Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The Great Jazz Guitarists - The Ultimate Guide
Scott Yanow
Backbeat Books

Scott Yanow, who has possibly reviewed more recordings than any other individual, has a new guide to a segment of jazz that by it nature should appeal to more than simple jazz afficiandos. Backbeat Books has just released The Great Jazz Guitarists - The Ultimate Guide, which focuses on 342 great guitarists, many of whom are still living, along with brief chapters on 44 Historic Guitarists; 175 Other guitarists On the Scene and They Also Played Jazz Guitar (discussing 36 other individuals who are known primarily for playing other instruments). There is also a selected list of Jazz Guitarists on DVD (and some tapes not yet released on DVD) and a brief list of other books on jazz guitarists. The book also contains a brief history of the guitar in jazz as an introduction.

The coverage is pretty broad covering many I had never heard before in a variety of styles and places of origin. Still there are several omissions I observed on quick perusal. Mickey Baker, whose pioneering instructional books on jazz guitar are still used today and made countless recordings as a session man and a leader (he is best known for being the Mickey of Mickey and Sylvia), isn’t even mentioned in They Also Played Jazz Guitar. In a communication with me, Mr. Yanow did mention he omitted Baker because he primarily was a blues player, although there are clips of him with Coleman Hawkins on the internet that show off his jazz credentials.

Other omissions include Mel Brown, who recorded several albums on Impulse before becoming Bobby Bland’s guitarist, the versatile Calvin Keys, and the brilliant Ronnie Earl (he is mentioned in an entry on Duke Robillard). They do not even have a short entry in the Other Guitarists section such as accorded Bill Jennings and Calvin Newborn. Undoubtedly other readers will find other players they believe should have been included or given more prominence. Such omissions, of course, are inevitable in a publication of this nature.

I noticed one factual error while reading the entry on Everett Barksdale that repeats the erroneous assertion that Barksdale played guitar on Mickey and Sylvia’s Love Is Strange. Yanow’s repeating this shows how erroneous information gets repeated and accepted as true. It also shows the difficulty authors like Yanow face in putting together books like this in this age of wikipedia and the internet. In any event, it is a small “erroneous’ background fact in the Barksdale entry.

These criticisms should not minimize the substantial merits of this guide. The entries contain biographical overviews that include influences, major musical associations and achievements. What is helpful is that a number of the individuals discussed answered a questionnaire relating to personal information and quotes from these are quite valuable. Yanow is quite lucid, whether writing about well known names like Wes Montgomery, Django Reinhardt, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, Joe Pass, Bucky Pizarelli, Charlie Christian, Bill Frissell and Grant Green along with lesser known names such as Duck Baker, Bill Harris (of The Clovers who recorded perhaps the first jazz solo guitar album), Jamie Rosen, and Izzi Rozen. Traditionalists like Chris Flory find their place along with avant garde stylists like Elliot Sharp.

Along with the overview, there are recommended recordings and in some cases (out-of-print) recordings to seek out. Yanow also provides websites for artists where applicable. If an updated edition comes out in the future, this is one area the guide could be improved in. For a number of artists he lists a number of recordings and it would really be helpful if he separated out one or two specific recordings to highlight for that particular guitarist.

This is a very useful addition to the jazz literature with particular interest to guitarists and fans of guitar music. I have used Yanow’s recommendations to purchase a couple of recordings.

I received my review copy from a publicist.

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