The Billboard Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues

Gift guide

Rock & Roll Books

The Billboard Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues

edited by Howard Mandell

Billboard Books, 352 pp., $45

Here's yet another oversized coffeetable music book billed as an encyclopedia. This one should actually be useful to beginners. It's divided into chapters by decade, in which the story of blues and jazz is told chronologically. A myriad of photographs illustrate said story, yet it's more complete than the average volume of this type. It lists acts considered important alphabetically, and attempts to assess the merit, characteristics, and influence of their work. Happily there's a large number of entries about great, unsung performers here, as well as the usual pieces on Louis Armstrong and T-Bone Walker. The superb 1920s and 1930s trumpeter Jabbo Smith and wonderful bluesman Magic Sam get mentioned. B.B. King is cited, but so is the lesser-known, though important, Freddie King. What's really interesting is the inclusion of some blues- and R&B-influenced pop music performers, including Janis Joplin and Eric Clapton. They have ability, and the editors aren't too snobbish to give them their due. It's disappointing that Wynton Marsalis is taken so seriously, but hey, it goes with the territory. It should also be pointed out that not much groundbreaking commentary is included here. If you don't need much more information about great performers than their names, birth years, and instruments, this may suit you well.

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