Saturday, April 19, 2008

Jazz Bible

InthegrooveI have frequently mentioned my friend Ken Laster, DJ at WHUS in Storrs, Connecticut, and host of my favorite radio show/podcast, In The Groove: Jazz & Beyond. I listened to Ken's holiday post on the way back from Arkansas, just after Christmas. I was delighted to hear him mention my post 10 Best Jazz CDs for Christmas. Ken played a cut from Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil, which was number 4 on my list. He also kindly gave SDP a plug. I was very happy to bring that album to his attention, as it is Shorter's best, and Shorter is my favorite jazz man.

In an e-mail note, Ken had some very kind words to say about my post on Dicken's Christmas Carol. He is always cautious to point out that my politics are not his politics. That hasn't stopped him from enjoying my blog posts, or me from enjoying his wonderful podcasts. In fact, the difference in our political orientation makes the friendship all the more fun, in my view. Let me return all the many favors he has sent my way. He is an excellent DJ and a generous human being. I think his program is the very best jazz site on the web, and it is a great service to the music we love. I have purchased many jazz albums after hearing samples on his show, so the artists and record companies should rejoice at Ken's work. If you like jazz or you are curious, go to the link above and you will find an treasure trove of this marvelous music.

Penguineguide Ken also turned me onto eMusic, a legal download service where you can get about 7 or 8 albums of classic jazz for the price of one each month. But if you are trying to build a solid jazz library, what do you buy? That leads me to one of my Christmas presents this year, The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings, by Richard Cook and Brian Morton. This book packs over 14,000 reviews of jazz on compact disk into 15,000 pages. It is alphabetical by artist (Juhani Aaltonen to Mark Zubek), with an index if you get the 8th edition. Each recording gets one to four stars, but readers are discouraged from investing in anything with less than three. It immediately passed the acid test: most of the jazz discs I already own got four. Even more useful was the "core collection" designation given to about two hundred discs. Buy only these, and you will have a very respectable collection of jazz. I was somewhat tickled to see that the authors stuck a small crown next to some of the four star entries. These indicate their personal favorites.

One of the strengths of jazz recording is precisely the fact that jazz artists produce a remarkable number of albums. Another is that jazz encompasses so wide a range of musical styles. But those strengths are also weaknesses. A lot of jazz albums are not well made, even when they feature the stars you think you should be able to depend on. The authors of The Penguin Guide to Jazz have more generous tastes than mine, but they provide a marauder's map to the vast and innumerable corridors of America's great music. Listen to In The Groove, and get a copy of The Penguin Guide. You will be a jazz nerd like me in no time.

ps. Anyone interested in eMusic should send me a note at my Gmail address. I'll get you set up. Perhaps you should know that there is something in it for me.

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