Monday, December 10, 2012

Ted Gioia's Stimulating The Jazz Standards

The Jazz Standards: A Guide To The Repertoire
Ted Gioia
Oxford University Press
2012: 544 pages

Musician and author Ted Gioia has provided a fresh resource for jazz aficionados with his new book The Jazz Standards: A Guide To The Repertoire. What he has done is take 250 compositions that he finds to be at the core for jazz musicians and provides an overview of the compositions including some biographical information of the composers, the history of the song including what shows or movies it may have appeared in and then a discussion of the recording history of the recordings, noting how the song first came into the jazz repertoire and discussing some of the notable jazz recordings of the composition.

When I received my review copy I was impressed by the originality of this book which was an effort in part to cull the Fake Books of the most important compositions. Such an effort is likely to lead to questions of omissions both in the selected songs as well as the renditions he discusses. While there were a few songs I had minimal familiarity with, I would be hard pressed to name any I might disagree being part of the Jazz Repertoire. My disagreement might be in what was omitted, particularly thinking about blues compositions like Leroy Carr’s “How Long, How Long Blues” or Eddie Miler’s “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water,” which still receive fresh attention today decades after their original waxing decades ago.

I was surprised by the omission of Dinah Washington’s rendition of “Love Come Back to Me,” or Dexter Gordon’s rendition of “Love For Sale,” in discussing those classic songs both of which have been extensively recorded. Also more surprising is the omission of Bobby Bland’s superb recording of “St. James Infirmary,” particularly in light of Gioia’s referring to Buddy Guy’s recording of “Watermelon Man” as a rare instance of blues artists tackling the jazz repertoire. Otis Rush recorded Kenny Burrell’s “Motoring Along,” Junior Wells handled “Chitlin Con Carne,” and Taj Mahal did a terrific treatment of Horace Silver’s “Senor Blues," to name a few examples. This perhaps indicates that Gioia does not have as deep a background in the blues as well as the fact that one will not find many of the compositions of Burrell, Buddy Johnson, and Jimmy Smith, which were favored by a wide variety of musicians, included among those included by Gioia.

I note that the recordings he cites and recommends cover a wide range of styles and even genres so if he omits Dr. John’s rendition of “St. James Infirmary,” he does include Dr. John doing a Johnny Mercer song and he cites a number of other recordings by Dexter Gordon and Dinah Washington with other of his Jazz Standards. Also even with only 250 standards discussed, the book is weighty and over 500 pages.

The Jazz Standards is a pioneering work that will inform and educate as well as generate much thought and discussion. It is a welcome addition for jazz bookshelves and will make a wonderful gift for the jazz lovers on your gift lists.

I was provided a review copy from the publisher or a publicist for the publisher. 

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