall (p. 1049) instead of "1953".

Photo on p. 813 purports to be from 1957, but in fact is from an MGM recording session in Los Angeles in the summer of 1959 and doesn't have Buddy Childers on valve trombone but rather Bob Enevoldsen.

John Coltrane played Newport on July 2, 1966 - this is a solid, confirmed date. It should have been used for the two photos (p. 13 & 235) instead of simply "July 1966." Ditto for Charles Lloyd at Newport 1966 (p. 578 - also July 2). Albert Ayler was in Europe for 11 days beginning November 3, 1966 so the shot from London (p. 47) at least could have said "November 1966" (probably November 15, 1966 at the London School of Economics from 5 minutes of research just now). Paging through just now, another Newport gaffe - Albert Mangelsdorff with Larry Ridley (p. 746) is, I'm pretty sure, from the jam session on July 4, 1969 (labeled "late 1960s").

Seems like photo captions were left to the student interns - if the back of the photo gave the information it was used, otherwise it was lazy guesswork or worse. I suppose some will say this is being too picky. It's really a matter of consistency since plenty of photos DO identify the exact date and believe me, this information is extremely useful to researchers. But only if it's correct -

Art Blakey did not have the lineup shown in the photo on p. 63 on January 29, 1956. Had to be either late 1956 or early 1957.

As Blakey is a subject near and dear to my heart, I note that Lewis Porter repeats the oft-told but unverified account of Blakey's visit to Africa (p. 115-116) - "probably for more than a year" - impossible, based on the chronology.

Similarly, Keith Jarrett could not have joined Blakey in December 1965 (p. 578) and stayed for four months.

In the Nightclubs (NYC) section, I note a correction under Slugs - (which should really be Slugs' according to their newspaper ads) - it did not opened early in 1966, but was open by August 1965.

Under "Organ" - it would be nice for people to understand that "electronic" and "electric" are different things. The Hammond organ is NOT electronic (well, at least not the typical Hammond organs like the B-3).

Why is so important to get these "little" things correct? Because this information gets regurgitated in books like "Sonny Rollins: Open Sky" by Eric Nisenson - every single fact in two consecutive paragraphs (p. 137-38) comes from the New Grove entry for Henry Grimes. BTW, let's put that (and other Nisenson works) on the NOT for recommended reading list. There is an expectation by the general public that reference works will be correct and comprehensive. New Grove has too many flaws and omissions to pass that test.

As far as recommending an alternative for reading - I would suggest The Oxford Companion to Jazz, edited by Bill Kirchner. It certainly isn't an encyclopedia, but rather a collection of 60 essays on important people and topics in jazz. The experts in the field address their specialties, so you get Dan Morgenstern (not Collier!) on Louis Armstrong, Mark Tucker on Duke Ellington, Lewis Porter on John Coltrane, Brian Priestley on Mingus, Randy Sandke on the trumpet in jazz, Jeff Sultanof on jazz repertory, Joel Siegel on jazz singing, Scott DeVeaux on the advent of bebop, etc. etc. Not to forget Chris Albertson on Bessie Smith and Larry Kart on the avant-garde 1949-1967.

Mike

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Albert Ayler was in Europe for 11 days beginning November 3, 1966 so the shot from London (p. 47) at least could have said "November 1966" (probably November 15, 1966 at the London School of Economics from 5 minutes of research just now).

How is this possible? If Ayler was in Europe for 11 days starting on the 3rd, wouldn't he have been gone by the 14th?

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