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A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers Hardcover – November 2, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this passionately opinionated encyclopedia of the old-school virtuosos of the American songbook, music writer Friedwald (Sinatra!) celebrates 200-odd performers of jazz and pop standards, from the mid-20th-century titans--Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra--to latter-day acolytes like Diana Krall and Harry Connick Jr., with a raft of unjustly obscure singers in between. (Forget the Andrews Sisters--get a load of the Boswell Sisters!) Friedwald is all about the music; he primly shies away from his subjects' scandal-prone personal lives, but accords each a substantial career retrospective, selected discography and wonderfully pithy interpretive essay. His tastes are wide-ranging and idiosyncratic: he plumbs the artistry of Jimmy Durante's and Shirley Temple's novelty voices, decries the bombastic narcissism of "sacred monster" Barbra Streisand--"I remain completely unconvinced that she's a person who needs people"--and considers perky Doris Day's pop gems "the most erotic vocalizing you'll ever hear." However unconventional, his judgments are usually spot-on, as in his compelling reassessment of Elvis as the last great Crosbyesque crooner. Friedwald's exuberant medley is that rarest of things: music criticism that actually makes you sit up and listen. (Nov. 2) (c)
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Review

“Top Five Books of the Year 2010: Friedwald chronicles the Great American Songbook, its creators, and its interpreters—a body of work that stands at the apogee of this nation’s civilization. Quirky, opinionated, shaped by exquisite taste and judgment, this feat of musical and cultural criticism offers an exuberant glimpse into the American character.”
—Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic

“A perfect holiday gift . . . An authoritative, comprehensive and oft-amusing guidebook that leads readers through the lives and recordings of hundreds of singers, from Louis Armstrong to Hank Williams.”
The Wall Street Journal 
 
“Incisive and useful . . . In this mammoth volume, jazz critic Will Friedwald does for jazz and pop vocalists what David Thomson has done so brilliantly in his New Biographical Dictionary of Film. . . . The author also acts as a consumer guide, steering the reader toward particular songs or albums. . . . Vastly entertaining.”
—Dennis Drabelle, The Washington Post 
 
“In this passionately opinionated encyclopedia of the old-school virtuosos of the American songbook, music writer Friedwald celebrates 200-odd performers of jazz and pop standards, from the mid-20th-century titans to latter-day acolytes, with a raft of unjustly obscure singers in between. . . . [Friedwald] accords each a substantial career retrospective, selected discography and wonderfully pithy interpretive essay. His tastes are wide-ranging and idiosyncratic . . . However unconventional, his judgments are usually spot-on . . . Friedwald’s exuberant medley is that rarest of things: music criticism that actually makes you sit up and listen.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review) 

“A fun reference book to dive into, get lost in—and use to add more songs and singers to your collection. . . . When it comes to the Great American Songbook, Will Friedwald is the keeper of the flame. He’s written some of the best books on popular song of the past quarter-century, from his engaging Jazz Singing to . . . his Sinatra! The Song is You [which] is one of the best studies of a singer’s craft ever written. With A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers, Friedwald gave himself a daunting task: put together essays on every singer he can who made a career singing those great songs. ‘Every’ is a lot, but Friedwald doesn’t miss too many, from the early 20th century to the cabaret singers of the post-swing revival. The essays—more than 200 in all, including pieces on multiple artists—are part biography, part career overview, focusing on the singers’ highs and lows while tossing in bits of fun trivia.”
—Chris Foran, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 
 
“I think Will Friedwald’s Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers will be of real interest to anyone who cares about the music.”
—Hugh Hefner, editor-in-chief of Playboy
 
“If there were such a volume as the Great American Songbook, this book should be right next to it on your shelf.  It is truly the definitive work on those who sing and swing those songs.”
—Alan Bergman, Grammy and Academy Award–winning songwriter

“Will Friedwald has created an instant classic reference tome with his Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers, the wealth of information and the breadth of knowledge being quite staggering. It is written without academic posturing but with wit and warmth and accessibility, covering in fascinating detail the careers of everyone from Jolson and Sinatra, of course, to Lee Wiley, Noel Coward and Marlene Dietrich; from Armstrong to Doris Day, and everyone in between. It will surely be considered an essential text.”
—Peter Bogdanovich

“This extensive work is essential and comprehensive. In opinionated, sometimes witty essays, Friedwald sorts out the lives and careers of more than three hundred singers, some of the greatest vocalists of the twentieth century including such giants as Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Bessie Smith. There are also dozens of unexpected inclusions. For example, Martha Raye merits almost seven pages and her entry helps dusts off her historical reputation as not just a zany character but rather an incredibly gifted and complex artist. . . . Friedwald spent ten years researching this magisterial reference book and it is certain to delight and inform anyone with a passion for the iconic music of America.”
—Larry Cox, Tucson Citizen

Stardust Melodies
“The closest thing we have to a standard text on American pop from the first half of the twentieth century . . . Friedwald is a deeply attentive and emotionally attuned listener. His descriptions of performances are so precise and detailed that Stardust Melodies could serve as a primer for how to listen to prerock music.”
—The New York Times Book Review
 
“Excellent . . . [With] good humor and lively anecdotes, Friedwald brings an open mind to the kaleidoscope of musical stylings that these songs have been treated (or subjected) to.”
—The Wall Street Journal
 
“Friedwald’s writing, both erudite and funny, complements the standards he so clearly loves, like a melody set to the perfect lyric.”
—Entertainment Weekly, “A”
 
“Informative and witty . . . So full of good stuff that I kept being distracted and forgetting what I was looking for.”
—Chicago Tribune
 
Sinatra! The Song Is You
“The most important book published about Frank Sinatra to date.”
—The New York Times Book Review
 
“Indispensable . . . A man with unexcelled knowledge of American popular song, Friedwald looks intensively at [Sinatra’s] career . . . Sinatra! hits a welcome high note . . . Excellent.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
“Blithe, respectful, snappy, and smart, Friedwald catches the creative fire of the singer . . . This is the best book ever written about Sinatra’s deepest secret: his craft.”
—Time
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1St Edition edition (November 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375421491
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375421495
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #395,548 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Roochak on November 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Will Friedwald's gift as a critic is his ability to make anyone reevaluate their opinions about popular singers, including his own. It'll come as a surprise to readers of his 1990 book Jazz Singing: America's Great Voices From Bessie Smith To Bebop And Beyond, in which he argued that rock & roll ushered in the Apocalypse for good music, that he now considers Elvis Presley to be one of the greatest of all popular singers, the first man to assimilate rhythm and blues, country, and mainstream pop into a seamless whole. Even in praising an artist, Friedwald's opinions are provocative, as when he avers that Dean Martin was a major influence on Elvis's singing; it sounds nutty, but careful listening will back it up.

What makes a jazz or pop singer "great"? Tricky question. The 811 double-columned pages of this book provide a series of contentious, informed, and highly entertaining answers in the form of extended essays on its two hundred or so performers. (The BIOGRAPHICAL GUIDE, which Friedwald spent a decade writing, is modeled after David Thomson's BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF FILM, but with much longer, and better written, entries.) For Friedwald, great pop music is centered on the American songbook, and its finest singers were active during the LP era, the heyday of the concept album (1955 - 1985). What this means for his book is that he doesn't write about too many singers born after 1950, though Diana Krall, Kurt Elling, Michael Feinstein, Audra McDonald, and Dee Dee Bridgewater are among the boomers too interesting NOT to warrant an essay apiece.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David Keith on January 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You might not agree with the author's favorite picks, but his knowledge on the subject of jazz/pop singers is monumental. Don't think there's a better qualified individual to write such a book. I grew up in the 70s, was a fan of punk, and later on alternative music. This wonderful book sure is helping me explore the jazz and pop singers from before my time. It's about all I care to listen to anymore! Julie London, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, Dean Martin, etc. They're all here. This book's a keeper. I'll be getting much use out of this book for years to come. It belongs in every music library!

I read a couple hundred books every year. If not more than that. This book is my favorite from 2010. It's a masterpiece.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I didn't realize I owned this book until discovering it was ready for download to my Kindle, five weeks after my errant finger had accidentally one-clicked it. Regardless, I owe my vagrant digit a debt of gratitude because this is an important, valuable overview and collection of mini-biographies though--like all reference books, anthologies, books relying heavily upon indexing--the Kindle format does not suit it well, especially for readers desiring a readily available, quick and easy resource, within arm's reach. My advice (which applies to all books likely to see repeated use as reference works): spend an extra buck or two for the hard-copy version.

The book might be seen as, in part, an updated version of Friedwald's "Jazz Singing," from the early '90s. It shows the same felicitous style, careful research, and comprehensive, formidable, withering knowledge of the artists and their works. It's this thoroughness that makes it easy to recommend a book that might relegate one of your first-tier singers to the third-tier. Such is the case of Etta Jones, though Friedwald's evaluation of her entire career--from 1944 to 2001--is so complete and informative, you're the richer for the experience despite the preliminary disagreement. He even praises some recordings from the last third of Etta's career that I would have dismissed as expendable (making a reader wonder all the more why she doesn't merit a higher position). In any case, I would only hope the reader is willing to be informed without forming premature, cursory judgements about the author's final "rating" of the vocalist in his selective pantheon of all-time greats.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Robert Campus on April 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Will Friedwald's Encyclopedia is beyond belief. This book is filled with facts and information on each of the singers, yet is humorous and insightful. I can't begin to grasp the hours Mr. Friedwald spent on research on the biographies of each subject, and the hours spent listening to the musical output of each subject. It is an Encyclopedia that can be read as one would a novel, full of humor and "inside" puns and jokes that will delight the jazz and pop music lover. (Full disclosure: I have never met Mr. Friedwald, but have seen him at many Jazz venues here in New York. It seems that he goes out as much for pleasure as he does for his business of writing).

I am reading this book with joy. I am only up to the D's, (Matt Dennis) and I just can't put it down. My leisure reading has been set aside as I devour this book. I delight in his humor, his turn of phrase, and the research in each biography. One would think in a work this comprehensive that he had countless contributors, but this work is filled with his personal feelings and personal opinions, all provocative.

I have read Mr.Friedwald's book on Frank Sinatra's music and recording, which is the best on the subject, as well as his many CD liner notes. His extensive liner notes on the Mosaic Records' reissue of Mildred Bailey's music is exemplary.

The book is over 800 pages in length, in small font. If the font was "normal" this would be a two volume work. All fans of the music must buy this book. If you do I know you will get as much pleasure as I have. (I recently bought it as a birthday gift for a friend and he loves it and raves about it as much as I have).

Buy This Book.
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