Encyclopedia of Jazz Guitarists
By Scott Yanow
Backbeat Books, $24.99, 237 pages
The Great Jazz Guitarists: The Ultimate Guide is basically an encyclopedia of jazz guitarists, divided into sections that highlight the “342 most significant players,” 44 players of historical importance, and 175 contemporary players who the author anticipates will be of similar ability in coming years. There is also a short introductory history of jazz guitar and related styles, a brief ending section describing 35 other tangential figures, a short listing of jazz guitarists in films and a short list of other books about jazz guitar.
Along with such familiar names as Eddie Lang, Charlie Christian, and Wes Montgomery, dozens of lesser-known figures appear. The coverage is very broad, and includes European players, guitarists best known for working in recording studios, and borderline figures who are better known in the world of blues, rhythm and blues or rock. The author recommends CD’s from the artists, and even earlier long-playing records. This should prove a great resource for readers and guitar fans alike.
By and large, the coverage is fair, and even–handed. Occasionally it becomes clear that the author is working from second or third hand sources, and information is omitted that may be useful to some readers. For example, Sam Brown was particularly notable for his finger style jazz work, and Barry Galbraith, in addition to being a great jazz player, was particularly sought after in the New York studios and avant-garde concert scene because of his phenomenal sight-reading abilities, but this information is left out.
The introductory section of the book includes a short list of the ultimate jazz guitar giants, and few readers are apt to entirely agree with the author’s choices. More serious is the omission of a number of East Coast jazz players who ended up mostly in recording studios. This list would certainly include, but not be limited to, Don Arnone, Howard Collins, Allen Hanlon, Hugh McCracken, and David Spinozza. Another no-show is Joe Negri, who introduced millions of children to jazz guitar on the Mr. Rogers TV show. Along the same lines, the author omits Perry Bechtel in his litany of jazz banjoists.
In a work of this dimension, such omissions are probably inevitable. If you enjoy jazz guitar, this book will introduce you to many of the existing and historical masters of the style.
Reviewed by Dick Weissman